• Tony Bosworth

The Grose River Bridge – is it going anywhere?

A Grose River Bridge has been promised for over a decade, but with council and Redbank’s developers continuing to blame each other for the hold-up – when will we see a bridge?

When Hawkesbury councillors voted to allow the Redbank development to go ahead over a decade ago it was under the condition that the developers – Redbank Communities as they are now known – build and pay for a bridge across the Grose River to allow access to Penrith and the Blue Mountains via Springwood.

But over 10 years later there is still no timeline for the bridge and today’s council and the developers each blame the other for the impasse.

Once completed – and paid for in its entirety by developers Redbank as agreed as part of a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) - residents from Grose Wold and Vale, Bowen Mountain, and Kurrajong, as well as Redbank residents, could avoid the traffic snarls at North Richmond if they are travelling to Penrith, or heading for the Blue Mountains via Springwood, or simply seeking to go around the edges of Richmond.

The main idea behind what is called by those involved in it, the Small Bridge, because it’s not a major river crossing, was always to alleviate traffic from Redbank, allowing the growing number of residents to easily get across the river without adding to traffic in North Richmond.

There are two proposed routes being considered, one which would see the bridge cross the river at Navua Reserve, and the other going down Grose River Rd and across Ashtons Rd, but crossing the river further up, allowing for a higher bridge crossing, and joining Springwood Rd.

It is unlikely the Navua Reserve route will be chosen, but costings may still be carried out. It does go across Crown Land – which means no expensive land acquisition, but the area is a much-loved Reserve, and Council essentially took it off the table in its last term.

New roundabout will soon be here at junction of Grose Vale and Grose River Rds

As we reported earlier this week, work on a new roundabout is beginning soon at the junction of Grose Vale Rd and Grose River Rd. It will primarily be there to allow Redbank residents to get onto Grose Vale Rd once the large Southern Heights part of the development has been built. Work on that phase of the development has just started.

Of course, the new roundabout would also help smooth the Grose River Rd route to a new bridge.

The VPA Redbank Communities signed right back before the first sod of earth was turned at the former Peel’s Dairy land commits them to pay for and build a bridge – no matter what it ultimately costs.

It was that commitment which pushed the development over the line with Council and allowed the State government to give it the tick of approval too.

Sounds simple enough, but 10 years later there’s still not an agreed route, and so no Development Application has been put in.

The Council says they are waiting on Redbank to come up with a bridge design. Redbank say Council has not “assessed the application”.

It’s perhaps not too surprising Hawkesbury Council are proceeding very carefully, but it’s also about how money is allocated to the bridge build….

According to the terms of the VPA, if a full proposal for a bridge route is put forward and cannot be agreed or passed by Hawkesbury Council, then Redbank can effectively wash their hands of it, and they say they will make a payment of $23.5m to Roads and Maritime Services (RMS, now part of Transport for NSW) but of course that doesn’t guarantee those millions would be used for a new bridge.

But a cynic might say that could be a more attractive, and potentially cheaper option for Redbank, than building a new bridge, which 10 years after the inked deal could be quite a bit more expensive.

If a bridge route is eventually agreed between Council, the developers and the RMS then Redbank will have to build it, no matter what the cost, and of course it could well be higher than $23.5m.

And because the amount is index linked, it has now risen to $23.8m, but Redbank can take ongoing associated costs out – say, for legal fees, surveyors, for example – and that saw $800,000 taken out by 2017, so it is likely to be much more now – Redbank won’t confirm how much.

The original route talked about was through Navua and Yarramundi reserves. An application was submitted in council for the Navua route but was withdrawn in the last Council term.

The alternate route leading across the Ashtons Rd junction at the end of Grose River Rd started to be looked at seriously by Council in 2018-19 and is likely to be the favoured route.

Here is the most likely route for the new 'small bridge' across the Grose River - pic from Council's 2019 discussion document

A spokesperson for Redbank Communities told us on Friday, “Council has not assessed the application [through Navua Reserve] and proposed to move it upstream of its proposed location [the Grose River route].

“The value of this VPA item is $23.8 million and Redbank Communities is still committed towards building this vital piece of infrastructure.

“It is to all of our best interest to build this bridge which will immensely help with travel time.

“But if Council does not assess the application in the near future, the funds will be given to Transport NSW,” the spokesperson said.

Interestingly, the amounts of money to be made available for the bridge build – the $23.8m as it is now – was due to be released in stages, increasing as the sales of housing plots grew. This is likely another reason for the relatively slow progress – the developers need the money from plot sales to be able to build the new bridge.

Council’s now departed General Manager, Peter Conroy – he left in circumstances never publicly revealed with just three days notice, and incidentally has just accepted a senior role at Blacktown Council - began to shepherd the proposed Grose River Rd to Springwood Rd route - through the normal Council planning process. That is ongoing.

Since 2019, the RMS has been in discussions with potentially affected landholders along this route but the RMS will not comment on whether any acquisitions have been made so far. The route affects three properties and those owners were contacted back in 2019.

This route was outlined and documented three years ago and Hawkesbury Council had a public launch and sought public feedback.

Back then, the RMS said a route following the Grose River Rd and across Ashtons Rd would likely see a bridge with a five tonne weight limit and school buses limited to a 60kph speed limit.

The calculated cost for this option in 2019 was between $20 to $30m.

With the linked road changes that could potentially rise to as much as $50m today, but it is not clear if Redbank would have to pay for upgrades to feeder roads, that expense could be down to Council.

Two angles of the very quiet current Ashtons Rd junction at the end of Grose River Rd which would be modified if this becomes the agreed route

The next steps – detailed costings for both routes and a preferred route, which is likely to be the Grose River option, have to be presented to the council by its staff for ‘in principle support’. That hasn’t happened yet either, but it could be soon.

This last week, Council’s Director of City Planning, Linda Perrine, told councillors and a member of the public in an email that, “I can advise that Redbank are progressing works on the detail design for the bridge. Once that has been completed they will lodge an application to Council to gain approval for construction of the bridge”.

Once that does happen – assuming it gets the nod of approval from councillors - it would lead to an amended VPA and the design of the bridge would be publicly unveiled, with an agreed route, then public scrutiny and feedback would be sought.

It will also need feedback from several other bodies, including WaterNSW, plus environmental studies.

Then the bridge will be built.

What we don’t have yet – even after over a decade of waiting - is an agreed route – though it is likely to be the Ashtons Rd route – or any kind of timetable…

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