NORTHSIDE residents have expressed their disappointment towards a community forum to discuss the Geebung rail crossing, after the forum was thrown into a political slugfest last Wednesday, March 7.
More than 100 residents including local politicians attended the public forum at the Geebung and Zillmere RSL from 7pm to 9pm.
The forum was called by state government LNP candidate for Nudgee, Jason Woodforth who invited shadow minister for transport Scott Emerson, Bracken Ridge ward councillor Amanda Cooper and Marchant ward councillor Fiona King to attend.
The forum, which was open to all residents, also attracted ALP current state member for Nudgee, Neil Roberts and ALP candidate for Nudgee, Leanne Linard as well as The Greens candidate for Nudgee, Anthony Pink.
Mr Woodforth led the forum with introductions before inviting Mr Emerson to address the audience on an LNP election promise to see the rail overpass built and Geebung’s crossing debacle resolved.
Both Mr Woodforth and Mr Emerson pledged that if Campbell Newman’s LNP party takes power – following the March 24 state elections – then the Geebung and Telegraph Road rail crossings, which have both been on and off council and state government’s agendas for more than a decade, will be built.
“This is our commitment,” Mr Emerson said.
“An LNP elected government will deliver the Geebung overpass and that’s the facts.”
Mr Emerson’s comments came after Mr Newman pledged $1.2 billion under a road action plan designed to ‘tackle Brisbane’s 21 worst congested roads’.
The plan has the support from Lord Mayor Graham Quirk who has committed 50 per cent of the costs to build the overpass, which is a 35 per cent greater commitment than Brisbane City Council would historically provide a state government led project.
However, the plans to build a Geebung rail overpass are fraught with dangers and several residents felt the forum had failed to address or some cases consider the wider implications; including impacts on property prices, required land resumptions, compensation, the creation of new traffic congestion issues including increased truck numbers, noise and traffic pollution as well as the impacts to local businesses.
One resident, who did not want to be named, contacted The Star following the forum to express his frustration towards the handling of the event and labeled it a ‘joke’.
“The shadow minister for transport admitted there had been no traffic impact studies and the LNP candidate passed any hard questions about impacts on the community including property values, to his local councillor,” he said.
“They should have been honest and just called it for what it was, an LNP party meeting.”
Although infrastructure chairman Margaret de Wit, who has also bowed into the debate, and said the focus needs to be on fixing the crossing.
“Our focus is getting this dangerous rail crossing fixed and we are committed to working with any party to ensure that happens,” Cr de Wit said.
The forum proceeded with further guarantees from Mr Emerson to build the rail overpass, despite several residents stressing the need for greater impact assessments.
“Under this plan an elected Mr Newman will see the commencement of these projects in the first year of his three year term,” Mr Emerson said.
“That is the promise on the table and unlike Labor, an LNP Cambell Newman elected government, with Jason Woodforth as your member for Nugdee, will see the project not only undertaken but completed.”
Mr Emerson also directed comments at the ALP accusing the party and Mr Roberts of ‘sitting for too long on an important local issue’.
However, Mr Roberts felt compelled to address the audience over Mr Emerson’s comments which he felt were inaccurate.
While Mr Roberts stopped short of announcing an ALP plan to build the overpass, he said ALP was committed to working with Brisbane City Council and residents to find the best possible solution and that rushing into an overpass was not in the best interests of the wider community.
“Rushing in and saying you are going to build this fly over without consulting with local residents or without any impact studies is not the way this project should be approached,” he said.
Mr Roberts also referred to previous campaign promises made by Campbell Newman during his candidacy for Lord Mayor in both 2004 and again in 2007.
“He promised to undertake the project back then and now we see yet again another promise,” he said.
His comments led to an onslaught of attacks from councillors including Ms Cooper and Ms King who fired back at Mr Roberts and the ALP – before residents interjected.
“I though this was a public forum for residents not for politicking,” one resident was heard saying.
The backlash from the audience promoted Mr Woodforth to direct questions back towards residents, who again raised concerns about the potential impacts a possible two-to-three storey rail overpass could have on Geebung.
Several residents raised concerns for the future traffic congestion in the area as well as fears the rail overpass could encourage a flood of trucks onto Robinson Road west and clog-up already congested roundabouts attempting to gain access to Gympie Road.
However, a show of hands in the room from those in favour of an overpass, saw a majority raise their hands. While a smaller by out-spoken group – numbering around a quarter of the room – expressed their opposition to the rail overpass in a later show of hands.
Residents with properties, located in the proposed development area, also expressed their concerns as the project proposal has left them unable to sell their properties as well as devaluing their land.
Several residents said the council had purchased a number of homes already, in particular those who had met council’s hardship criteria and left them with no options but to apply to the Brisbane City Council for help.
Property concerns were also been raised by several individual residents located within the designed area who have already lost thousands of dollars on their property due to stalling of the project.
Cr Cooper assured residents that a wider study would be conducted by council to determine the impacts that a proposed Geebung rail overpass would have on the community, including traffic impacts and housing resumptions.
“It is a requirement that development applications are accompanied by impact assessment studies including on houses in the development area, noise and traffic congestion,” Cr Cooper said.
Cr Cooper said that anyone who meets the hardship criteria will be able to apply for land resumption with the council.
Meanwhile, long-time northside resident Mike Dowd attempted to offer another option and raised the prospect of going under the current rail crossing rather than over it.
He said that a rail overpass would create new issues for the area and that an alternative undertaken in states such as Victoria, had solved the problem by digging under the crossing rather than going over it.
“There’s a good example at Box Hill in Victoria which cost only a quarter of the expected rate to build an overpass, however this was many years ago, but it could be a way to solve the problem and address other concerns,” Mr Dowd said.
Mr Dowd’s idea drew applause from a majority of those in attendance at the forum.
Mr Woodforth was quick to assure residents that if there is a better way of building a crossing at Geebung than it ‘needs to be explored’.
“I think if there is a better more cost effective way of solving the crossing issue than it should be explored for the betterment of the community,” he said.
Mr Woodforth said he was still committed to the rail overpass but felt that all options needed to be explored to insure the best outcome for the community.
Ms Linard has since slammed the forum as a failure by the LNP to consider the impacts a proposed rail overpass would have on Geebung.
“These discussions along with the many other conversations I have had with local residents of late further confirm my position on this issue, which is that I am committed to working with local residents, Brisbane City Council, and the State Government to find a solution – but one which minimises impacts on the local community,” she said.