Residents opposed to a major highway being built through a community in WA’s South West have protested as bulldozers move in, with police intervening as people tried to block machinery.
- Protesters have disrupted the first day of clearing at the Bunbury Outer Ring Road
- Former Greens leader Bob Brown rallied at the site, calling for work to be halted
- The $1.25 billion Bunbury Outer Ring Road is WA’s most expensive ever highway
The $1.25 billion Bunbury Outer Ring Road will take traffic around WA’s second-biggest city to create a more direct route between Perth and the Margaret River tourist region.
After a lengthy environmental approvals process, fences were this month erected around a decades-old road reserve cutting through the semi-rural community of Gelorup.
More than 300 people gathered on Sunday afternoon to protest the road going through their suburb, which they say will devastate the local environment.
This morning, bulldozers and excavators were on stand-by, with about 20 people turning up in the middle of a severe weather warning to protest.
At least one person was issued a move-on notice by police after refusing to move out of the way of machinery.
Bob Brown calls for road rethink
Former Greens leader Bob Brown addressed the crowd gathered on Sunday, calling for federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to reverse her decision to clear the 200 hectares of woodlands.
“This is an absolute utter disgrace if this goes ahead,” Mr Brown said.
“There’s alternatives, there’s open cleared areas where the proposed road could go but there’s no alternative to this woodland for these rare creatures that live in it.”
Mr Brown drew a link between the Minister’s National Press Club speech in which she detailed the degradation of Australia’s natural environment, due in part to sustained land clearing.
“You’re off to a bad start … and if you don’t get this right, if you don’t turn this around — like the possums in the way of the bulldozers — you won’t recover.”
WA’s Main Roads agency had considered an alternative route that would take the highway around Gelorup.
An environmental impact assessment found that while the original route would have a higher impact on the western ringtail possum, the alternative option would significantly impact on wetlands and endangered aquatic fauna.
Ms Plibersek said in a statement her approval required Main Roads to show it could “protect matters of national environmental significance” and “minimise the impacts of habitat fragmentation.”
She said an environmental offset strategy was also being prepared.
‘Rigorous’ environmental approvals
Main Roads WA has been bound by a strict set of environmental conditions to minimize impacts on the local flora and fauna — including the endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo and western ringtail possum.
A Department of Environment spokesperson described the process as “rigorous”.
The road being built is a significantly reduced version of the freeway-standard route initially planned.
A total of $852 million was budgeted for the Bunbury Outer Ring Road when it was announced in 2019, however, it was revealed earlier this year that figure had blown out to $1.25 billion.
Despite that, four bridges that would have carried traffic over existing major roads have been abolished from the plans in order to save money in the face of rising construction and material costs.
It meant a promised 15-minute time-saving on the journey around Bunbury had been abandoned, as had the promise of a free-flowing freeway, with motorists instead having to negotiate roundabouts at key intersections.
Further cash injections had also not been ruled out, with the WA government’s upper house leader Sue Ellery telling parliament in May that additional funding would be sought if it were needed to deliver the project.
Main Roads said the road is set to be completed and opened to traffic by late 2024.