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Stakeholder Engagement for the Sydney Metro Tunnel and Station Excavation Works

IS Thought Leadership by Krissy Vajda and Cindy Liles 

Sydney Metro City & Southwest is Stage 2 of Sydney Metro – Australia’s biggest public transport project. The NSW Government’s Transport for NSW awarded tunnelling contractor, John Holland CPB Ghella (JHCPBG), a $2.81 billion contract to deliver 15.5-kilometre twin tunnels, deep under Sydney Harbour and the CBD, and six new metro stations.

Tunnelling in the heart of Australia’s largest city presents unique challenges and JHCPBG’s team has worked to effectively communicate and consult with highly diverse stakeholders to create an environment of trust, openness and involvement.


The aim during construction is always to minimise disruption, delay and inconvenience to nearby residents and businesses. The central objective of our proactive approach is to create a positive legacy of responsive community engagement and sensible, effective controls. The Community and Stakeholder Relations team was tasked with this challenge to keep stakeholders informed about what to expect, answer questions and resolve any issues.

JHCPBG developed and adopted innovative stakeholder engagement processes in response to unprecedented noise management Conditions in the project Infrastructure Approval, requiring the following:
  1. Avoiding scheduling noise generating works during sensitive periods for potentially affected sensitive receivers (including religious, educational, community institutions, and noise and vibration sensitive businesses and critical working areas (such as theatres, laboratories, and operating theatres)).
  2. Identifying and consulting all receivers likely to experience elevated internal noise levels as a result of high noise impact activities (e.g. rock breaking) and determining appropriate hours of respite (applicable to sites Crows Nest, Victoria Cross, Blues Point, Barangaroo, Martin Place, and Pitt Street).
From the start, we recognised that a one size fits all process would not work and that the individual needs and desires of a diverse range of sensitive receivers needed to be identified and understood. This was ‘uncharted territory’. As a result, we developed and carried out two engagement processes (which overlapped) to address the above challenges. The processes and associated outcomes are outlined below.

Process 1 - Sensitive Receiver Engagement 

JHCPBG developed and carried out the following steps to address the requirement of avoiding scheduling of noise generating works during sensitive periods for potentially affected sensitive receivers:
  1. Establishment of Sensitive Receivers and Businesses Working Group to create a collaborative process for addressing this requirement
To address the challenge of shared responsibility for this requirement, JHCPBG approached TfNSW and established a TSE Sensitive Receivers and Businesses Working Group. This ensured alignment on and collaboration towards achieving the best outcome for stakeholders.
  1. Engaging noise and vibration specialist consultant, Renzo Tonin and Associates, to develop a process for assessing, selecting, and prioritising potentially affected sensitive receivers
An original list of over 700 receivers was refined and reduced by JHCPBG and its expert noise consultant, Renzo Tonin and Associates, through the following method:
  • Eliminating all receivers where compliance with Noise Management Levels (NMLs), Groundbourne Noise Management Levels (GNMLs), and Vibration Management Levels (VMLs) are achieved, based on detailed noise and vibration modelling
  • Assessing the duration of exposure to noise, where receivers with short duration exceedance only were lower priority (e.g. acoustic shed or noise walls to be constructed would reduce impacts from worksite)
  • Reviewing the buildings in which the sensitive receiver was located in terms of whether they were designed and constructed to reduce noise to indoor spaces
  • Determining the location of the receiver relative to the worksite, where receivers with direct line of sight and therefore exposure to noise were prioritised over those shielded by other buildings
  • Reviewing sensitivity of the land use and assigning priority to uses with greater sensitivity (e.g. childcare centres, medical facilities, recording studios) or defining the referenced sensitive periods.
The properties were prioritised based on the level of potential impact, with lower impact receivers removed from the register. Note that some sensitive receivers that were missed during the initial land use survey undertaken to finalise the TSE Construction Noise and Vibration Management Plan were added following community consultation in the areas surrounding the worksites. In total 55 individual sensitive receivers were identified and assessed.
  1. Conducting extensive stakeholder engagement process with identified sensitive receivers to understand sensitive periods and determine the need for site-specific mitigation measures
We developed a methodical process that kept the eligible sensitive receivers informed of our scope of works and considered specific requests in terms of what is reasonable and feasible to implement via:
  • Individual face to face consultation
  • Noise and vibration assessment of bespoke operations specific to each sensitive receiver (see step 2, above)
  • Consideration of works at each worksite to investigate what was reasonable and feasible.
Eligible sensitive receivers were consulted individually by JHCPBG to identify the sensitive periods. These periods and the need for any additional site-specific measures were closed out on a case by case basis. Each sensitive receiver was unique and there was great diversity in the nature of their operations.
  1. Documentation of noise and vibration assessment and engagement outcomes
JHCPBG worked collaboratively with Renzo Tonin and Sydney Metro to develop a Sensitive Receivers Form to capture both noise and vibration assessment information for each relevant property and results of consultation undertaken with each identified sensitive receiver.
In conducting the above process, JHCPBG engaged with 55 sensitive receivers, including schools and childcare centres, medical practices (including day surgeries), religious institutions, hotels, recording studios, restaurants, and other commercial properties (see Appendix C). The ultimate outcome is that works have been managed to date without the need to relocate any sensitive receivers. 

Process 2 - Engagement with receivers regarding respite periods 

The Infrastructure Approval requirement of identifying and consulting all receivers likely to experience elevated internal noise levels as a result of high noise impact activities and determining appropriate hours of respite.
To address this requirement, JHCPBG developed and carried out the following steps:
  1. Engagement with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to ensure alignment of the project’s Environment Protection Licence (EPL) with the Infrastructure Approval
Given the fundamental shift in management of high noise impacts, we first had to work with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to reflect the new management requirements within the EPL and ensure consistency with the Infrastructure Approval.
  1. Development of community survey form
A survey form was developed for the individual initial consultation. Importantly, in addition to recording any sensitive periods, this form also confirms a nominated contact for the survey and the number of people represented by the nominated contact.
  1. Conducting extensive stakeholder engagement process with the community to preferences for respite periods
We recognised that simply adopting the approach of accepting the respite supported by a substantial majority of receivers would not be equitable and sought to identify alternative options for respite that considered the needs of ‘vulnerable’ receivers, such as child care centres and medical facilities.
Our process sought middle ground and focused on the compromise, while also ensuring that the consultation was genuine, and people’s differing views could be heard. We aimed to turn something that could be viewed as divisive into a productive process and subsequently adopted a staged engagement process focused on:
  • One-on-one consultation with eligible surrounding land users to confirm any individual preferences
  • Survey of the eligible surrounding land uses to gauge support for respite options based in the individual surveys
  • Notification of the alternative respite strategy to be adopted.
  1. Reporting on outcomes of community surveys
The outcomes of the community engagement carried out were documented in a report for each related worksite.

As a result of this process, the respite strategy ultimately adopted for each site was unique. JHCPBG surveyed just over 3,000 receivers across Crows Nest, Victoria Cross, Blues Point, Barangaroo, Martin Place, and Pitt Street, to determine their preferred option for alternative respite periods for high noise impact works. This included the sensitive receiver surveys carried out (as described section 2.1). As noted above, this survey process was unprecedented, and the key findings were with respect to survey process and response rates.
Results and Impact

Childcare centres and schools were given priority and most stakeholders were happy to support whatever was decided such as quiet time for scheduled nap times and exams. Cafes and restaurants favoured respite during the busy lunch period, while hotels and residents preferred works to begin later and commercial businesses opted for earlier starts.

Using Pitt Street North site as an example, there was no clear consensus for respite preferences. However, a significant portion of the community wanted noisy works to start at 8:00am on weekdays while another large group preferred a 9:00am start. JHCPBG decided on an 8:30am start, halfway between these two preferences. This gave the community a 1.5-hour respite early in the day, two one-hour respite periods starting at 11:30am and 2:00pm and a 5:00pm finish.

The survey’s success was due to extensive planning, a customised process for stakeholders/groups in each area and allowing adequate time for personal engagement during the survey. Good relationships already established with our stakeholders ensured they were willing to cooperate with the process. There was no negative feedback on the process or final outcome.

Measurement and Evaluation

The key measures of the consultation’s success include:
  • survey of 100% of stakeholders identified in the noise modelling
  • positive response to the survey, with many stakeholders happy with whatever was decided, and overall acceptance of adopted strategies
  • stronger community relationships
  • enhanced reputation for Sydney Metro and JHCPBG.
Ultimately the consultation is an innovative stakeholder engagement process that Our engagement approach is a first for New South Wales, as endorsed by Sydney Metro’s Independent Acoustic Advisor Dave Anderson as the

“….extent of engagement required for this project, coupled with the requirement to assess and manage noise levels within affected premises, was unprecedented.”