3 March – Day One

Monday 3 March 

Public hearings Cropped

3:30pm Councils open their cases

Just a quick note to thank all the community ‘bloggers’ who have submitted info today: Anthony, Andrew and Harriet, you know who you are!

Four municipal councils have now completed their opening statements.  City of Melbourne argued strongly against need for alignment through Royal Park and part B.

The City of Yarra highlighted the legal weakness in the LMA position and the lack of evidence for real benefits. The tabling of a new report on urban development and past major projects was disputed.

Moonee Valley City Council argued the design was being changed on the run leading to many inconsistencies in the evidence: for example, half the municipality is left out of the traffic modelling as the Ormond Rd ramp was an afterthought.

The City of Moreland backed up the other councils on the general points and focused on the numerous unresolved local issues for sports clubs and residents.

Strong comments from City of Yarra

Counsel for the City of Yarra, Adrian Finanzio, did not mince his words and argued that CIS is a reference design, not a project design and consequently it is not possible for the assessment committee to properly assess the impacts of the project.  He argued the CIS failed to properly and rigorously assess the negative impacts.

Legislation requires the assessment committee to consider whether, ‘on balance’ the project will result in a net benefit to the community. Finanzio argued that “in theory” it is possible to assess the projects’ value against the social, environmental and other costs – except that in this case the LMA has not made the case for it.

“There is still no evidence, that can be tested, before the panel on the subject.”

“The committee should treat with great caution the allegation of benefit in this case,” said Finanzio.

He argued the CIS fails to justify the claimed benefits of the project and so there is a lack of confidence in the claims of benefit.

By way of example, we are left to ponder whether the extra 10 minutes gained by someone travelling on the East West Link is worth someone being dispossessed of their home.  Hmmmm.

2pm

As reported earlier, Stuart Morris QC advised the panel that the LMA will consider the construction of the part B viaduct if a bidder proposes this variation.  Just before lunch, counsel for the City of Melbourne, Ian Pitt QC, suggested that it was remarkable that a government agency (LMA) can tell another agency what the government is intending by reporting what the papers have said.

“To the level of certainty that the committee can have with respect to part B which isn’t funded, it is absolutely remarkable for a government agency which has had access to government agencies to be putting submissions to the committee on the basis of what they have read in the newspaper,” he said.

Mr Pitt called the reference project a ‘straw man’ given that its outcomes are aspirational and uncertain.  How then is the Assessment Committee to assess the real impacts of this major project or how it can understand how far the bidders will need to go to “minimise” impacts if the performance requirements are so vague?

Mr Pitt circulated amended performance requirements – see below.

Mr Pitt said the proposal displays all the hallmarks of efficient road design but shows absolutely no evidence of the consideration of the totality of tales that should have been considered for such a project; Royal Park has simply been selected as a “soft option” on pecuniary grounds.

Mr Pitt argued that “the west is not connected to this project” and, therefore, the benefits of a link to this region cannot be considered in the assessment of the CIS.

front page cropped

12pm

The power-point display glows with a sunset shot of the West Gate Bridge, before showing a collage of traffic stalled because of incidents on the M1.

“Occasionally it is a disaster” says Morris of the M1. “Although these incidents do not happen often, they do happen” and result in Melbourne coming to a standstill.

The LMA accepts that all the answers do not lie in road projects: “I want it to be known that road is not the only solution,” says Morris.

Ooooh – it’s my favorite orange bubble picture on the screen showing that only 15% of travel goes from the East to the West.  But it’s gone…

Here it is:

The bubble graph

State MP for Richmond Richard Wynne (sitting to my right) says “by [Morris’] own admission the graph shows that the majority of the traffic does not want to travel from the east to west”.

We move on to the ‘toll risk’ which Morris assures us is being taken by the government. Phew!

“When the government takes the toll risk… there are other advantages.”  Morris points out that the motorists will be paying for the road.

Part B

Morris says it is true that the government has only committed to build part A.  “But I can announce that as part of the bidding process the bidders are permitted to offer variations to their bid.  The LMA expects that some bidders will make a bid with a  variation to build part B.”

Morris is confirming that LMA will look at building part B at the same time as part A.

“This is a really important project for Melbourne.”  We have to have a wider lens to understand the benefits this project will bring says Morris as he finishes up for the day.

11am

The room is bursting with lawyers including Stuart Morris for Linking Melbourne Authority and Ian Pitt for the City of Melbourne.

We have sat through an hour of preliminary matters: including instructions to media not to use iPhones  to record the hearings – although no transcripts will be provided.  Audio recordings are available on request.

The timetable has suffered further rejigging – although Stuart Morris has made it clear there will be no time wasted cross-examining witnesses (he quipped they will only need three minutes per expert).

After preliminaries – and permission to take the photo above – the LMA has commenced their power-point presentation of population explosion and citations from books such as ‘The Triumph of the Cities’.

Stuart Morris  said the plan today is to put project in context; that we need to make Melbourne a better place.  Despite the IT boom, Morris argues that physical connection is as important as electronic connections and that the benefits of the East West Link will be felt by our children not by us.

“It is very hard to measure the benefit of road and rail projects.  There will always be a lot of argument about it.  It would be foolhardy for anyone to assert that a particular project will produce a particular benefit… but we can take out of the research that the benefits are huge.

“The City-loop for example has had dramatic impacts on the shape of Melbourne” and its productivity.

“At the end of the day, you’re [the Assessment Committee] not asked to determine precisely what the economic benefits of the EW project will be.”  But there is potential – he says.

Those of us listening wonder if this is a case being made for the Metro Tunnel.

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