About the Grose River bridge and the Redbank development

Grose River Bridge crossing map

Today, I’m writing about the proposed bridge across the Grose River that forms part of the deal struck when the Redbank development was approved at North Richmond.

First, I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: If I had been on Council when the Redbank development at North Richmond was put up, I wouldn’t have voted for it. It worsens the congestion at North Richmond and across its bridge. The scale of the development was not compatible with the area, and the rural landscape created by the keyline dams scattered across the Peel property were better preserved as open space.

However, my current Liberal colleagues on Council are correct when they say that there was one thing that made Redbank compelling, and that was the provision of a new bridge across the Grose River, entirely at the developer’s expense.

I want to dispel some misunderstandings about where things are at. Councillors received a briefing on this matter just a few days ago. Our deliberations should always be led by the official reports that come to us in the lead up to a vote, but there’s incorrect information circulating in the community and the need for other tiers of government to be equally engaged with us makes this commentary worthwhile.

The Redbank developer signed what’s called a “Voluntary Planning Agreement” (a VPA) in August 2014. The VPA can be accessed here. The co-signatories were Hawkesbury Council and the RMS. The most significant obligation this VPA conferred was the provision of a “Multispan bridge, approach roads and intersections for crossing at Yarramundi of Grose River”, which would have to be approved by the time the 341st lot was sold. This threshold will be met by about March 2018, based on the current rate of lot sales.

The developer has taken out large advertisements in local papers declaring this approval is “stuck” in Council and “may take years to resolve”.

Redbank river crossing gazette ad

This simply isn’t true. The developer was given a choice about the mechanism by which the approval process for the bridge could proceed. They were advised about what would be required at a meeting in July 2015. They lodged a D.A. in April 2016, and then nominated to have the mechanism changed to what’s called a “Part 5” process only in August 2016. This was exhibited until September 2016 and is ongoing. There are a couple of documents outstanding, including a Crown Lands Merit Assessment. The necessary document for Approval to be considered by Council will be a revised Plan of Management, which could be available by late 2017 or early 2018 – in time for the lot threshold defined by the VPA.

It’s worth noting that this VPA also included a lot of other benefits to the community that have already been delivered, such as $2.5M to upgrade Bells Line of Road, Grose Vale Rd, the Terrace, Old Kurrajong Rd, Yarramundi Lane, Bosworth St and March St. It will also deliver 15 bus-shelters, concrete paths in Peel park, $1.35M to upgrade North Richmond Community Centre, the dedication of land with utilities for a future Child Care centre, and maintenance of all open space for five years prior to dedication of the land to Council into perpetuity. Not a bad outcome!

The developer now says that they would prefer to see a sum of $24M given over to “Council and RMS” to build the bridge themselves. But the reality is that only 5% of the money would come to Council, and that the RMS will not build the bridge with the money. RMS would be constrained to put the money towards “other improvements” to state roads between Richmond and North Richmond, but at time of writing, they have no projects to which the money could be profitably put. It is unlikely the Grose River bridge will cost only $24M to build, so why let the developer off the hook so cheaply? The developer has to supply the bridge regardless of the cost.

Similarly, there is a fantasy going about that taking this money will make a “third crossing of the Hawkesbury” happen all the sooner. This just won’t happen. The cost of duplicating North Richmond bridge is north of $200M. There is no connection at all between this bridge proposal and the widespread calls (including those of me and my Liberal colleagues) for a third crossing. It has no bearing on the merits of the now-advanced plans to replace the bridge at Windsor, and the Grose River bridge has never been advanced as being “the third crossing” that is needed. To be sure, it is a third crossing, but it’s not a crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

The developer’s advertisements make it seem like this clause to hand over money in lieu of building a bridge is something they can do unilaterally. They can’t. Nor can they “demand” that someone else build the bridge in their stead. And it’s not like the $24M is sitting in their bank account and burning a hole in their pocket. If the handover option was consented to, the money would trickle in based on future lot sales and could take over a decade to pay down. It’s a bum deal, and we’d be fools to take it.

It is against this backdrop that the current political debate is unfolding. A Facebook group titled “Hawkesbury Needs a Third Crossing” seems absolutely bent on opposing the Grose River crossing, which is “a” third crossing, and that strikes me as perverse. CAWB would willingly conflate the debate about the Grose River crossing with the current plans to replace Windsor Bridge, when they aren’t even remotely related. Others will claim that because the Redbank development was a matter that came before ICAC, the whole development is “tainted”. Three of the four Liberal Councillors, including myself, weren’t even around when that was approved and as unsavoury as that episode was, the claim does nothing to negate the advantages of having the bridge built now that Redbank is a reality.

What this boils down to is that the contractual obligation to build a bridge over the Grose River is the thing, the biggest thing, that made Redbank even remotely palatable. If Council decided to knock back the bridge, it would be cutting its nose off to spite its face. It would be refusing the major community benefit that flowed from the Redbank development, and it would be making a decision for largely political reasons.

Our Mayor recently released a “FAQ” statement that repeated some of the clarifications that I’ve just laid out. These statements, bar one, were agreed to by all the Councillors as necessary to clear up the confused discussion after we were briefed on the matter by Council staff. It was not, as one facebook commenter breathlessly declared a case of “In a grubby political river of misinformation the Mayor shines a light on the FACTS!!!” Please…

The Liberal Councillors fully supported the suggestion that Council rebut some of the claims the developer put in their advertisements. However, and unhelpfully in my view, the FAQ defensively reacts to the accusation that the “Non Liberal Councillors are holding up the bridge.” Neither me nor my Liberal colleagues have made that claim. What I have said is that, from this point forward, if Council is the body which determines the fate of the bridge, then most certainly its fate lays with the non-Liberal Councillors, who are a clear majority in the chamber.

I and my fellow Liberals took support for the Grose River bridge to the September 2016 election as a key plank of our campaign. Here it is on our election handout material…

It is also true that there are other Hawkesbury City Councillors who have expressed their trenchant opposition to the Grose River bridge. I don’t name them here because it is for them to make their own public statements on their position. But make no mistake: The decision is very much in the balance! My recommendation is for members of the public to hold the feet of all Councillors, Liberal and non-Liberal alike, to the fire and to make them state their position on the bridge clear to the community. We have. It is not enough to hide behind process and say that they aren’t prepared to say anything until a report comes to Council that’s about to be voted on. This is an agreement that Council, the Developer and the RMS inked nearly three years ago to do a certain thing. There’s plenty of information in the public domain, and which they should be across. Do they support this bridge or not?

It is my view that the vast majority of Hawkesbury residents, and especially those who endure the torturous ordeal of North Richmond traffic day in and day out, can’t wait to see this bridge built. They recognise that it’s not a complete fix (it will reduce the traffic across North Richmond Bridge by over 30%), but more significantly, it’s costed, timetabled and ready to go. Hawkesbury Council is doing its own part to prepare the necessary approvals for consideration by Councillors in early 2018. Hawkesbury residents west of the river understand that the best solution, even a partial one, is one that arrives within their lifetime, and is already paid for. If the non-Liberal councillors have seen the extensive information to hand, are not prepared to back the proposal, they should say so clearly.

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14 thoughts on “About the Grose River bridge and the Redbank development

  1. Well argued Nathan, but what plans are in place to manage the hundreds of cars (you said 30%) that will be turning into Grose Wold Road from Grose Vale Rd? Will there be a roundabout at the junction or a set of traffic lights? As it is nearly 3 kms further to travel via the proposed bridge from North Richmond to get to Penrith, I presume most of the traffic you cite will be coming from the Bowen Mountain end of Grose Vale Rd and thus turning across the oncoming traffic. As GVR is single lane in each direction, any sort of delay will cause another massive bottleneck like the one currently experienced at North Richmond. Or are there plans to build 500m of dual lane eastbound before the Grose Wold junction? The bridge by itself is not an answer to the traffic problems. It needs the infrastructure to support it. My question is: Who will pay for that?

  2. If you are counting River crossings Nathan there is the “bridge to nowhere” over the Colo plus Windsor, Richmond and Yarramundi bridges. A bridge over the Grose would be the 5th crossing. It is not the 3rd crossing of the Hawkesbury which is what we desperately need. Although we may well have a third crossing of the Hawkesbury in the form of the ridiculous “Option 1” bridge at Windsor. That is, until they then demolish the existing, fully functional and state significant Windsor Bridge. Then we will be back to two crossings and the same traffic nightmare. Albeit $100+million poorer. What a brilliant exercise in strategic planning and asset management!

  3. As much as this development is ridiculous and should not have been approved what so ever without better infrastructure than a bridge to nowhere located in another post code to the development. I ask you he question now as a councillor, forgetting the 400 odd houses already built. If a proposal came up now, after your policy about DA’s west of the river currently, you would laugh at a development with over 1000 homes that haven’t been built yet, to get approved. Your stance and common sense would say the infrastructure is past crumbling, I don’t think 1000 more homes in North Richmond is a good idea! But thats where council is at ATM It’s like your hand is well and truely in the cookie jar with no escape! How can you fix this. You cant. This bridge is a band aid for the development. Same as the RMS fix at the Northo intersection. Most of this traffic will be heading this way and the stage 2 development at Northo has no fix for traffic improvements. Dire consequences.

  4. It’s a simple as this, you have already stated that 25 million will not go anywhere near paying for the proposed new bridge let alone the rest of road upgrades needed, so who is going to pay the extra, not council, they have no money, the RMS don’t want to know about it, state government sad it was not a suitable housing development, they are not paying for it, it is not a federal government thing, so how is anyone going to build it, it appears to be a pipe dream of Bart Basset on one of his meetings with the original developers ?

    • Geoff, the answer is simple. If the bridge (and required approach roads) cost more than $24 million, the developer has to pay the extra. The VPA is for the provision of the bridge and approach roads *regardless of the cost*. Why would we ever let them off the hook so cheaply?

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  6. Very well written Nathan, you’ve summarized the situation in a way that makes it easy to understand.
    Is there any way this information could be distributed to residents? I think if residents were better informed they might place more pressure on the non-liberal councilors to support the proposal.

  7. I’ve been living in the Hawkesbury since 1974. The then Windsor and Colo Councils and the State Government of the day were planning a third crossing EAST of Windsor then! In a much more sensible place with flood-free access! There should never have been a deal to develop such extensive housing estates west of North Richmond. It is completely out of character for a rural area and a third bridge at Navua Reserve – apart from destroying a delightful part of the river – will not provide the necessary roads and infrastructure for the proposed number of even more houses along Grose Vale Road in the future. I blame all the Councils of whatever political persuasion over the past 45 years who have totally failed to properly plan for future housing development in the Hawkesbury area. My solution? CEASE all future large scale housing estate development west of the North Richmond until an effective and properly designed additional river crossing is in place and working! No more estates without proper planning!

  8. Nathan
    Could you please explain the following because I have read the VPA and I cannot find the answers.
    1) what is the requirement to upgrade the surrounding infrastructure to get to the bridge, if I was Redbank my position would be nil work required as the roads have been appropriate for over a hundred years. Or is there a requirement to meet today’s standards for that traffic load. Or is it to do a really good job and install roundabouts upgrade Charlie creek bridge kerb and gutter etc.
    2) why was $24 million ever mentioned in VPA as it does not represent true costs of the bridge.
    3) what happens when the bridge is approved to proceed directly from Grose River rd though private property and new cost is
    *planning and approval $3,000,000
    * design and studies $ 3,000,000
    *Land acquisition $2,000,000
    *approach rd from west $2,000,000
    * approach rd from east $2,000,000
    *bridge $40,000,000
    Total excluding existing infrastructure upgrade $52,000,000
    Existing infrastructure upgrade $50,000,000
    Redbank maintains it agreed in the VPA to build a bridge over Navua and it would have cost only $24,000,000 and council has delayed and changed the scope therefore Council will need to fund the additional $78,000,000.
    4)Possible outcomes
    4.1) no bridge and $24mil goes to RMS
    4.2) ends up in court with everybody suing each other
    4.3) Redbank cough up $104 mil
    4.4) council gets additional funds from the state or rate payers.
    5) what do you think will happen?

  9. The third river crossing is a reality and the planning was done over 100 Years ago. The powers are at ods with hidden adjendas. The misinformation and information subversion needs to be stopped.

    The solution is a simple one and does not inconvenience the Hawkesbury residents in the construction and completion of this four phase construction project with contingency traffic planning causing minimal disruption to the hawkesbury residents in the area of the major construction.

    This plan is to be presented shortly and the notice of the plann would improve the outlook of many of the residents and not confined to the limits of the Community.

    The hawkesbury is and was always a Beautiful Gateway to the Mountains.

    I hope to see you at the presentation.

    Mr_B

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