Inquiry tells RTA to ?lift its game

By ADRIAN MILLER

AN inquiry has slammed the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority over its handling of the Pacific Highway upgrade.

In a 252-page report released by a NSW Upper House committee yesterday, the RTA was criticised for its inability to engage local communities and to keep the upgrade process transparent.

The committee found the RTA needed to 'substantially improve its community consultation process and its stated objectives of open and transparent consultation'.

The interim report ? the full findings are due early next year ? was released by the Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 4, which was formed to investigate the Ballina to Woodburn and Ewingsdale to Tintenbar upgrades.

It took weeks to compile the final report after days of community meetings in Ballina and Coffs Harbour earlier in the year.

Made up of seven members of the NSW Upper House, including one Liberal, one National, two Greens and three Labor Party members, the committee concluded the RTA's upgrade process fell well short of expectations.

Other issues raised, such as the acrimony and division among local residents, the process of expanding the study area and the potential environmental damage, are also concerns held by Clarence Valley residents.

Committee member and Greens MLC Ian Cohen, said the report highlighted many flaws in the RTA's management of the development.

"Key to the committee's nine recommendations is the need for the RTA to lift its game in how it liaises with the community," he said.

"The RTA has been found badly wanting in regards to community consultation."

However, not all members of the committee agreed with the findings.

The three Labor Party members ? Amanda Fazio, Jan Burnswoods and Greg Donnelly ? labelled the report 'biased and unbalanced'.

"The report ignores documentary evidence submitted to the committee by the RTA," Mr Donnelly said.

Mr Donnelly said the omission of RTA responses to criticisms was a political exercise by the majority on the committee.

"When the RTA comes before the committee and writes detailed responses on a number of issues raised as criticisms and the majority deliberately exclude that to prevent a balanced report, that I think, is very wrong," he said.

But Mr Cohen rejected that claim.

"The Government came along with 23 pages of amendments to actually create a bias which would exonerate the RTA and the committee wasn't going to wear that," he said.

And Mr Cohen fired a warning for residents of the Clarence.

"My suggestion is there are other areas that need at least a look over by a parliamentary committee and we'll see what transpires given next year is an elec- tion year," he said.



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