Anger over ‘culture of secrecy’ as NSW keeps Blue Mountains highway plan under wraps

The NSW government has been accused of a ‘culture of secrecy’ after it was revealed the justification behind a multi-billion-dollar highway development in the Blue Mountains is being kept confidential.

The Great Western Highway upgrade is an $8 billion program to create 34 kilometres of dual carriageways from Katoomba to Lithgow and includes a proposal for the longest road tunnel in Australia underneath Mount Victoria.

The Great Western Highway is one of only two major roads that cross the Blue Mountains and connects the Sydney basin with the central west, and it is often subject to traffic delays during public and school holidays.

A recent report from Transport for NSW revealed the business case for the entire development was complete but would be kept confidential to “help drive value-creating competition from a wide range of participants during procurement.”

The ABC sought clarification over why the report wasn’t being released and a spokesperson from Transport for New South Wales said the business case was cabinet in confidence.

“And as such is not publicly available.

“The business case has passed assurance with Infrastructure NSW and Infrastructure Australia,” the spokesperson said.

aerial image of a road in country side, leading to a tunnel under a hill
The preferred option of an 11km tunnel would travel from Blackheath to Little Hartley.(Supplied: Transport for NSW)

Locals ‘aghast’ at ‘ridiculous’ decision

Local community groups that stand to face the impacts of the major highway upgrade have expressed their disappointment at the move to keep the report secret.

The Medlow Bath Action Group supports the project in principle but has concerns with elements of the route and approvals process.

The President, Stephen Caswell, said he was ‘aghast’ to find out the business case had already been completed.

“There’s no scrutiny, there’s no independent umpire, they’re just going ahead behind closed doors… it’s ridiculous,” he said.

He said his group had been asking to see the business case for over two years.

“The whole project has been fraught with a lack of transparency,” he said.

Renzo Benedet from the Hartley District Progress Association said he was ‘disgusted’ and ‘disappointed’ about the lack of transparency over the taxpayer funded project.

“They must be hiding something.”

“The only conclusion that I can come to is that the economic benefits of this [project] is much, much less than what is being projected,” he said.

A computer interpretation of a new highway upgrade
The NSW Government is promising the entire project, including the 11 kilometre tunnel, will save commuters 30 minues.(Suppied: Transport for NSW)

‘Culture of secrecy’

The NSW opposition has accused the government of a ‘culture of secrecy’ with the Blue Mountains highway the latest in a series of secretive infrastructure proposals.

The NSW Government has also declined to produce business cases for the new Dungowan Dam proposal near Tamworth and the plan to raise the Wyangala Dam near Cowra.

The Shadow Minister for Roads, John Graham, said it was a ‘repeated theme’ with the current government.

“We’ve seen a culture of secrecy when it comes to major transport infrastructure projects.”

Mr Graham said Labor would pursue the documents through parliamentary processes.