Clarence road relief could be double-edged sword
Months after pushing ahead with their plan to take back responsibility for 15,000km of regional roads, the NSW government is facing criticism from the opposition over how they intend to fund the scheme.
Labor Shadow Minister for Rural Roads, Mick Veitch said an excerpt from a Transport for NSW (formerly RMS) report showed there was "a real risk the Government will slash funding from Councils to make this work."
The RMS Asset Management Plan 2018/19-2027 identified the financial implications of taking on responsibility for more regional roads and noted the increased costs would be "partially offset by the phased removal of the annual Block and Repair Grant payments" to councils.
The report included a financial analysis which indicated council grants could be gradually reduced across the state by up to $151m across eight years to 2028.
"They're going to take money currently allocated to Councils to fund road maintenance work," Mr Veitch said, "Councils will still have to maintain a large network of roads.
"Local councils use this money to support local jobs and the State Government should not touch it."
According to State Government documents, the Regional Road Block Grant Program is determined by a "long standing formula agreed with local government".
The plan to take back the roads was a key election promise from the Coalition before the 2019 election and Clarence Valley Council have previously welcomed the news.
They had identified Armidale Rd and Clarence Way as prime candidates for the scheme.
The most up to date figures on the Transport NSW website show that in 2016/17, Clarence Valley received $3.67 million in Block Grants funding, the second highest allocation in the state.
In January the NSW Government announced they were forming an independent panel - chaired by former NRMA president Wendy Machin - to oversee the process and consult with stakeholders.
The panel is due to launch a consultation strategy and policy paper once the final Terms of Reference have been established.
While he would not directly respond to Labors claims, Regional Transport and Roads Minister Paul Toole responded via a spokesperson who said the process would be complex and take some time.
"The Government understands councils' funding concerns and has specifically requested the panel consider funding implications of any transfers, including working to ensure local road maintenance jobs are maintained," the spokesman said.
"It will be up to the Panel to recommend to Government which roads might be considered for transfer and their prioritisation."
"When Labor was last in Government they dumped hundreds of millions of dollars of road maintenance costs on councils.
"The Liberals and Nationals in Government are working to right that wrong - and in the process ensuring we have a safe and effective road network for years to come.
Comment has been sought from Clarence Valley Council and their response will be published when it comes to hand.