Councils say roads transfer falls ‘woefully short’

Only five councils have been successful in applying to have roads transferred over to the NSW government, despite the state promising to take up to 15,000 km of regional roads off the hands of local government.

Linda Scott

The state government made the promise at the 2019 election saying it wanted to relieve the financial burden on local government.

Councils welcomed the announcement at the time, after years of arguing they were unfairly shouldering road maintenance costs.

But now they’re crying foul after an independent panel recommended that less than 400 km of regional roads will be transferred back to the state government despite applications from 120 of the state’s 128 councils.

The panel’s interim report, dated February 21 but released by roads minister Paul Toole on Tuesday, contains recommendations for a priority list of transfers ahead of the main round which opens on September 27.

Councils that missed out the first time will have a chance to reapply.

“Today we’re starting the process of transferring some of these roads to state management, which will open up a much larger pool of resources to support these critical local connectors and make sure work that needs to be done, gets done,” Mr Toole said.

Mr Toole said the government ‘broadly supported’ the recommendations of the independent panel and would move forward in coming months on its $250 million promise to upgrade the transferred roads.

Frustration in local government

The release of the report has frustrated the peak NSW local government body, which says the recommendation in the report represented just three per cent of what was originally promised.

“Almost 120 councils across NSW applied for priority road takebacks, but only five applications met the government’s criteria,” president Linda Scott said.

“This falls woefully short of what we were hoping for.”

Cr Scott said the outcome sparks new concerns about the government’s commitment to help councils maintain local jobs by awarding Road Maintenance Council Contracts (RMCC) to them.

The contracts provide around $200 million a year for council-trained professionals to undertake road maintenance on state roads.

LGNSW first raised the red flag last October when the state government sought expressions of interest from private sector operators.

“These contracts are vitally important to ensure councils are not financially worse off under road takebacks and, equally importantly, not forced to lay off road maintenance workers under new arrangements,” she said on Wednesday.

“I am hopeful that when the Government’s full round of applications for road takeback open at the end of this month, we will start to see faster progress along with the guarantees we seek around maintenance contracts to ensure communities are not worse off and local jobs are protected.”

Roads minister Paul Toole released the interim report on road transfers on Tuesday

The five councils whose submissions for transfer were endorsed are Kempsey, Narromine, Clarence Valley, Ballina and Cabonne.

Applications that weren’t accepted in the first round will be reconsidered in the second round.

“Applications made for road reclassification and/or transfer that were not recommended will be
deferred and further considered in the full submission round,” the panel says.

The report also contains recommendations for another 354 kilometres of roads to be reclassified.

Roads can be reclassified between local, regional and state, with only regional roads eligible to be transferred to state ownership.

Mr Toole said Transport for NSW will now begin engaging with relevant councils to plan for the transfer of the priority roads, and identify roads in need of upgrade.

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