$349m of NSW council assets damaged by natural disasters

Natural disasters damaged almost $350 million worth of infrastructure owned by more than 80 NSW councils between 2021-22, a report by the state’s auditor general says.

NSW Auditor General Margaret Crawford.

The report released on Thursday analyses the financial impact of natural disasters on relevant agencies during 2021–22.

“Natural disasters impacted the ability of councils to deliver services to communities,” auditor Margaret Crawford said.

“Council assets, such as roads, bridges, waste collection centres and other facilities used to provide essential services were damaged by natural disaster events.”

Additional staff, contractors and experts were also needed to restore and repair damaged assets and minimise disruption to service delivery, she said.

Councils also reported higher operating and maintenance costs to clean-up their LGAs and restore services, undertake stormwater maintenance, and manage coastal and foreshore areas.

“At 30 June 2022, the estimated damage to council infrastructure assets totalled $349 million,” Ms Crawford found.

NSW Auditor General

All up, the NSW government spent $1.4 billion responding to natural disasters in 2021-22, as the state was hammered by 29 natural disasters including floods and severe weather over the last two financial years.

The report adds that councils continued to experience damage from natural disasters over the first half of the 2022–23 financial year, with the  NSW government spending another  $1.1 billion.

Hardest hit regions

The hardest hit LGAs were in the Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast, Sydney Metropolitan and New England regions.

In the flood-hit Northern Rivers region alone, write-offs, damage and repairs to infrastructure came to $247 million, while clean-up, emergency response and other expenses totalled $48 million.

Lismore City Council was the worst affected in the region, accounting for 43 per cent of the $247 million in repairs and damage to infrastructure assets.

Financial impact exceeded grants

The financial impact of 2021–22 outstripped grant funding, the audit shows.

During 2021–22, councils received $162 million in federal and state grants, and $10.5 million from sources such as insurance recoveries.

The Northern Region received the most grant funding with Lismore City Council and Richmond Valley Council getting over half of the $87.2 million.

The Sydney Metropolitan region received of $28.8 million across 15 councils, while the $10.7 million received by the New England region went mostly to Moree Plains Shire Council.

“At June 30 2022, this was less than the damage to infrastructure and other costs of the natural disasters,” the report says.

From July 2022 to the end of December, natural disasters have continued to damage council infrastructure assets and spending has continued into the 2022–23 financial year, including $52.1 million of council recovery grants.

NSW Auditor General

Councils are continuing to assess damage and calculate repair bills for upcoming financial statements, Ms Crawford says, and the financial impact for the six months to 31 December 2022 is expected to grow before the end of the financial year.

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