• Tony Bosworth

No mention of North Richmond bridge in $15.2bn building splurge – TfNSW cancel community meeting

We take a look at the long-running North Richmond Bridge duplication saga

If you were a betting person you’d be hard put to pick a date when a final decision will be made on the route, the cost and the timing of the much discussed North Richmond bridge duplication.

Where it will be built, which route it will take, what height it will be and the cost – these details were all promised to the Community Working Group a year ago, and they are still waiting for them, as are all those who regularly sit in North Richmond traffic.

This last Thursday Transport for NSW (TfNSW) were set to hold a briefing session for the Community Working Group.

But a week out from the meeting it was suddenly cancelled, with a vague explanation from TfNSW of, “we needed to change the timing for this meeting while we finalise some further details around the upcoming consultation”.

North Richmond Bridge slowly reappeared as the flood waters started to go down in March

The bridge was also not mentioned in the Federal government’s multi-billion dollar Budget infrastructure list released on Budget day May 11.

So, what’s happening?

As reported by both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Guardian this past week, word from the Coalition camp is they will be concentrating on NSW marginal seats as a route to victory in the upcoming election, which the smart money says will be this October – and there are few seats more marginal than ours, the Federal seat of Macquarie, currently held by Labor’s Susan Templeman by a mere couple of hundred votes.

Not surprisingly then, some believe the bridge, route, specific funding and specific timescale will be announced when the Coalition decide to call a General Election, presumably in an effort to suggest to voters the bridge will get built if a Coalition MP is elected.

What a splash such an announcement would make locally on the eve of a General Election. It might even be similar to the $200m funding announcement for the bridge in the 2019 Federal Budget which was a major campaign point for Liberal candidate Sarah Richards during the Federal election campaign in 2019, which Labor’s Ms Templeman narrowly won.

Despite that 2019 promise of Federal funding – the State had already put $7m in prior to the 2019 election for exploratory work – three years later there is still not even a confirmed route for the bridge, despite the Coalition being in power at State level since 2011 and Federal level since 2013.

Members of the North Richmond duplication Community Working Group have been told by TfNSW that the timing of release of the Options Report – which could be about a specific route being chosen, but not necessarily - is being set by “the Minister”, so a NSW State minister, and the Community Group has more recently been told in emails from TfNSW that decisions are subject to “state and federal agencies”.

Aside from funding – and remember $200m has been promised by Scott Morrison’s government and has been sitting on a table somewhere since 2019 – it’s hard to see what the Federal government has to do with a State bridge and State road package.

And the funding picture was further muddied only a month ago when Hawkesbury State Liberal MP Robyn Preston told a meeting of the Pitt Town Progress Association she was working hard to try and get $500m for the North Richmond duplication – the first time a doubling of the original $250m estimate has come up.

Does that mean $500 million – half a billion dollars – will be promised for the bridge and associated road network come the election? It’s a decent question but not one we’ll get an answer to just yet.

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman at Parliament House earlier this month

The apparently stalled plan for the duplication bridge - aimed primarily at easing traffic congestion over the Hawkesbury River - was also brought up by MP Templeman in Parliament this week.

“There was nothing in this Budget to bring forward funding for the construction of North Richmond bridge – which the Morrison Government spins as a ‘third crossing’, but which the RMS, which will actually build it, refers to as a ‘duplication’,” Ms Templeman said, adding, “the duplication of a bridge that was underwater nine weeks ago”.

That is a fair point because what we currently know is any new bridge at North Richmond is set to run almost alongside the current North Richmond bridge, which after Yarramundi bridge is the first to go underwater in a Hawkesbury flood, as we saw in March, so a new bridge – unless Transport for NSW surprise us all – is not going to be flood free.

New Windsor Bridge in the March floods - "flood free access" said MP Ray Williams in 2012. Pic - Darren Pead

In May 2012, the new Windsor Bridge was touted by then Hawkesbury MP Ray Williams in his newsletter delivered to thousands of residents, as “…flood free access for residents of Wilberforce, Glossodia, Freeman’s Reach, East Kurrajong, Colo Heights and other areas west of the Hawkesbury River”, but as we all saw, the March floods proved that wrong in a big way.

Ms Templeman has been working on getting a third crossing since the 2010 election (which she lost) when she had a promise from the then Labor government under Julia Gillard to get the ball rolling and start the process of planning for a third river crossing. That planning did begin, with a number of funded studies.

Richmond resident Venecia Wilson, who is a member of the increasingly frustrated Community Working Group, told the Post she had been emailing TfNSW regularly, and had been repeatedly told that the Options Report “is with the Minister”.

“Then we got told it’s awaiting both state and federal agencies. After contacting them a number of times in the past month or so, we were finally given a date for a community stakeholder meeting, which was to have been held this last Thursday [May 27]. And then that meeting was cancelled.”

There's a bridge under there...North Richmond Bridge completely submerged during the March floods. Will a duplication be better?

We asked TfNSW why the cancellation, and they told us, “the meeting will be rescheduled shortly when a detailed update on the project will be shared with members [of the Community Working Group]”.

“There's a lot of talk in the community about this being delayed in order to allow for political campaign announcements,” Ms Wilson said, “which I really hope is not the case, however it’s now been over a year since we were promised the Options Report would be released for public comment and people are getting pretty fed up with the process," Ms Wilson said.

Another interesting – and maybe purely coincidental - element in all this is the housing and agricultural college development proposed by builders Celestino at North Richmond’s Hambledon Park which was rejected by Hawkesbury Council when it came up for discussion during their Draft Local Housing Strategy late last year.

Celestino told the Post in a story we published on April 16 that they still believed in their concept and would pursue it and added that any eventual Masterplan for Hambledon Park will include funds for what they call, “more bridge capacity over the Hawkesbury River”.

This week surveyors were on site at Hambledon Park. We asked Celestino if they could let us know what the surveyors were doing and they told us, "we are confirming the site boundaries which is standard practice when we purchase sites. There’s no progress to report as such at this time".

Interestingly, surveyors were seen on Crowleys Lane, Yarramundi Lane and Castlereagh Road in the past week too – but as it happens they had nothing to do with any new bridge route. They were privately contracted by the owners of the historic homestead Bronte who were seeking the actual boundaries of the original plot of land. One of the proposed bridge routes does run fairly close to Bronte.

When there are further developments to this story we will of course let you know.

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