A stark assessment of Byron Shire Council’s road funding record has been delivered by Byron Council staff, declaring in a new report that continued failure to invest adequately in the road network will negatively affect road safety, travel times and the environment.
But mayor Simon Richardson says Council is doing its best to improve the region’s roads given its extremely tight budget, the impact of tourism, and the near-total lack of support from the state government.
The staff report examines the amount of road resealing and reconstruction work undertaken by Council compared to the targets it adopted in its Transport Asset Management Plan (TAMP).
Council has not come close to reaching its annual target of resealing 39km of roads and completely reconstructing 6km of roads in each of the past three years, according to the report.
In the 2017/18 financial year, for example, Council had resealed 16km of roads – less than half the target distance.
During the same period, it reconstructed 1.3km of the road network – less than a quarter of the target.
‘Council is not improving the overall condition of the road network,’ Council’s asset management co-ordinator Blyth Short said in the report.
‘It is not addressing the increasing number of potholes and rough patches on top of patches.
‘If Council does not begin to invest in the road pavement, further declining levels of service will result in terms of higher risk, reduced safety, increased vehicle operating costs, worse travel times, more vehicle accidents, increased noise, and adverse impacts on the environment.’
The report states that Council’s 2019/20 budget for road resealing and reconstruction would need to increase dramatically to $9.8m to improve the quality of the Shire’s roads.
Even maintaining the current standard of the network would require an increase in spending to $6m in the next budget.
‘This could be considered the absolute minimum starting point for the 2019/20 budget with a view to progressive annual increases until the TAMP targets can be achieved,’ the report states.
But Cr Richardson said it was easy to use such reports to play ‘kick the council’, and that the organisation had been ‘focused on trying to get local roads in shape’.
‘What this report doesn’t show is that we’re actually spending more on roads than we ever have,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘It talks about really major spending… The difficulty is how to pay for that.’
‘As a council we’re pretty frugal – there isn’t a lot of fat to cut. Do we want to stop funding our libraries or our community halls or parks to pay for this?’
Cr Richardson also said the report needed to be considered in the broader context of the ever-increasing demands on Council’s budget and the difficulties of generating more revenue.
‘You have the state government shifting more and more responsibility onto councils, and at the same time limiting our potential to generate more revenue from rate increases.
‘My question for the state government is, “When are you going to fund roads in regional areas to a reasonable level?”’
He said Council had also been repeatedly stymied in its attempts to obtain more revenue from the nearly two million tourists who visited the Shire each year. ‘We tried to introduce paid parking in Bruns to obtain some revenue from the thousands of day visitors and other tourists who go there, and I think there was a large proportion of the community who agreed with that.
‘Unfortunately there was a loud backlash from a vocal part of the community and so some councillors felt they couldn’t go ahead and make some of the tough decisions.
‘There is a vocal part of our community that simply don’t want to pay extra to improve our roads, whether it be through parking meters or increased rates or any other measure we might propose.’
Nats MLC responds
The state government’s parliamentary secretary for Northern NSW, Ben Franklin, said the report demonstrated that Byron Council should have invested more on road infrastructure.
However, he said that the government should also be taking more responsibility to assist communities that experienced very large influxes of tourism each year.
‘I believe that those communities, like the Byron Shire, that deliver most to the state’s economy through tourists should be considered for extra support,’ Mr Franklin said.
‘Obviously Council should have done more, but the state should too.’
According to the report, ‘every customer survey conducted by Byron Shire highlights that the very poor condition of the road network is the issue of greatest concern to the community and is causing the highest dissatisfaction rating’.
The report concludes that progressive increases in road funding should be included in Council’s Long Term Financial Plan and its 10-year capital plan to ensure that target levels are achieved within three years.
Road resealing and reconstruction in Byron – 2017/18 financial year
Road resealed: 16km (target: 39km).
Amount spent: $878,666 (target: $3.8m)
Road reconstructed: 1.3km (target: 6km).
Amount spent: $2.38m (target: $6-7.2m)