ANOTHER example of Narrabri Shire Council’s financial misunderstanding requires an explanation to the ratepayers of Maules Creek, the wider shire and Boggabri Coal.
The voluntary planning agreement (VPA) between Boggabri Coal and Narrabri Shire Council, as published on the Department of Planning’s website as of April 2012, has mysteriously changed from its original intent as proposed in 2010.
Back in August 2010, as reported in the council’s supplementary general manager’s report, an allocation of $7.8 million was sought by council from Boggabri Coal within its VPA for the upgrade of SR11 (Harparary Rd), due to the closure of Leard Forest Rd by the expansion of the Boggabri Coal mine.
This arrangement had an in-principle agreement from Narrabri Shire Council, Boggabri Coal and from the Maules Creek community, as stated in this report.
The council believed, at the time, the cost of such works would be about $7.8 million (resolution 176/2010).
Boggabri Coal, at the time, was yet to formally “offer” this as a solution.
Resolution number 176/2010 was passed on the motion by councillors Kelly/Bates at the August 17, 2010 meeting of the council, in that the council endorse the VPA contributions from Boggabri Coal for its expansion project as follows: the upgrade to the Boggabri Caravan Park and swimming pool $1.6 million; Ben Lexcen statue $50,000; seating throughout Boggabri $20,000; Boggabri HACC $200,000; and the upgrade to Harparary Rd and bridge $7.8 million.
The latest publically available letter to the council regarding the VPA dated April 5, 2012, from Boggabri Coal offers conditional agreement to the VPA upon project approval for the following benefits, as described within the schedule: the upgrade to the Boggabri Caravan Park and swimming pool $1.6 million; Boggabri HACC $200,000; upgrade to Harparary Rd and bridge $4.3 million; upgrade of the Narrabri Aquatic Centre $2.5 million; and environmental trust $100,000. A total of $9.67 million, agreed to in principle in 2010, has now been confirmed in 2012 as a VPA lump sum of $8.7 million, including an ongoing cent per tonne of coal rate of $0.075 plus CPI for the life of the project.
It is disturbing to discover that an allocation of $3.5 million has mysteriously vanished from the required $7.8 million “cost” of the upgrade to Harparary Rd and associated bridge, as identified back in 2010, due to the direct impacts of coal mining.
Has the “cost” of the required works depreciated by 40 per cent in two years, or has a portion of this funding been “allocated” to other critical infrastructure needs within our shire?
Did the Narrabri Shire Council engineering services department overstate the estimated cost of the upgrade to the Harparary Bridge and roadworks for SR11 to Boggabri Coal and councillors in 2010 by $3.5 million, as an attempt to secure extra funding for other purposes, or has the current council misappropriated the original funding intent of the VPA and agreement with the community, as discussed with council representatives at the Maules Creek Hall on December 14, 2009?
A response from the council regarding the community’s misunderstanding of this anomaly would be most appreciated.
At the April 2012 meeting of the council, approval was given for the redevelopment of the Narrabri swimming pool.
Council also at that meeting accepted a contribution offer from Boggabri Coal towards the aquatic centre redevelopment of $2.5 million, as part of its VPA.
As a resident and ratepayer of the Narrabri shire, I fully support the necessary refurbishments and upgrades of our shire amenity assets, such as the pool and airport, but not at the expense of our regional roads network.
It would be a great relief to be proven incorrect on these assumptions. Robbing Peter to pay Paul did not work before the Reformation, and nothing has changed since.
As a positive last assumption, the Maules Creek Coal VPA, upon project approval, will provide the magic financial wand that our council requires to maintain its integrity and keep to its promises, but that, of course, is confidential.
Otherwise, we may just have to fend for ourselves.
Maules Creek Community Council