THE Merriwa-Willow Tree Road closure and the need for additional road funding was a hot topic of discussion at the NSW Farmers meet the candidates forum last night.
Local landholders expressed their concerns over increased freight prices caused by the Merriwa-Willow Tree Road closure and the poor state of alternative roads currently being used to transport livestock and produce.
Here’s what candidates had to say about road funding and improving vital roads between the Golden Highway and New England Highway.
In order of appearance.
What would you do to deliver certainty of funding to local government to maintain repair and improve roads across the electorate?
Steve Reynolds said it comes down to funding and getting more of that 1.1 billion dollars of the royalties. “That’s the only way that we fix things, I think that the current government is sitting on a report for local roads to be signed over to state roads. We are still waiting for that announcement to come through that some of the councils have put forward. Dungog Shire was signed over in 1995 to the council from government roads and look at the state of their roads, we need to get funding back. It’s about being a strong voice to lobby to get the results,” said Mr Reynolds.
Sue Abbott said she would definitely be lobbying the government to give us our money back, because local councils have a lot of money that’s not given back to them. “The coalition needs to provide us more money so we can do the roads and other things. I would definitely be saying to the government, we need this money back to local government, i’m not speaking as a councillor but I know we are very stretched for funds. The Upper Hunter Shire is a huge electorate, we have a lot of roads and there are a lot of issues with them. It’s very important that the coalition brings this money back so we can fix the roads,” said Ms Abbott.
Kirsty O’Connell thinks local Council’s have made some extremely reasonable requests across the electorate in terms of better funding and the prevention of cost-shifting. “I whole-heartedly agree with Steve, we are producing 1.1 billion dollars in royalties and I see no reason why we can’t assist our local Councils to better fund road maintenance. Something I am seeing is in addition to sealing some of the roads in the area, that is so desperately in need of attention, we also need to be providing the kind of funding a resources for councils. I know most of us who live in the country aren’t afraid of a dirt road, but we would really like for them to grated more than once a year. I think getting some basic initiatives like that so we’re seeing quarterly grating, urgent attention for timber bridges and creek crossings so we aren’t seeing people being cut off when it rains,” said Ms O’Connell.
Jeff Drayton said the state needs to put more money back to roads, and Labor has announced a road reclassification strategy to allow the State to take over responsibility for some Council roads. “Particularly the roads in and around Dungog. We did the maths and they have 5,000 rate payers and 750 kilometres of road, it just doesn’t add up for some shires. Council are using a large percentage of income each year just to fix roads, there certainly needs to be more money come from the state government. They need to start looking at projects properly, were looking at the light rail in Sydney that hardly anyone uses, 1.6 billion to build it and it overrun by 1.7 billion, what do we do up here with roads we line them with gold,” said Mr Drayton.
Dale McNamara said he believes if the Upper Hunter gets the money that goes down the highway then roads will certainly improve.” I was up at Gloucester last week, talking to a local real estate agent I found out that a lady lost her life going down Buckets Way. It’s the tragic things that are happening on our roads that I think that our main parties and the person who wins on May 22, we need to stop the deaths on our roads, especially when a young lady with an eleven year old daughter lost her life last week at Gloucester is very sad,” said Mr McNamara.
Sue Gilroy said she agrees with “pretty well everything” that had been said by her fellow candidates. “The dollar per-capita model for our small communities and the amount of roads that they have to keep up to speed, it just doesn’t work. There isn’t enough rate payers in those communities to actually repair those roads, it comes back to funding and our state. Dungog has been used as an example, all of a sudden they have found money to be able to repair the roads when they applied for a grant before the by-election for $9 million and only received $924,000,” said Ms Gilroy.
David Layzell said roads are very important to communities and one of the key things and duties of an MP is to advocate for better road funding. “These projects really do make a difference, on the short-term we really do need more funding to our Councils for road works and maintenance because they aren’t coping with the amount of work they have to do to the road network. In the long-term, it is very important that this reclassification which is well under way, which is chaired by a National Wendy Machin who used to be the chair for the NRMA. She is making sure that we do get the Council roads reclassified back to state roads so that councils, so that they can get help from the state to maintain the local roads,” said Mr Layzell.
Archie Lea said he had travelled from Singleton to Dungog and “the roads there are rubbish.” He said roads around there are part of his platform. “I was talking to a mechanic from Dungog Tyre Service and they have to do retreads every time it storms. We need a dollar for dollar basis return in funding for roads in this area,” said Mr Lea.
Tracy Norman said she has literally eaten and breathed this very subject for years now in Dungog. “Thank you David for acknowledging the roads reclassification as did Steve as it was the advocacy for Dungog Council and myself who got the 1,500 kilometres of roads around New South Wales reclassified. Dungog has been made a priority but it hasn’t actually happened yet, although it was promised in 2019. The funding model, the idea of competitive grants is so wrong, because Councils can’t plan their work or their staff, especially smaller Councils because they don’t know what they are going to get next year. It’s not based on per-capita, its based on road length, bridge size and vehicle movements. A heavy vehicle does 10,000 cars worth of damage to roads but only counts as one vehicle movement, that needs to change,” said Ms Norman.
Proper economic development of Merriwa is being hampered by the closing of the Merriwa-Willow Tree Road and poor state of the Merriwa-Scone Road. What would be your plan to improve these vital links between the Golden Highway and New England Highway?
Steve Reynolds said, “it needs to be done and I think the main thing is the Upper Hunter Shire Council has admitted that it was their stuff up. We need to look at the plan that is at hand and where the traffic flow is going at the moment, there is no magic answer for it and I put it back to the people in the room. I would be speaking to the guys who are doing this and doing those trips more regularly than I am.”
Kirsty O’Connell said, “having worked in infrastructure there is a lot that governments can do to speed up an infrastructure project when it is a priority. Of course weather will be a constraint, of course there will be certain things that can’t be rushed but I have every confidence that if this were a priority for the state government that this could be fixed very quickly. I think pressure on the State Government to make sure that these kind of essential road repairs are undertaken in a speedy matter is essential.”
Tracy Norman said, “I guess it is a hard thing when it is a Council stuff up as Steve said, but they are working very hard to correct it. It definitely needs to be made a priority by a government and they need to work with Council to get it done in a speedy manner.”
Dale McNamara said, “I have been talking to farmers from Merriwa who use these roads with their livestock to get to the sales. Just imagine this road was in Sydney, would it still be three years later? To answer very quickly, get our royalty money to fix the roads.”
Archie Lea said, “I travel along that road, the Golden Highway, it’s a very important road. It’s easy and its’ accessible, the farmers need it and we need more funding up here for that road.”
David Layzell said, “one of the first things I did for the by-election was meet with the Upper Hunter Shire Council to talk about that particular road. Its a major road and this is having a major impact on businesses and the community. They have said, ‘we understand this is our problem and we just need to sort it out.’ There is a design process going through at the moment to fix it but we can’t just leave it to the Council to fix. There is a role there for the State Government to step in and make sure we get it up and running as soon as possible.”
Sue Gilroy said, “I agree it needs to be made a priority. What are the problems, why are they saying it’s going to be three years when there is funding there, what’s the delay? If I were to be elected, it would be understanding that first up and making it a priority so that it is fixed in a timely manner.”
Jeff Drayton said, “Daves right with one bit, it is the state members job to fix such an important road. The State Government should have already stepped in and done it. They shouldn’t be talking about how it’s going to take three years when they’re still talking about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. That is the job of the government and the member for the Upper Hunter.”
Sue Abbott said, “as a councillor for the Upper Hunter shire council, if I were to be elected I would continue- as I have done- to ask questions ,to figure out how we got to where we are and keep looking at reports. The state government has stepped in, we do have the public advisor in the works department helping council. I would continue along those lines.”
For more information on where candidates stand: Voting 101: Upper Hunter by-election.