Tweed Councillor Katie Milne says that the State Government has completely failed their own requirement for effective community consultation and demonstrated community support before closing the rail corridor.
Cr Milne says the Labor Party has backed the government, also refusing to hold an inquiry to even ensure proper processes or check the figures. She says the Governments own website states not once but four times, that effective consultation and demonstrated community support is required before any change to the Transport Amendment Act to facilitate the Rail Trail.
‘The NSW Government supports in principle the development of rail trails on disused rail lines where there is strong local community support.
Cr Milne, the former Mayor of Tweed, says that evidence of a viable and sustainable business model for developing and maintaining the rail trail and that effective community consultation, including engaging with adjacent landholders and the broader community to address their issues, such as potential biosecurity concerns, has been undertaken, is required for all rail trail projects.
A viable business model
‘If rail trail proponents can show a viable business model and evidence of effective community consultation, prior to amending the Transport Administration Act 1988, the NSW Government will undertake an independently facilitated community consultation session for each proposed rail trail to: gauge community sentiment for a rail trail; explain the role and responsibility of government in a rail trail project including the requirement to close the rail corridor before work on the rail trail can commence, and; respond to questions from the community and stakeholders.’
The outcomes of these community consultation sessions are provided to NSW Government to inform decisions on whether to close the rail corridor to enable work on the rail trail to commence.
Cr Milne says that contrary to claims by political parties there has been absolutely no shire wide consultation at all, let alone effective consultation. ‘The only consultation the State Government ever undertook has been a hand picked, invitation only consultation involving 40 participants. 26 of those participants included directly affected adjacent landholders, Thomas George MP, and 13 organisations.
Shocking and disgraceful
‘Tweed Council has only ever consulted the directly affected landholders.
‘It is shocking and disgraceful that what was once such an important piece of public transport infrastructure is being so arbitrarily dealt with,’ said Cr Milne. ‘The ARUP report claiming a cost of $1b that both parties have relied on has never been subject to peer review when the consequences are so far reaching and the failings of this report are fiercely disputed, and even now when Byron’s recent study has shown the feasibility for dual use.
‘Rural tourism is so important to our hinterland areas. This corridor could create many more jobs and be such a winner if a we could turn it into a substantial drawcard with heritage trams such as the Bendigo Tramway or Byron’s solar train rather that just a simple, single bike track.’
Cr Milne has suggested that a responsible State Government who cared about the economic and social development of regional areas would ask the community and review the figures with much more scrutiny and a more careful view of the long term legacy they will leave behind. ‘The prospect of dismantling the tracks and losing the potential for maximising the use of the rail corridor is something I believe future generations will shake their heads in disbelief at our lack of foresight.’
The Greens agree
Following Cr Milne’s comments, the Greens are calling on the Liberal-National Coalition and the NSW Labor party to agree to an inquiry into the Bill that would see critical rail infrastructure in the Northern Rivers ripped up.
NSW Greens MP Abigail Boyd, Transport spokesperson, said the revelation is shocking but not surprising given how upset the community is that the Bill was rammed through the Legislative Assembly just two days after it was first announced.
‘The Greens tried to prevent this ill-considered Bill being rushed through by referring it to an inquiry, but Labor teamed up with the Liberals and Nationals to prevent the community having a say. And now we hear that the only consultation that did occur in relation to this rail trail proposal was with a handful of hand-picked property owners and that there were zero open community consultations in the Tweed shire.
Ms Boyd said asks were the town hall meetings and online consultation, the opportunities for regular people to make submissions about their own towns and region? ‘It’s time to correct this enormous blunder and hold an inquiry before this Bill goes any further.’
MPs Provest, Gulaptis, Bromhead, Toole and Harris
The Greens say that both Geoff Provest MP and Chris Gulaptis MP are recorded as stating during the Legislative Assembly debate on the Bill that the New South Wales Government has facilitated extensive community consultations in the Tweed shire in October 2017 and that Stephen Bromhead MP stated that ‘There has been a huge amount of public consultation and community input’.
The Greens also say that Paul Toole MP also stated that ‘Community consultation on the Northern Rivers rail trail first commenced with proponents all the way back in 2013. In October 2017, the Government facilitated extensive community consultation for the potential closure of the Crabbes Creek to Condong section of the railway line’.
They say that David Harris MP stated ‘It is farfetched and outrageous for The Greens to say that this is an ambush as there was no community consultation’,
and referred to the need for rail trails to be considered on a ‘case-by-case basis to ensure… that there has been extensive and proactive local community consultation to ensure there is support for a rail trail proposal’.
Tamara Smith ridiculed in parliament
Member for Ballina Tamara Smith said that when she said on the floor of parliament that not enough community consultation in my region had taken place on this complete loss of transport infrastructure in the Northern Rivers, she was yelled at by the Minister for Regional Roads, Paul Toole, and ridiculed by all of the Labor speakers during the debate.
‘The Minister for Regional Transport, the Labor Shadow Minister for Transport and the Nationals Member for Tweed completely misled the Parliament when they repeatedly stated during the debate that there had been extensive community consultation on the Tweed rail trail.
‘We are not taking the old parties’ words for anything! Our communities in the Northern Rivers deserve to be consulted and should not be verballed on the floor of parliament as having given full consent to this project.’