New plans from RMS will destroy the bushland approach to Blackheath

Last-minute design changes: Michael Paag, Adele Colman, Wayne Kelly, George Vergotis, Kathy Butler, Gary McCue, Heather Pye and Rob Emanuel in the bush that the RMS has earmarked for removal.
Last-minute design changes: Michael Paag, Adele Colman, Wayne Kelly, George Vergotis, Kathy Butler, Gary McCue, Heather Pye and Rob Emanuel in the bush that the RMS has earmarked for removal.

A last-minute change to plans for Blackheath’s highway upgrade has horrified locals, who say it will destroy the attractive bushland approach to the town. 

The Blackheath Highway Action Group (BAG) has been liaising with Roads and Maritime Services for four years over the  works. 

Negotiations and compromises on both sides had led to an acceptance of the final plans and work on the road started on October 29.

But at a meeting last Thursday, RMS contractors said they would be removing a large area of natural bush to widen the shoulder of the road and build a 100-metre long, nearly three-metre high retaining wall.

The area affected runs from the Blackheath sign at the eastern end of town up to Jellicoe St at the top of Hill 33, as it is known.

BAG convenor Michael Paag said there had been no consultation on what is a major departure from previous plans.

“This was never communicated to the community in any of the meetings and/or documentation given to the community by the RMS.

“The first we learnt of these plans was when the final design documents were provided to us a couple of weeks ago. We had concerns and sought a meeting with the RMS and the contractor.

“At the meeting ... the RMS confirmed that this was true and apologised that we had not been consulted prior and that they would proceed despite overwhelming community opposition.”

Streetscape committee member Adele Colman, who has been negotiating on replacement plantings, said the plans were “just absolute vandalism”.

Liberal Upper House MP Shayne Mallard and new Liberal candidate for Blue Mountains, Owen Laffin, met with the group on Sunday. Mr Laffin later said they had “managed to temporarily stop the trees from being removed until after there has been further community consultation”.

An RMS spokeswoman confirmed that “tree removal along the Great Western Highway between Hargraves and Jellicoe streets will not go ahead until the latest project update is provided to the community”.

She also said the trees had to be removed to provide a right-turn lane into Hargraves Street “and to build an overtaking lane which will reduce the potential for rear-end crashes”.

Mr Paag said the RMS’s statement didn’t make sense.

“The whole idea of a right turn lane is to allow traffic to turn right whilst avoiding the potential for rear-end crashes,” he said. There was no need for an overtaking lane as well.

Locals have tied pink ribbons around the threatened trees to highlight the RMS plans and have erected a sign saying “Don’t cut us down”.