Gateway project doubts raised

THE future of the $38.5 million Northern Gateway Regional Transport Hub is in jeopardy with State and federal politicians thrusting it back on the agenda for discussion with Greater Taree City Council.

State member for Myall Lakes, Steve Bromhead this week stepped into the ring to support federal member for Lyne, David Gillespie in his fight with council about its claim to $11.4 million stage two federal funding of the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package.

Mr Bromhead said the federal budget information sourced by Greater Taree City Council through Freedom of Information request "proves that the money wasn't appropriated."

"Just because the money is in the budget doesn't mean that agreements have been signed. If you look at that funding, 220 projects were signed, 57 projects were unsigned and Warren Truss (deputy prime minister) said those 57 projects, we will honour if they get them signed. There were about another 500 projects that missed out. Taree Council is in the 500 that miss out," Mr Bromhead said.

"There was no draft agreement drawn, there was no agreement reached as to how the new money was going to be spent and signed off. So, they (council) got $12.6 million for the Bucketts Way, they got up to $10 million, if the conditions are satisfied for the Northern Gateway, there is money for Thunderbolt's Way and other things, which is, in the scheme of things, a lot better than many other areas."

The recent emergence of the Northern Gateway project in the roads and bridges funding fight comes from Dr Gillespie's suggestion to council that it seek to transfer federal funding for the project up to $10 million to its roads and bridges program.

It is a proposal that Mr Bromhead believes council must consider in the wake of concerns he has about its application to the State government for funding for the Northern Gateway.

Mr Bromhead contends there has been delays and issues with council's funding application. He says that during discussions with the department in July 2013, it was revealed that council had not submitted an application.

He claims he rang mayor Paul Hogan about the department's application advice.

"I rang the mayor and I said, 'There's no application', and he said, 'That's rubbish, that's a lie, we've applied'. And I said, 'No, you've applied for federal funding, you haven't applied for State funding'. His reaction was that, 'Oh, I'll look into it'," Mr Bromhead said.

"Then part applications went in, applications with no support. Some parts were completed, some parts weren't completed and there wasn't any detail of who, what and when businesses, and how many employees were going to move there.

"The difficulty is, that as of December 24 last year, there was not one letter of support with the application. Not one piece of evidence with the application. Now, I have been told yesterday (Tuesday) there are now 16 letters that have belatedly been provided to the department. I have been told that by council, I haven't checked as I only got told that last night (Tuesday), and so I haven't got a briefing from the department, but I hope it's correct, I hope it goes through the process, I hope it wins and I hope we get $17.5 million. But I'm nervous about it."

Mr Bromhead says he supports the Northern Gateway and has actively pushed it with the department.

"If we can get something up and going that will create 200 jobs, that they are suggesting, then that's absolutely fantastic and I'm 100 per cent for it," he said.

"It's now with the department, the department will process that, I have given letters of support, I've spoken to the minister, I've said to the minister, and spoken to other ministers saying, 'Don't, don't punish the people of the Manning Valley because of an incompetent council. Put all that aside, just concentrate, and hopefully they have provided the evidence that will support the proposal."

Mr Bromhead said the community was perfectly entitled to say that it wants State and federal government assistance for the Northern Gateway and the roads and bridges program. However, he stressed that at present, council does not have $10 million for the Northern Gateway.

"Dr Gillespie has announced up to $10 million contingent upon obtaining State government funding, which is contingent upon the cost benefit analysis saying that it's a worthy project, and provided that out of all the projects in NSW, it's the one, or one of the group that are chosen," Mr Bromhead said.

"I hope it gets up. I think the issue is, it may get up, similarly, it may not. You've got, on the other hand, you've got shovel-ready, plans and designs on roadworks, for roads and bridges which people are screaming out, saying that's their highest priority, are ready to go. And there's $10 million in a bucket, that from what I understand, can be requested.

"It can happen. It's not something that anyone wants to happen, it's not something that normally happens, but if a community through their council says to the deputy prime minister, we desperately want the money that's been allocated for (a) to be applied towards (b), I'm sure he'd listen. As has happened in the past.

"Council have got, they've got a decision to make. Do they put all the eggs in the one basket? Or do they, you know, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. They are shovel-ready for a number of projects, there is up to $10 million there, it's up to them."