In the wake of the Federal Government’s budget announcement of $15 million over four years for the upgrade of Cessnock Road at Testers Hollow, including $500,000 in the next 12 months, the NSW Government has failed to answer Member for Maitland Jenny Aitchison’s request to provide a detailed quantum of costs of the April 2015 super storm as part of the Business Cost Ratio for the project.
The State Government recently announced it would provide $2 million towards the project after a Freedom of Information request (GIPA) by Ms Aitchison revealed that RMS was seeking to “spin this as a piece of investigation work”.
On 9 March 2017, Ms Aitchison asked the Minister for Roads (Q 5087)
“Is the RMS was aware of the quantum of the economic cost to the Maitland community caused by the 17 day closure of Cessnock Road at Testers Hollow in April 2015.”
The Minister responded on 13 April with:
This contradicts the GIPA response Ms Aitchison received in late 2016 where the RMS said that the full cost of the April super storm had not been quantified.
On 11 May 2017, Ms Aitchison asked for a detailed response on the quantum of the economic cost (see below), in the hope that a more comprehensive appraisal of costs would improve the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR), enabling the NSW Government to provide more funding to complete the project. Ms Aitchison sought clarification as to whether the tragic fatality which occurred during the storm has been factored into the BCR.
The Minister responded on 15 June with:
In April 2015, a flood event affected a large part of the Hunter community including the Gillieston Heights community. The Government declared the flood event a natural disaster. The costs to the community were acknowledged by the Government with the provision of support services across the affected areas.
Roads and Maritime Services consider economic costs in developing the cost benefit of projects.
A proposal is currently being developed to improve flood immunity, on Cessnock Road at Testers Hollow, which will consider the frequency and economic cost of road closures to the community.
The Commonwealth and the Government have committed $17 million towards this project. A media statement about the project is publicly available on the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport's website.
According to an RMS memo released under last year’s GIPA,
“Over the last 10 years, Testers Hollow has flooded on at least six occasions, requiring road closures of between 2 days and 17 days…Due to the impact of flooding on the Hunter River (and closure of flood gates), flooding also closed MR 195 at Fishery Creek, located approximately 5km north of Testers Hollow, the impact of both closures due to flooding isolated the suburb of Gillieston Heights for a period of five days.”
In the GIPA documents, flooding at Tester’s Hollow was described as “not necessarily a major problem.” Ms Aitchison disagrees with this assertion and calls on the Government to recognise that for the residents of Maitland, the flooding of Testers Hollow at Cessnock Road has a significant and continuing impact on their lives.
An economic appraisal which excluded the impacts of the 2015 flood event also released in the GIPA estimated the approximate cost of the event at $2.5m including lost wages and detours, but failed to take into account other issues such as the cost of the provision of emergency and community services, emergency relief, med-evacuation and stationing emergency services personnel at Gillieston Heights during the storm.
Most importantly, when assessing the impact of the April 2015 event, there was no mention of the personal costs of this event, including the loss of life which occurred at Fishery Creek. Such matters are routinely included in the assessment of road infrastructure projects.
Quotes Attributable to Member for Maitland Ms Jenny Aitchison MP
“The NSW Government has only committed a meagre $2 million to this project and is refusing to include all relevant factors in the BCR for the project.”
"The Berejiklian Government must release a detailed response on the quantum of the economic cost of the April 2015 super storm. Anything less shows a disgraceful lack of respect for the local community."
“If the Berejiklian Government were serious about this project they would be providing more than a meagre $2 million contribution for yet more political spin.”