Hunter Expressway Construction

I raise an issue in the House today that is of considerable concern to residents in my electorate—that is, the construction of the Hunter Expressway. I speak on this issue today on behalf of my constituents because they feel their voices have gone unheard. I respect the privilege of private members’ statements in this House and I will try to avoid making a political statement. If I stray, I welcome being brought back on course. The construction of the Hunter Expressway is taking place in a rural area. Housing and properties are widely spread and the expressway is going through the middle of them. The residents welcome the Hunter Expressway and have been working with the Roads and Traffic Authority on design and layout. In fact, they suggested a better and more direct course to the Roads and Traffic Authority. Such consultation has been occurring over the past 15 to 20 years.

Conditions for consent were granted for the construction of the road. The road is well underway and should be opened in 2013, as expected. With this type of road construction comes a great deal of truck and transport movement and the need for concrete batching plants and workshops. The conditions of consent that were granted at the time of approval were specific about where and how facilities should be placed.

Unfortunately, at present, those conditions are not being complied with, which is impacting significantly on the residents. Workshops and a concrete batching plant will be located within 200 metres of about four homes. These facilities will operate from approximately 5.30 a.m. up to 8.00 p.m. Residents will experience a couple of hundred truck movements every day. Dust from the concrete batching plant will fall on their roofs and in their water tanks. The waterways that feed into their dams will be exposed to dust from the concrete batching plant, as well as from the construction and earthmoving work. The impact on the residents will be significant.

The concerned residents have tried to work with Abigroup and the Roads and Traffic Authority, who are constructing the road. To a large extent they have been fobbed off. Their voices have gone unheard. I am pleased to say that the Minister for Roads and Ports instructed the Roads and Traffic Authority to meet with the residents. The Roads and Traffic Authority and Abigroup organised a nice evening in the vineyards where we all came together and residents had an opportunity to ask questions. Unfortunately, the road construction groups, Abigroup and the Roads and Traffic Authority, were not prepared. Residents had read the documentation and the planning reports. They understood the occupational health and safety and environmental issues. However, the road construction groups were not up to speed and could not answer their questions. They did not have the detail and let themselves down.

After the meeting residents had to wait 28 days to obtain responses to their questions in writing. However, one hand does one thing while the other hand does another. The road construction groups submitted a recommendation to the Department of Planning that they be given permission to construct a workshop outside the conditions of consent. That workshop has a chance of being approved where, clearly, it does not comply with the conditions of consent. The conditions of consent were set up to protect the residents. It is understood that if the conditions are not complied with there can be impacts on residents. I again advocate on behalf of the residents to the Minister and the Roads and Traffic Authority that they try to resolve this issue. The area has a great deal of bushland and space away from housing that could be used for these facilities but the residents are not being heard.

I have been unable to arrange a meeting with the Minister and I have not been provided with adequate responses to my questions. I asked Opposition members in the other place to put questions to the Minister, but the Minister once again evaded and dodged. As I have said, the Minister originally instructed the Roads and Traffic Authority to meet with residents. All power to the Minister and I thank him for doing so, but the issue remains unresolved. The voices of my constituents are not being heard. No-one suggests that the road should not go ahead or that the workshops are not required. But they should not be located within 200 metres of residential housing or contrary to the conditions of consent. Today I raise the issue in the House and put it in Hansard so that these residents’ voices are heard through their local member. That is the purpose of private members’ statements. I implore Government members in the House to ask the Minister to talk to the member for Cessnock about these issues so that they can be addressed.