Land council job hopes fade as $300m rail project steams on by
The NSW government is under pressure to explain why it has decided to build a $300 million rail project on flood-prone land in a quiet rural area — while rejecting a site owned by an Aboriginal land council that desperately wanted the project.
For four years, the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council was in discussions with the NSW government to build the rail facility on its land at Bushell’s Ridge on the NSW central coast, a project the council hoped would bring income and much-needed jobs for its people.
For reasons not fully explained, Transport for NSW has instead decided to build the train maintenance and stabling yard for its new intercity fleet on flood-prone land 20km south at Kangy Angy, in the middle of a small, semi-rural community. Its decision has infuriated local residents.
Darkinjung chief executive Sean Gordon said the land council had spent more than $150,000 on consultants and as recently as March had been presented with new plans by NSW transport officials before it was told its site would not be used. “It’s absolutely disappointing,” he said. “What this project would do is provide an opportunity to create a future industry … in one of the poorest or lowest socio-economic areas on the central coast.”
However, Mike Baird’s office wrote to Mr Gordon saying the Premier was “unable” to meet with him to discuss the project.
The decision to locate the project at Kangy Angy has angered private landowners whose land will now be acquired or who fear their quiet, idyllic lifestyle will be disrupted by the project.
About 30 local property owners have formed a group known as the Kangy Angy Rail Action Group and late last month engaged lawyers to help them mount a legal challenge. The group’s chairman, Tony Caldersmith, who has been advised that part of his land will be acquired, said the area was “completely inappropriate” for the rail yard because it was prone to severe flooding and was home to a “unique little rural community”.
“This decision fails the commonsense test,” Mr Caldersmith said. “The site is completely inappropriate.”
Kangy Angy residents yesterday met federal Liberal MP Karen McNamara, who represents their seat of Dobell, to discuss their concerns. Ms McNamara told The Australian she agreed “more answers” were needed from the NSW government. “This is a project with huge ramifications and those residents most affected have every right to know exactly what is planned for their neighbourhood,” Ms McNamara said.
Retired engineer Neil Bolte is also furious about the prospect of the rail project being built near his home and has written to the government demanding answers about what noise and environmental assessments have been carried out.
Last month he met Scot MacDonald, NSW Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter and Central Coast, to raise his concerns and to question why the project would not be built on the Darkinjung site. “We are still as much in the dark as when we started,” he said.
Mr Gordon said he was concerned the decision was made to abandon the Darkinjung site because it could conflict with plans for the controversial Wallarah Two coal project.
A Transport for NSW spokeswoman denied that was the case. She said Kangy Angy had been chosen “because of its proximity to the railway line and alignment with other operational requirements.
Not only is the government’s decision unrelated to the Wallarah coal project, Transport for NSW advised that the requirements for a maintenance and stabling facility are significantly different to those for the stabling yard that was previously discussed with the land council.”
She said the rail project was in its early stages and work would soon start on detailed design, environmental and planning work, including noise and further flooding evaluations.
Mr Gordon said the government had good policies in place to work with and engage with Aboriginal landowners but had failed to put them into practice.
“Here’s an opportunity to do that and straight away they dodge us or bypass us and go to a site that is going to have a broader negative impact on the central coast community,” he said.
The Australian - November 3rd 2015.
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