• Tony Bosworth

Bushfire recovery chief visits Bilpin 12 months on and says $250m in grants still to be allocated

Andrew Colvin, Coordinator of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA), has visited Bilpin to see how the community is coping, and even found time to pick some apples.

Mr Colvin met with Hawkesbury councillors and Federal MP Susan Templeman and got together with local businesses too, including a stop at Bilpin Fruit Bowl.

“It was an honour to visit the region and to see the bushfire recovery development first hand,” Mr Colvin told the Post.

“There is still $250 million to be allocated under the NSW Bushfire LER (local economic recovery) Fund. The guidelines are clear that funding will be prioritised and committed to areas most impacted by the bushfires and that geographical spread of projects will be taken into consideration.

“Having first visited the region in the immediate aftermath of the fires, I have been fortunate to come back on other occasions since then and hear from both my National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) team and locals about the impact.

“But over 12 months on, it was especially great to revisit some of those communities I first saw in January last year and see the progress in their recovery, their aspirations and their future. I was grateful to speak to community members and councils, and to have Ms Susan Templeman MP join me for some of last week’s engagements,” Mr Colvin said.

“The return visit by the NBRA to check on the progress of bushfire recovery and discuss the ongoing issues slowing that recovery is very welcome,” Ms Templeman said.

“I raised issues around the bushfire local economic recovery program and the lack of fairness in the first round of those grants, which meant the Blue Mountains did not receive one cent of recovery funding and only a relatively small amount delivered to the Hawkesbury.

“I also raised concerns about whether the current round under consideration by the NSW Government would be fairly distributed.

Mr Colvin said it was particularly important for him to hear what the community had to say about bushfire recovery, “especially given the recovery journey is so unique for each individual and community”.

“While I know issues remain that require the ongoing collaboration and focus of the NBRA and its local and state counterparts, such as telecommunications, mental health and wellbeing and the environment, I was particularly pleased to see meaningful recovery is occurring for those I engaged with,” Mr Colvin said.

“I saw heartening evidence of recovery such as rebuilt business premises, the sod being turned on a new home, and innovative thinking about community centres/evacuation points and ways to achieve better community connection and preparedness.”

Ms Templeman said there were still ongoing issues for people seeking assistance under other federally-funding agricultural grant programs, and a lack of support for fencing and tree removal on privately owned properties that fall outside the NSW Government’s criteria.

“Another very distressing issue is around the very small amount of environmental recovery funding that has flowed to the Blue Mountains World Heritage area, which is an issue that Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water, Terri Butler, and I discussed last week with leading local environment groups.”

I am not ignorant to the challenges that continue,” Mr Colvin said.

“Recovery is a long road and at times it can be difficult. The NBRA is conscious to ensure that funds reach the places they are needed most.

“Bushfire recovery funding, including that for local economic recovery (LER), remains ongoing. In NSW, LER funding is a staged program which is far from complete. The final set of successful projects may not be known until May/June 2021.”

Mr Colvin met with local businesses including Tutti Fruitti and the Bilpin Fruit Bowl to discuss their business recovery, having met them in January 2020, and he finished the visit by joining Ms Templeman to pick some apples from the Fruit Bowl orchard with owner, Margaret Tadrosse.

“I’ve been speaking with many of the fire affected business about their progress. Most have made enormous progress but in spite of their smiles, it hasn’t been easy and they’ve had to deal with endless forms, and supply detailed paperwork,” Ms Templeman said.

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