Gateway go-ahead - $10m federal funding

A $10 MILLION cash injection will revive Greater Taree City Council’s proposed Northern Gateway Regional Transport Hub project.

Council, Manning Valley Business Chamber and local business is celebrating the announcement which will see the construction of a freight distribution terminal, an upgrade to the entry/exit into Cundletown off the Pacific Highway, a new four-lane road north of Cundletown residences to the airport roundabout and a duplicated Dawson River Bridge.

It is tipped to bring up to 300 jobs and about $200 million in economic activity to the region.

Four months ago the project flatlined with the election of a Coalition Government and federal member for Lyne, David Gillespie. 

Former independent member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott secured $10 million in June from the Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF) and Greater Taree City Council and the community celebrated the economic investment with predictions that the project would create 35 local construction jobs, up to 50 full-time jobs on completion and 200 indirect jobs.

The celebration was shortlived as the 2013 federal election campaign revealed that a Liberal-National Party Coalition government would not guarantee the allocated funding. Comments by Nationals candidate, David Gillespie angered mayor, Paul Hogan and prompted him to publicly state that “David Gillespie’s a wuss” on the eve of the public going to the polls.

The potential threat to the project became the catalyst for a council and Manning Valley Business Chamber campaign to aggressively push the project with the Department of Trade and Investment, the RMS, the Department of Planning and the newly-elected member for Lyne, David Gillespie.

This week that political pressure reaped a $10 million reward with a grant allocation under the coalition’s new Community Development Grants program. 

Mr Gillespie announced the funding “subject to full compliance with the relevant program guidelines”.

Council general manager, Gerard José, said “we are pleased and relieved that the federal government is going to uphold commitments made for regional infrastructure funding.”

“This project has been through a rigorous process and independently assessed through the original RDAF approval process,” Mr José said.

“This project has great merit and it is great to see the federal government recognising this project has tangible and real job outcomes.

“I look forward to receiving details of the funding agreement from the Commonwealth department, and in conjunction with the Manning Valley Business Chamber, we will continue to liaise with State government representatives to secure State funding,“ he added.

The total cost of the project is tipped to be around $38.5 million with council expected to contribute about $10 million. It’s contribution will be to the northern development as a whole, including Brimbin, and involves ‘in-kind’ contributions including a mixture of land access and staff time.

 The additional funding is expected to come from the State government.

Executive officer for Regional Development Australia – Mid North Coast, Peter Tregilgas said the project would “act as a much needed catalyst for economic growth in the lower Mid North Coast area which, like many regional areas in NSW, desperately needs investment in business and infrastructure to underpin economic growth and create opportunities.”

As news of the cash windfall trickled through the community, Manning Valley Business Chamber president, Geoff Jackson expressed his delight.

“It’s great news, it’s fantastic news! We’ve been working hard on it at a State level and done quite a lot more work with modelling, and it stacks up even better in terms of jobs,” Mr Jackson said.

“We need this when you consider the region recently lost 300 jobs. You can’t keep having job losses, it creates serious issues for our community and economy.

“This will turbo change things and do wonders for the local and regional economy,” he added.

Big trucks are big business for Bourkes Transport in Taree and its managing director, Wayne Bourke is keen to use the terminal.

“It would remove about 12 truck movements per day off local roads. It would save us about 30 minutes per truck per day and that’s dead money,” Mr Bourke said.

“We could do all our driver interchange and offload work at the terminal.”

Mr Bourke cites the “endless opportunities” for job creation as the greatest benefit to the community.

“There is no business in the area that could stand up tomorrow and create 300 jobs. That is what we need as we’ve taken some hits lately,” he said.

“But there is endless opportunities for job creation, just quickly I can think of the need for cold storage, forklifts and mechanics ... I could fill a whiteboard!”

Tidy Up Taree Day organiser and partner with GPB Partners Accountants and Business Advisors, Graham Brown, said a recent business analysis of the local economy revealed the region had taken a hit of around 1200 job redundancies in the last five years.

“I’ve been a keen observer of this town for 30 years. My business is a pretty good litmus test for the health of our local economy and I can tell you our local businesses are doing it tough,” Mr Brown said.

“I’ve been asking the business community to tell me what business, what opportunity that we could create that would be the button to press to bring jobs back to the region. 

“There has been nothing we could think of until the Northern Gateway Project. It is that one thing. The day it opens, it will generate economic activity and jobs.

“It’s the shot in the arm that this community needs and it needs it fast.”

He is also excited about the potential for the project to enable the creation of a wonderful entrance to Taree.

“Taree needs an entrance and a four-lane highway coming across the Dawson River into Taree could be magnificent,” Mr Brown explained.

“It would bring people past the airport, Manning Entertainment Centre, the aquatic centre and the recreation ground. They would look at all of these facilities and think that this little town is great and offers a lot.

“I’m an impressions person and believe that with people you’ve got 15 seconds to make a good impression. It’s the same with Taree and this will be our good impression.”

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