Council fights back

DYERS Crossing Bridge was the forum of the first Greater Taree City Council community education campaign to protest the axing of $12.5 million Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package.

The council and community is reeling from the December announcement of Lyne MP, David Gillespie that federal funding for Manning Valley roads and bridges has been withdrawn.

Mr Gillespie’s announcement sparked a passionate, strong political response from council with words such as “gobsmacked, gutted and disbelieving” used to describe the shock decision.

Mayor Paul Hogan stated in December that it was “a harsh position for Dr Gillespie to take, particularly given the closing of various companies and accompanying job losses in the Manning in recent times” and on Monday he “expressed disappointment that Dr Gillespie had not vigorously opposed the proposed loss of funding to his electorate.”

Council intends to fight the federal government decision and is working to rally support within the community for its bid to get the cash back.

Mayor Paul Hogan this week stood on Dyers Crossing Bridge with local residents to explain the impact of the federal government decision on planned works for local roads and bridges. 

Put simply, the federal government has reneged on the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package which according to council “was a fully funded allocation in the 2011-2012 Budget”. 

Council secured the funding allocation in 2011 via the federal government’s Community Infrastructure Grant Program. It was a two stage funding program with $1.1 million allocated in stage one and $11.4 million in stage two. It was a big windfall for the Manning Valley and came from the lobbying and negotiations of former Lyne MP, Rob Oakeshott as part of successful negotiations to establish a minority government.

Fast forward to July 2012 and council signed a Community Infrastructure Grants Program Funding Agreement with the Commonwealth for stage one funding of $1.1 million from the $12.5 million funding package.

That agreement enabled council to tender for the investigation, survey, design and cost estimates for each project to be called for and awarded.

In October last year, council met with newly-elected Lyne MP, David Gillespie “to reinforce the critical nature of the roads and bridges package, to determine the status of the Community Infrastructure Grants Program and to seek the federal government’s commitment to stage two construction.”

Two months later council learned that the stage two construction allocation of $11.4 million would not be funded, and in January, Mr Gillespie added insult to injury with the announcement that he would not lobby for more federal government road funding until Greater Taree City Council provided him with “a complete outline of where federal funding allocated to the council is being spent.”

Dr Gillespie has yet to meet with council but in a series of media releases he has advised council to “start fixing roads through better tendering and construction practices” and this week challenged council to prove its ability to manage federal government funding. 

“A significant number of people within the Manning Valley have raised concerns about council’s local road network and given the extraordinary rate increases they have sought approval for in recent times, I believe there is a need for greater transparency on when funds are identified to be spent, whether the projects earmarked for funding are running on time, and most importantly, whether they are being completed within budget.

Dr Gillespie said he would analyse the information provided by council.

“As far as the federal funding allocated to council is concerned, I know the local community is keen to see the maximum benefit of those funds are being achieved and that is why I’d like council to provide me with this information before I begin lobbying for more funds to be injected into these federal road programs,” he added.

While the politicians wage a war of words on the issue of funding, it is the communities and individuals, such as Cheryl Bellette, who bear the brunt of the decision.

Cheryl lives on Avalon Road in Dyers Crossing and says “it’s always in the back of your mind that it could go” when you drive on Dyers Crossing Bridge.

“You cut your speed to a crawl and you can feel it move under you as you drive,” Cheryl explained. “I try to avoid it at all costs but at Christmas time I had to collect parcels from the produce store at Dyers Crossing. I had no choice and I could not believe how bad it had become.

“The politicians are happy to fund pay rises, but if the bridge goes and someone is on it, then tell me, who is going to pay for that?”

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