WestConnex M4-M5 Link – community engagement, Australia

Delivering infrastructure that works within communities

Aurecon stood by this philosophy when delivering meaningful and crucial public participation and feedback on the M4-M5 Link project; the third of five stages of WestConnex, the nation’s largest road infrastructure project.

WestConnex provides major motorways and improved road infrastructure through Sydney's west, predominately covering some 33 km of underground area. Benefits include bypassing the city to the north and south, quicker trips and an increase in open space. Since commencement in 2013, the project has attracted localised opposition, along with the attention of lobby groups including those prioritising public transport, locals wanting to preserve the current fabric of inner west suburbs, and those with a political agenda.

Delivered against a backdrop of discontent, the M4-M5 Link forms a critical part of WestConnex, connecting the first two WestConnex projects (the New M4 and the New M5) which provide an inner western bypass of Sydney’s CBD, including new underground twin tunnels.

In view of lessons learnt from the first two WestConnex projects, and in line with the Aurecon team’s goal of maximising opportunities to provide feedback and contribute to a project, the M4-M5 project management commenced community consultation for the M4-M5 Link a good two years ahead of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) going on display, considerably earlier than the 12-month legislative requirement.

Extensive infrastructure project experience working with the impacted communities and stakeholders meant that Aurecon’s engagement team was well-positioned to lead the project team and communities on the best way forward. Aurecon responded to the social and political challenges by making a conscious decision to cut through the negative ‘noise’ and focus on proactive engagement and gains for affected stakeholders.

Responses to these challenges included:

  • Courageously engaging with the community around misinformation, proactively correcting rumours via social media engagement and targeted responses
  • The use of both virtual and physical ‘postcards’ to challenge false rumours circulating in the community. Short, succinct and clear, the messages communicated on the postcards presented the facts and were not open to misinterpretation.
  • Changing the meeting frequency for the project’s Community Reference Group (CRG), which included every person who applied to be involved, from every two months to monthly at the request of the group. The group has now evolved into three CRG’s in multiple geographical areas impacted by WestConnex meaning more focused time with project staff.
  • In response to the Premier’s announcement of the high-level design, Community Ideas Sessions were held in five locations across the affected area, providing an engagement forum to influence both project design development and ongoing engagement with the impacted communities
  • In response to a need for personalisation, i.e. detailed discussions rather than large-scale public forums, a programme of ‘kitchen table meetings’ was developed to facilitate private engagement and build relationships with key community members
  • Aurecon’s engagement team made themselves accessible to everyone and sought out opportunities by keeping abreast of public meetings, and attending to provide information and dispel misinformation publicly. An 1800 enquiries number was made available, as well as the personal mobile telephone number of the Engagement Lead, with an invitation to ‘call any time’ if someone had a question or concern.
  • Meeting regularly and one-on-one with local businesses and service providers
  • Being proactive in mobile and online engagement through an innovative online collaborative map. This captured ideas and feedback on key aspects of the project’s design or points of interest to the community, as well as online surveys, which provided a readily accessible ‘checks and balances’ and a deeper dive process for determining engagement impact and feedback on project team responses.
  • Taking a positive approach to social media, both using the project-owned social channels to broadcast messages and responding to the messaging on the social media channels of others, correcting any misinformation with facts

As a result of community feedback and resultant refinements to design, adaptations were implemented directly contributing to community satisfaction. This included a project commitment of protecting Blackmore Oval and Easton Park by not using it as a construction laydown site, and providing new connections between Bicentennial Park, Easton Park, Rozelle and Lilyfield, protecting local streets from heavy traffic.

Extra public open space has also been created and a strategy for active transport (walking and cycling) is being developed. 

WestConnex is scheduled for completion in 2023.

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