Why the long wait for State Agency approvals is crippling delivery of Council projects

The frustrating process of seeking various approvals from a range of State Government departments is crippling Council’s ability to deliver critical joint infrastructure projects – like the traffic signals at the corner of Glenhaven and Old Northern Roads and the long-awaited Caddies Creek Reserve sporting fields.

General Manager of The Hills Shire Council, Dave Walker, has responded with ‘disappointment but not surprise’ to comments made by the RMS and the Office of Environment and Heritage that contain inaccuracies about these projects – both of which are being significantly delayed by lengthy approval processes.

Mr Walker said that while Council has embarked in good faith on a significant capital works program over the last four years, a bottleneck has been reached due the wait for approvals from external agencies.

“This Council has a robust plan to deliver critical infrastructure to our community, however, it is not possible to keep juggling projects forever while we wait for drawn-out approvals from various sections of Government agencies,” he said.

“Comments made by the RMS and the Office of Environment and Heritage indicating that they have kept their end of the bargain in relation to a number of Hills projects are not only inaccurate but clearly indicate the lack of accountability of those organisations.”

“Their spokespeople, who unlike myself are not prepared to put a name to their comments, are either ill-informed or simply not interested in being accountable,” Mr Walker said.

“It is not surprising that residents have raised concerns about the impact of development when we seem to be waiting an eternity on approval for no less than nine traffic signal projects.”

Mr Walker said it takes close to nine months for the RMS to simply approve the addition of a right-turn arrow on an intersection.

“The problem compounds when plans must be referred to multiple officers who continually seek further information – and even when officers are located next to each other, they seem incapable of passing plans from one desk to another and ask for further copies.”

Mr Walker said that in the 19 years he has been in Sydney, the accountability of government agencies has become farcical.

“Council’s Samantha Riley Drive project is worth in excess of $20 million and will be a critical connection both in and through the Hills Shire – but it has so far taken two years to try to get full approval from Endeavour Energy to underground power lines at Council’s cost,” he said.

“These extensive delays are not acceptable to our community and should not be acceptable to Endeavour Energy as a business.”

“As well, Council is being hamstrung in its attempts to deliver much-needed playing fields at Caddies Creek – with expenditure most likely in excess on $10m,” Mr Walker said.

“While there has been significant support from the Member for Castle Hill Ray Williams, we have been trying since February 2015 to gain sign off from The Office of Environment and Heritage for final excavation and recovery of Aboriginal artefacts.”

“For that Office to now suggest they have been in negotiations with us only since late last year is shameful and misrepresents our prolonged efforts to get this vital project moving.”

“As a result of further representations from Castle Hill MP Ray Williams, we have now been advised that the Minister for the Environment has committed to issue required permits by mid-April, 2016.”

Mr Walker said that the suggestion by an RMS spokesperson that Council is not only managing the Glenhaven traffic signal project but is also responsible for property acquisitions is a clear indication of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

“Property acquisition for this project is the responsibility of the RMS. It commenced in 1963, was incorrectly shelved by the Titles Office in the 1990s and only resurrected by the RMS when materials for the project delivered to the site could not be placed on private land.”

“Clearly these people are asleep at the wheel.”

Mr Walker said it is understandable that residents become frustrated at the delay in Council projects when a number of State agencies are mired in layers of bureaucratic delays and red tape.

“Hand-offs, inefficiencies and a lack of clear performance indicators within these agencies are hampering our ability to deliver important projects,” Mr Walker said.

“I am probably wasting my breath but I call upon the CEOs of the RMS and the Office of Environment and Heritage to pick up the phone and call me to arrange a meeting to discuss the delays in a variety of projects critical to the Hills community,” he said.