By Julian Bajkowski
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell’s new state infrastructure strategy has come under heavy fire from a prominent regional leader after the Mayor of Cowra, Bill West, slammed the new blueprint as deficient and Sydney-centric.
“There’s no ‘State’ in this strategy – it’s all to do with alleviating Sydney’s traffic problems with a total lack of vision for inland NSW [and] for transport infrastructure west of the [Blue] Mountains.” Councillor West said.
"Their only suggestion on fixing country roads is for collective procurement between Councils and to recommend competitive tendering for Roads and Maritime Maintenance Contracts.”
The strong criticism underscores growing fears in the NSW local government sector that country areas will run a poor second to Sydney’s perpetually clogged roads in terms of infrastructure renewal, with sorely needed improvements falling by the wayside.
The deterioration of roads and rail links throughout regional New South Wales has become a source of serious frustration in many areas, with anger spurred on by rising fuel costs and an increase in heavy vehicle and rail traffic created by the minerals boom.
Increases in heavy vehicle use of regional roads is a core problem issue for councils who have to maintain roads because of bloated repair costs with little in the way of a return on their investment in bitumen.
At the same time, there are concerns that not enough is being done to transfer heavy freight from roads to rail.
Councillor West said the new infrastructure strategy, labelled “First Things First”, “ignores the needs of communities west of the Blue Mountains.”
“The Strategy shows a lack of serious consideration of the major big-ticket issue for the region — upgrading the Bells Line of Road into Sydney and the high-speed rail route between Melbourne and Brisbane,” Councillor West said.
Many country areas remain fervent supporters of an increase in fast and very fast rail infrastructure because they believe it has the potential to draw people back to their regions by opening up the possibility of commuting to cities like Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne in a reasonable time.
Cowra’s mayor has also taken a swing at the idea of merging utility services to save costs, warning that regions lose more than they gain through claimed efficiencies.
“We are opposed to amalgamations of water and sewerage services; the supposed savings in economy-of-scale are never matched by the loss of local control, loss of local jobs, and indifference to the needs of local communities and a cheaper commodity,” Councillor West said.
He said that “forced amalgamation of county council electricity providers in the 1990s” resulted in skyrocketing electricity prices for country people.
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