By TOBY WALKER
THIS time last year Ron Bell was leading an historic campaign to have a new bridge built for Grafton.
Yesterday he announced he was ready to withdraw his support from the project because of inaction by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) and the Clarence Valley's key representatives.
Lobbying on behalf of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Bell admitted to being disappointed by the campaign's slow progress since a public workshop to agree on the new bridge's proposed site last May.
He said those who attended left with the understanding that the information presented at the workshop was to be passed on immediately to the NSW Heritage Office for comment prior to an announcement by the Minister for Roads 'in a couple of months'.
Mr Bell said he was advised by the NSW Heritage Office on February 2 that it had taken the RTA until January 20 this year to submit the results of the May workshop.
With the NSW Heritage Office allegedly now asking the RTA for more information, Mr Bell felt the situation was unacceptable and feared the RTA had put the project in the 'too hard' basket.
He even suggested the RTA's lack of action in the past 12 months could be attributed to a directive handed down by the Carr Government.
But the RTA was not entirely to blame for the seemingly stalled bridge plans, according to Mr Bell.
He said the Clarence Valley Council and the Member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, had failed to rally behind the project over the past year.
Such inaction, he said, was one of the reasons the Clarence Valley had lost so much to other areas of the State in recent years.
"It's quite simple really ... either start building the bridge now or the Minister (for Roads), or someone needs to have the courage to tell the people of the Clarence Valley there will be no bridge," he said.
Yesterday Mr Cansdell said he was surprised by Mr Bell's comments.
He said he had written to the minister assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, Diane Beamer, on January 19 this year about the project's delays at the behest of Mr Bell.
Mr Cansdell also took the opportunity to say he had used his first ever question in Parliament after his election to ask Premier Carr for funding to begin preliminary work on the new bridge plan.
A spokesperson for the RTA could not be reached for comment by The Daily Examiner yesterday.