Sydney Morning Herald
March 14, 2021
By Andrew Taylor
Councils in Sydney’s north have raised the alarm about the impact of a multibillion-dollar tunnel under Middle Harbour, as the NSW government insists it will be built to strict conditions of approval.
Willoughby City Council last week stated its opposition to the Beaches Link and Gore Hill Freeway Connection tunnel in its current form, while North Sydney and Northern Beaches councils expressed significant concerns about the project.
Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney said there had been concern about the impact of the tunnel project, both during construction and when it is complete, since it was announced.
“Particularly the impact on groundwater and contamination of Flat Rock Gully and Middle Harbour have raised alarm bells with many people,” she said.
Community groups have also raised concerns about potential environmental damage from contaminated sludge dug up from the bottom of Middle Harbour during construction of the motorway tunnel.
Cr Giles-Gidney said she was also worried about air quality during the tunnel’s construction: “Other key areas of concern are vibration, emissions from ventilation stacks, impacts on heritage conservation areas and potentially contaminated land,” she said.
The tunnel, extending from the Warringah Freeway at Cammeray to Balgowlah and Seaforth, is estimated to cost $14 billion and is likely to be completed by 2028.
A Transport for NSW spokesman said it remained confident in its environmental assessment and management measures to minimise any potential impacts from the new tunnel, which were being independently assessed by the Planning Department.
“Moving traffic into underground tunnels will reduce traffic on surface roads, allowing local streets to be returned to local communities,” he said.
The state’s chief scientist had found emissions from well-designed road tunnels caused negligible change to surrounding air quality, and filtration would have “little to no benefit”, he said.
The spokesman also said the new tunnels would bring significant public transport benefits, including improved bus travel times along Sydney Harbour Bridge and Warringah Freeway and walking and cycling infrastructure upgrades.
Mosman Municipal Council in its submission to the Beaches Link tunnel environmental impact statement offered in principle support for the project but expressed concern about the lack of plans to improve Spit and Military roads.
Northern Beaches mayor Michael Regan said the council and the community generally supported the project, but had serious concerns the NSW government needed to address.
“Among some concerns raised in council’s response are air quality, noise, heritage, bush and fauna preservation, and socioeconomic impacts that need to be resolved before the first sod is turned,” he said.
The tunnel’s impact on Middle Harbour, Manly and Queenscliff beaches and local waterways such as Burnt Bridge Creek in Seaforth was raised by the council in its submission.
The council said the EIS “trivialises” significant hydrological and ecological impacts to the creek, which would lose up to 96 per cent of its water flow – a claim rejected by Transport for NSW.
“The creek would essentially function as a stormwater channel only discharging after larger rainfall events,” the council’s submission said.
Local resident Louise Williams said a “drastic reduction” in environmental water flows threatened water quality downstream, including at local beaches.
“Across the entire Beaches Link tunnel project, 23 endangered species will be impacted,” she said. “We even had little penguins in Middle Harbour on the weekend and they, too, will be affected by construction.”
Ms Williams also said the tunnel would “perpetuate car dependency” and do little to reduce traffic congestion in the long term.
North Sydney Council raised concerns about the lack of alternative transport options including public transport, the unnecessary loss of public open space, sporting facilities, trees and water treatment infrastructure and the project’s adverse impacts on schools and schoolchildren.
The council also said the project would negatively impact the North Sydney road network, particularly on the Pacific Highway, Miller Street and Berry Street.
North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson said the Berejiklian government had a mandate for the project as it was one of their main election pledges, but three independent North Sydney councillors have submitted a submission objecting to the tunnel.
“We are seeking assurances from the NSW government that not only will our public parks be returned to us, but we will receive additional open space to compensate for the disruption caused during the construction period,” she said.