PRESIDENT of Manning Valley Business Chamber, Geoff Jackson and economic development manager, Steve Attkins, both addressed Wednesday's extraordinary meeting to reiterate the importance of the Northern Gateway Project for our region and to urge councillors to continue to push for the $7.5 million from the State government.
Both men said that they were shocked by the revelation that the funding contribution from the State was going to be significantly less than what they had been working towards in their applications and confirmed that the member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead had failed to advise them of this during various meetings, briefings and discussions.
Mr Jackson said he didn't agree with council making a decision based on the informal advice that had been given to them by the NSW Department of Trade and Investment.
He advised that the chamber had written to NSW Premier Mike Baird on Monday, requesting an urgent meeting to brief him on the details of the project and hopefully garner a further commitment from the State.
"We've decided, as the chamber, to form a multi-party task force for the project, to implement strategy to ensure the gateway comes to fruition," Mr Jackson said.
"The final decision could be left until the 23rd, we believe we need this time."
Mr Jackson also proposed that council sign off on the federal funds, at which point the chamber could look at changing the structure of the project to suit that amount of funding, however this was later refuted by confirmation that the federal funding is dependent on the State's contribution.
Mr Jackson finished by thanking council staff for their assistance and saying it was unfortunate that council had been put in such a situation.
"I'm sorry you've been put in such a position, to have to choose," he said.
"I don't agree, but I understand that you do need to consider the option (of transferring the funding)."
Councillors then questioned Mr Jackson with Cr David Keegan wanting Mr Jackson to clarify that member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead had been aware that $7.5 million was the figure expected from the State.
"That's correct," Mr Jackson said.
"We had redesigned the application and presented it to Stephen Bromhead with the dollar amount of $7.5 million.
"We only received information through the economic development board that it would be less. If we had have been made aware previously, we would have changed the scope."
He also told Cr Robyn Jenkins that his last meeting with Mr Bromhead had been a "detailed briefing in his office", which was an overview of the final application.
Economic development manager, Steve Attkins threw further support behind the gateway at the meeting, and outlined the whole process, from securing the funding, to private investors, community support and more.
"This project was independently assessed by a federal panel," he said.
"We asked for $15 million and got $10 million from the federal government, and we were advised that the State government had the funds to support it but we also sought private investment support.
"The numbers were made clear to Stephen Bromhead and we were told he would support that," Mr Attkins continued.
"At no time in all dealings was I advised that there was a limit to funding per jobs."
Mr Attkins said the chamber had had excellent support from Greater Taree City Council staff throughout the process.
"This project is nationally significant, not just regional," he said.
"It directly addresses major job losses by the Manning Valley over the last few years."
Upon questioning from councillors, Mr Attkins said the current application was "unworkable" with $11 million to spend, but that it could be done in stages.
He said he personally felt it was "unacceptable" to transfer the money, but that he did "share council's pain".
However, he added that if the federal money is signed off on, then the private investors are "more than ready".