Trying to "heal community divisions" over bridge route options splits councillors
Getting Hawkesbury councillors to agree to find out the cost of an analysis of different bridge routes in a bid to help “heal divisions appearing in the community” around community concerns over the $500m North Richmond bridge duplication and bypass took a while at this week’s Council meeting.
Independent councillor Pete Reynolds put up a motion aimed at finding out the cost of a peer review of all the route options, using the computer traffic model developed and owned by Council, and traffic data the council already has from 2019 - plus any other information held by Transport for NSW (TfNSW) - with a view to ultimately looking at all the suggested routes to better inform Council about the best possible route.
TfNSW are pushing the Green Route, which many in the community are unhappy about because it will go through their land, or homes, and potentially ruin views and increase traffic noise.
Council’s Infrastructure Director, Jeff Organ, told the meeting TfNSW had used Council’s traffic model and modified it to suit the bridge project. It is not known if TfNSW paid to use the Council model.
Cllr Reynolds’ motion made the point that the peer analysis he’s looking for should cover the situation with and without the Grose River Bridge (GRB). This is the so-called ‘small bridge’ which Redbank’s developers are obliged to fund, but it is not definite in that the goal posts for beginning this bridge continue to move. TfNSW have included the GRB in their modelling.
Hawkesbury Council have already asked TfNSW for more information on the chosen route – the Green Route – as well as the alternatives, and they are waiting for a reply.
Cllr Reynolds said his intention was, “to get a cost of a peer review. It’s not intended to develop a whole new option of our own, it’s not saying go ahead”.
The planned route for the Grose River Bridge - but will it ever be built?
He said the aim was to provide clarity and transparency about the options and to try to heal what he called the increasing division in the community.
“It’s not intended in any way to create division,” said Cllr Reynolds, “but rather to heal divisions appearing in the community. It aims to alleviate the growing suspicions in the community about a lack of transparency. It’s not intended to be for or against any particular option.”
He said, “if we can’t bring the community back together I think the result will be another Windsor [bridge protest] and no-one wants that.”
Cllr Reynolds said one reason for distrust of the process by some in the community was down to TfNSW, “being told to work up the Green Route by the government. They have been quite open about that. Why did the government demand that of TfNSW, I don’t know”.
But Mayor Patrick Conolly strongly disputed Cllr Reynolds’ assertion and said, “there is no evidence at all that I have seen that the government instructed TfNSW to make or to work up the Green Route or make the other options look bad, or make the green option look better and I’m sure if that was the case someone would be in ICAC now, but there is clearly no public evidence of that at all.
“I’m not in favour of this motion at all. I’m very surprised by this motion given we’ve just been through quite a long process," said the Mayor.
“We haven’t had any response from TfNSW yet. I’m not sure why we’re disregarding all of that and now going in another direction. The idea that we’re going to be able to develop a better option from any sort of resource we have is fanciful.
“The cost of us developing our own option would be astronomical and the reality is it’s not our responsibility. There’s no guarantee if we develop this option that TfNSW are going to take any notice of it.
“For a councillor who talks constantly about cost shifting, the fact we would volunteer to do this for them I think is irresponsible.”
Cllr Nathan Zamprogno asked,
“how far are we obliged to go on behalf of our community to reflect the concerns that council has particularly about this project,"
"and at what stage do we step over the boundary and ask TfNSW to do so?
"Several of our public speakers effectively said the Green Route is against the recommendation of TfNSW. In every briefing they [TfNSW] have taken pains to point out why it is the best option.”
Cllr Danielle Wheeler said, “I think when we are talking about the lives and livelihood, and certainly property values and continued well being of the businesses and the community, I believe we are obliged to go as far as we possibly can and I see this as contributing to our suite of info. We need more information in order to go into that for the community.
"How far should we go? We should go all the way,” said Cllr Wheeler.
Cllr Reynolds said he was, “really disappointed this would be spun as some kind of political exercise, I think it’s pretty poor form. What I’m trying to do here is bring clarity and heal division.
“It’s clear that promises and commitments made by TfNSW are not being kept. TfNSW is not being objective. The Green Route is against the advice of TfNSW, if you read their initial report their option was yellow – the last report before the third options report. They were against the Green option because of the damage it would cause to North Richmond.
“Contrary to what the Mayor has said, TfNSW – they said this in a community focus meeting - they were directed by the government to work up the Green option for the preferred option report. There is nothing corrupt about the government doing that, they do it all the time, they’ve done it all over the state, they’ve done it with M2, WestConnex, they did it at Windsor. It stinks, it’s wrong, but it’s not corrupt. Also TfNSW said it was delayed for 8 months for political reasons.
“This notice of motion is not to go to the expense of developing another option. We have to remember – and some of us still remember - that we don’t represent the government - we represent the community. We’re not here to stand with our backs towards the government and advocate for them to the community. If the community is upset and sees a problem and we can see that we are obliged – we took an oath - to represent the community and that should be above any political party allegiances, or any ties someone may have with the government of the day.”
Liberal councillors Conolly, and Tree, plus ex-Liberal and now independent Zamprogno, voted against the Motion, with independent councillors Ross, Reynolds, Garrow, Lyons-Buckett, plus Greens councillor Wheeler, and Labor's Calvert, voting for it to pass.
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