Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Parramatta Electorate: Parramatta Light Rail
Anybody who has been in the Parramatta CBD lately will really relate to this story. I went to my office a couple of weeks ago. I walked on the footpath and I was going to go in my front door, but there was a truck parked across it. I couldn't actually get to the door. There was a giant truck and six guys with sledge hammers and such things on the footpath. I could not get to the door of my office. Businesses in the Parramatta CBD have been living with that for quite some time. If you drive through the Parramatta CBD, one day you can turn right, the next day you can't. You detour two blocks one way and then you can turn right again. Whole streets are blocked off every single day and they have been for months. Footpaths are torn up and businesses are literally blocked off from their customers, and you never know, from one day to the next, what it will look like the next day. Driving through Parramatta now is a nightmare. It can take you 20 minutes longer to get from one side of Parramatta to the other, simply because everyone is channelled through it sometimes. You can't turn off. You go from one side to the other, straight through, in one narrow lane because that's all that's left. It is a total and absolute mess, and it's because of the building of the Parramatta Light Rail.
What I'm hearing is that the light rail construction has devastated the retail and restaurant hub of Church Street. In fact, 'Eat Street' is essentially a construction zone from one end to the other. You can't even drive through it. Earlier this year, businesses said that trade was down between 30 and 80 per cent. That was pre-COVID. Businesses are facing a double whammy now of COVID and a 24/7 construction zone on their doorstep. It's not just the noise and the dust that's hurting business. The once busy street is pretty much inaccessible. There is no parking anymore. You can get to the two parking stations if you can figure out how to get there, which is increasingly difficult because you can't turn into the street that they're in, and many businesses now fear that customers won't return at all. Council is running promotions, such as free parking in their stations, but assistance is extremely limited and there is no sign of compensation from the New South Wales government. Businesses are closing early, laying off staff, cutting their hours or closing up altogether. John Chammas, from Mama & Papas, said half the restaurants were gone now and Parramatta risked becoming a ghost town. It really is appalling. Anthony Lichaa from Lichaa Menswear called for compensation from the state government.
One of the worst things about this is that it is stage 1 of the Parramatta Light Rail. We're supposed to have stage 2. Stage 2 is the bit that made sense. It was just heavy rail from Carlingford to Parramatta, and it was ripped up and replaced with light rail and then extended to Westmead, so that you could catch three trains from Westmead to Parramatta instead of one. So there's very little new here; it's just about throwing out the old and replacing it with something else. Stage 2 made sense, because it was the one that linked it through to Homebush and the heavier rail, but stage 2 was cancelled. Now we've got this extraordinary ripping up of heritage buildings, heritage buildings being knocked down and business basically being destroyed for stage 1, which will now stand alone and shuttle people from Carlingford to Westmead, which you used to be able to do on the train—the heavy rail—anyway. This is an absolute mess. I encourage my constituents and the people of Parramatta to get in touch with their state member. It's not usual for a federal politician to say, 'Contact a Liberal state member,' but I really suggest that you do. Only he can sort this out. He has the power to do that. There is still time to build stage 2, there is still time to turn this around and there is still time to consider the damage that's being done right now to businesses in Parramatta.
The Parramatta light rail isn't just doing damage to business. I want to talk about a few of my constituents that are really struggling with this build. A man from my electorate contacted my office about construction work going on after hours. He said that the noise shakes his house and that his baby can't sleep at all. His wife is exhausted and recently had a seizure due to stress. He said he was seeing birds literally dropping dead during construction due to the dust. He's made a complaint, but there has been no meaningful action at all.
I'm going to talk about another constituent who is also suffering because of the Parramatta light rail construction. Neesha called my office about the terrible toll the Parramatta light rail construction is taking on her health, her husband's health and her home. She lives in a ground floor apartment by the river on Church Street and says that there's intolerable noise all day and late into the night. There is constant dust pollution, which is making her house dirty. She cleans it, and it's dirty again the next day. Her garden has died because of the dust pollution. Her husband's garden has died because of the dust. She says that he won't go into the garden anymore and that he's depressed, has stopped sleeping and just sits on his bed. She's now becoming depressed. She's phoned light rail several times. They've done nothing about her concerns and they suggested they wear earplugs. That was it. Her husband's injury means earplugs are not an option for him. When she called us, she was at the end of her tether, quite reasonably. She felt that no-one was listening and that she's living in a war zone. We've heard from many people like Neesha—many.
Another person, Kylie, has been suffering because of the Parramatta light rail. Kylie contacted my office a couple of months ago about the night works in Parramatta and the terrible toll this is taking on her family. Night works would run outside her home between 7 am and 9 pm until 5 am, sometimes 24 hours, for three to four days at a time. Kylie is a single mum with two kids. Her young son has autism and noise sensitivity, meaning that noise causes him physical pain. During night works, he wouldn't sleep, and he'd sit in the corner all night in a state of extreme distress. His fear and distress are expressed as anger, and Kylie told us she was worried it was holding back his learning and development. She doesn't understand why the night works are necessary, when the roads are already blocked off all day. Kylie also said that she felt trapped because her son thrives on routine and his routine and the family support network are in Parramatta. She raised her concerns with Parramatta light rail. They sent someone out to do a noise check. They recorded noise above the minimum level, but nothing changed. Parramatta light rail offered to put Kylie and her young family in a hotel during night works, but that's not an option for her son because of his autism. Kylie said that even if it were an option she doesn't believe that they would have followed through. Ultimately, she was forced to move to an apartment with double glazing. Her rent went from $340 to $570 a week. The process of moving was extremely distressing for her son, and it took him three weeks to adjust to a new premises.
These are just some of the stories of real people in Parramatta whose needs as families and individuals are being completely ignored during this construction phase. Again, I would suggest to anybody who is struggling with the noise, the dust and the vibrations from this construction zone to call their state member and have something to say about it, because this is really causing incredible distress.
There's another rail project in Parramatta. It's not just the Parramatta light rail, which will take a number of years to build. There's also the Sydney Metro West, which is a heavier rail that's running from the CBD, north of the current line, through Strathfield and Homebush to Parramatta and then to Westmead. So that's the third train line from Parramatta to Westmead. But it also goes from the city to Parramatta. This has been hailed as this great train project to link up the rapidly growing suburbs between Homebush and Parramatta. The problem is there are no stops between Homebush and Parramatta. There's a 10-kilometre gap in the plan, so in the biggest growth area, Camellia—with all of the high-density apartments, all the talk about 'uplift' for people buying properties near the train line when they first talked about building this—there's no stop between Parramatta and Homebush. The reason they have given is that it would slow the train down. In the 10 kilometres there are none but on the other side of Homebush, between Homebush and the CBD, there is a train stop every 2.5 kilometres; there are five of them. So they can put five train stops between Homebush and the CBD in areas that are already built largely to their capacity but they can't put one, not even one, in the 10 kilometres between Parramatta and the CBD.
Again I am urging people to talk to their state member, because the line has not yet even started to be built for Westmead. In fact, they are only calling for tenders for the drilling for the tunnelling now. Nothing has happened yet which can't be fixed because the work hasn't started. So please, again, talk to your state member, phone the minister, phone any Liberal politician you think might listen to you and tell them that this is nonsense because it is. Parramatta to Homebush with no stops, no stop in Camellia will mean that the light rail project goes from Carlingford all the way into Parramatta and then change trains and go out through Camellia. And even though they can't put a stop in Camellia, they can compulsorily acquire the speedway which has been there for decades in order to put in a shunting yard. So they can't put a stop there but they can acquire the land and build rail tracks. This is absurd, so call your local member and get it fixed.