Rebuttal comments from North East Link Project lawyers on the final day of public hearings have unfairly dismissed community concerns and left them fearing the worst says Eastern Metro MP Rod Barton.
Mr Barton has come out in support of the community whose hopes for changes to the project now rest with the expert advisory panel’s final deliberation and report, due mid-October.
“The NELP lawyers rebuttal was a disappointing and unfair blow for the community, but not unexpected,” said Mr Barton.
“Those lawyers had a really tough job defending the project as it stands against 850 submissions and 39 days of distraught community members arguing for fairness.
“We can only hope now that the panel chooses to listen to the community and respect their needs, not a hoard of 15 lawyers who drove off in their Mercedes, cheques in pocket, and won’t be affected in any way by the disruptions that this project brings.”
On the final day of hearings on Monday community members were shocked and upset to hear project lawyers tell the hearing’s panel members that they should not consider alternative design submissions, including the extension of the toll road tunnels which would avoid many of the issues raised during the nine weeks of hearings, or be concerned about the economic or personal impact of razing the Bulleen Industrial Zone.
“To use a legalistic interpretation of the expert panel’s Terms of Reference to reject what are potentially viable options that save thousands of trees, avoid massive job losses and save large areas of open spaces being lost, is a proof point that the government’s project managers are pushing a flawed design,” Mr Barton said.
“If the government believes the real cost of tunneling all the way between the Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway is affordable, then it should not shy away from an independent cost comparison. They’re spending $16 billion of taxpayers’ money, so the people have a right to know.”
Mr Barton, who spent considerable time with the Bulleen Industrial Zone Group and has met with many of the affected businesses, slammed the lawyer’s statement regarding the Bulleen Industrial Zone.
“The statement made by the government’s high-priced lawyer is based on an economic report in the EES that devoted less than two paragraphs to the economic and human impacts of wiping out the 110 businesses that make up the business precinct.”
He said the NELP lawyer’s rebuttal of almost every genuine issue raised during the hearings was a blow to the community, who had trusted the government and put their faith in the panel process.
“This is an important project that comes at a massive cost to the Victorian taxpayers and the local communities, but it’s being rushed, and things continue to fall through the cracks.
“The expert Panel is the last-line of common-sense and fairness. We can only hope now that the Panel members choose to listen to the community, respect their genuine needs and provide the frank and fearless advice in their report that will ensure that this is a world class project.”