Road a source of frustration

GREATER Taree City Council mayor Paul Hogan has been visiting communities to discuss the ill-fated $12.5 million Greater Taree Roads and Bridges package.

Last Wednesday Gloucester Road was the focus when a small gathering of local residents turned out to hear the mayor speak at Dollys Flat.

The mayor addressed the audience and got straight to the point.

Council is upset because of funding of $11.4 million which the mayor said has been withdrawn.

He highlighted that there is indeed a difference of opinion between himself and federal member for Lyne, David Gillespie as to "where the money has gone." 

For local residents the rough surface of Gloucester Road is a constant source of frustration.

With two fatal accidents last year alone on the road, the mayor was told the condition of the road is unacceptable. The mayor acknowledged the need for the road to have money spent on it, but could offer little hope that funds would be available anytime soon.

He said that council would now have to look at its budget, "we want to do the best we can," he said. 

Cr Hogan was clearly angry with the situation that Greater Taree City Council now finds itself in. He assured the community members gathered that council would continue the fight to "claw back the funding." 

Those present put a number of questions to Cr Hogan including calling into question how council chooses to spend the money it receives.

A couple of times the mayor referred people to the council website and he wrapped up by saying "We're open to how we spend our money."

The story so far...

ON December 18 last year Greater Taree City Council issued a media statement that said council had been informed that promises of $12.7m in Australia Government funding for Manning Valley roads and bridges had been withdrawn. 

According to council affected by this decision was the construction of the Dickensen and Dyers Crossing Bridges, Old Bar, Manning Point and Gloucester Roads.

Federal member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie said in a December 19 media release that the funding was a Labor promise and no contracts were signed by the Commonwealth. "There has been no withdrawal of funding. I will be honouring my election commitments," he said, confirming that a pre-election commitment to deliver $17.4 million towards the upgrade of the Bucketts Way will be honoured. Mr Gillespie called on council to "start fixing our local roads through better tendering and construction practices and ensure the millions of dollars that is already being invested by the federal government in Greater Taree City Council's roads are being spent wisely."

Works to Gloucester Road were being budgeted for by council as part of a Community Infrastructure Grant to be funded in two stages. GTCC said the grant was part of a $1.4 billion agreement between Julia Gillard and independent members Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott for regional infrastructure investment dating back to 2010.

Stage one of the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package was signed in July 2012 with $1.1m funding for survey and design. Between August 2012 and June 2013 GTCC said tenders for the investigation, survey, design and cost estimates for each project were called for, awarded and administered by GTCC. By June 26, 2013 GTCC said stage one milestones were achieved and submitted. But in August the federal election was announced and GTCC said the Community Infrastructure Grants Program was put on hold.

The council has since come under fire for not acting quick enough to secure the funding before the election.

In April last year Rob Oakeshott told Fairfax Media there were no guarantees that funding projects not yet started would be secure after September 14. "If the money doesn't exchange hands soon, I can't guarantee a future government will honour the existing commitments," he said.

The mayor said last week in Wingham that his staff had been working in good faith and that you cannot speed up the actions of bureaucrats.

Last week Mr Gillespie hit back at community criticism that he was not present at the mayor's roadside meetings by telling us he was not invited.

"I understand this, and a couple of other rallies have been organised by Cr Hogan as part of his political campaign which appears to be aimed at deflecting attention away from the fact that council is doing a very poor job in managing its local road network," he said.

Cr Paul Hogan addresses the residents of the Dollys Flat area last week

Cr Paul Hogan addresses the residents of the Dollys Flat area last week