By CAITLIN CROWLEY
WESTBROOK residents have mapped an alternate route for the controversial Toowoomba North South Transport Corridor and called on Minister Mark Bailey to meet with them, after describing the consultation process so far as a “cold-hearted box-ticking exercise.”
Matt Norton (main picture) said it took him just 15 minutes using Google Earth and “local knowledge” to chart a path for the New England Highway which didn’t impact any houses and utilised more existing roads, by pushing the corridor further west.
He said several locals came up with the same alternate route and they would be presenting it to the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) as their preferred option.
“They’ve (TMR) put it right through an area which is flood prone, has good soils, but it’s also small properties,” Norton said.
“If you head further west you’ve got bigger properties, you’ve got less houses to destroy and less landowners to deal with.
“I’ve now talked to a range of people and everyone’s come up with essentially the same option independently, it seems just too simple.”
Norton said the corridor should also be pushed further west to avoid stunting the future growth of Westbrook itself.
“If this is going to be a true bypass in 30 years time, it needs to go further west because Toowoomba will spread,” he said.
“Westbrook is a massive growth centre strategically for Toowoomba Council for the net 30 plus years. What they’ve done is aligned a 30 year infrastructure project with a 15 year planning horizon for Toowoomba Council.
“By the time this project is built in its current location it will be a road through the middle of Toowoomba’s outer suburbs or Westbrook’s broader footprint.”
Norton is among a growing number of voices calling for TMR to improve its community consultation efforts after impacted landowners were blindsided by news their properties could be resumed for the long term road project.
While Transport Minister Mark Bailey told the Caller he’d been advised by the department the consultation process being used was “considered industry best practice”, Wellcamp resident Mikaela Smith described it as an “absolute disaster”.
She said received a notification letter two weeks after consultation had started telling her the corridor would cut straight through the family home she only moved into last April.
“I bawled my eyes out,” Smith said. “It was absolutely horrible to see the lines going straight through the middle of our almost million dollar home.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to the point where we’re at to build this dream home where we wanted to stay forever – the land has been in our family for over 80 years.
“There’s just so many other routes that could be looked at and investigated and existing roads that could be upgraded, that should be used.”
New Toowoomba Mayor Geoff McDonald (pictured left) also called on TMR to host a series of community forums to better engage with the community.
“The Department of Transport and Main Roads need to engage with affected landholders with a series of public information forums to provide a detailed explanation of the project prior to the feedback deadline,” McDonald said.
“This is vital to ensuring all views are considered as well as giving affected landholders information relevant to the project.”
Matt Norton said TMR’s consultation had been a “cold-hearted box-ticking exercise” which left it up to the community and local politicians to organise in-person information sessions.
“We’d love to see Mark Bailey out here – he’s been invited multiple times by Pat Weir’s office, by the community,” Norton said.
“We need this road as a community, this road is beneficial to us.
“Everyone I talk to says ‘great idea – wrong spot’. All we’re asking for is a bit of consideration to go further west, achieve the same outcome, utilise existing roads, potentially save some cost.”
Transport Minister Mark Bailey didn’t comment on whether he would meet with residents, but did confirm TMR representatives would be attending the community forums organised by local MPs to provide further information.
“Face-to-face community consultation sessions will be held in the coming weeks and the times and locations will be made available on TMR’s website,” Bailey said.
“This is the very early stages of the consultation and it won’t be the last time the Toowoomba community will have the opportunity to have their say.”
There will be a community meeting at Westbrook’s Aberfeldy Barn at 6pm Monday July 31. For more information on the Transport Corridor head to TMR’s website.