Highway plans released during lockdown

Great Western Highway at Medlow Bath now.
Great Western Highway at Medlow Bath now.

Medlow Bath residents are furious that plans for a four-lane highway through their village have been released during lockdown.

Anyone without a computer has no possibility of seeing the plans, said Residents Association president, Debra Brown.

Even those with computers may struggle digesting concept design plans, a 225-page review of environmental factors and 866 pages of appendices.

Transport for NSW has scheduled four online sessions within a week of the report's release. And residents have only until August 24 to have their say online.

Ms Brown has written to Transport for NSW pleading that the consultation process be stopped until face-to-face meetings can be held.

Labor politicians Susan Templeman, Trish Doyle and Mark Greenhill have written to roads and regional transport minister, Paul Toole, and federal transport minister, Barnaby Joyce. They asked for the deadline to be extended beyond lockdown.

Artist's impression of the upgraded highway at Medlow Bath.

Artist's impression of the upgraded highway at Medlow Bath.

"It is crucial that local residents feel they have a comfortable headspace to contribute honestly and without pressure," they wrote.

"Our community is being bulldozed by TfNSW," said Ms Brown, "as it rams through plans to duplicate the highway ... that will have momentous consequences for the village and the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel."

One resident, Rhonda Bowers, said: "We don't have a computer, we are not allowed to go to our neighbour's house and the libraries and internet cafes are closed. So how are we supposed to participate?"

The Blackheath Area Community Alliance, which represents more than 20 locals groups, has joined the call for an immediate halt to the process.

Secretary Michael Paag said: "If the Nationals and the NSW government are serious about solving the transport needs of the Central West then they should stop this fake consultation and instead take the time to investigate the alternative proposal for the tunnel under Mt Victoria and Blackheath to continue under Medlow Bath."

Ms Brown said the same thing happened last year, when TfNSW held online consultations that many could not access or could barely participate in.

But TfNSW director west, Alistair Lunn, said while they appreciated that some would prefer face-to-face engagement, this was not possible because of COVID restrictions. The documents were available at a virtual consultation room at nswroads.work/gwhdconsult.

While online information sessions were available in the past week, TfNSW will offer additional sessions in the next two weeks, he said.

"During our previous online engagement in 2020 nearly 5,000 people went online to view information on plans for Medlow Bath, while 218 booked a consultation session and the team received more than 850 submissions.

"A community update with details of the review of environmental factors and a map of the proposed design has been letterboxed to all addresses in Medlow Bath."

But Ms Brown from the residents association said: "On July 28 a glossy flyer with some features of the design was delivered to residents. For many residents this is the only information they will receive about a project which will affect their homes and their lives."

TfNSW has also offered to send USB copies of the material to people with limited internet. Alternatively, printed copies can be requested and will be sent via Australia Post.

Community members who do not wish to consult online are invited to contact the project team on 1800 953 777 or at gwhd@transport.nsw.gov.au to arrange a phone consultation.