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Fire captains slam Hawkesbury Council with new $8 million headquaters now at risk

Dec 4, 2023

A $8 million new rural Fire Control Centre promised in 2021 has been put at risk by council inaction.

Thirty two brigade captains have slammed Hawkesbury City Council (HCC) for failing to provide land for the project in an open letter to council that has been sent to the Hawkesbury Post.

The failure by council to secure land to replace the aged headquarters – amid accusations of delay and inaction –  comes as the Hawkesbury region faces the most extreme fire season since the Gosper’s Mountain fire three years ago.

“At a recent Captains’ briefing provided by Hawkesbury FCO Superintendent Karen Hodges, we were shocked to learn that there has been no progress in the building of an urgently needed replacement District Fire Control Centre; a project announced in 2021 and scheduled for completion in 2024, and backed by $8 million of funding from the NSW RFS,” East Kurrajong Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade Captain Ian Luck said in a note to the Hawkesbury Post that contained the letter.

“Hawkesbury Council is yet to allocate a suitable land parcel to allow the project to commence,” he said.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Kyle Stewart, State Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston, NSW Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke, Hawkesbury Mayor Sarah McMahon, RFS Deputy Commissioner Peter McKechnie at a photo opportunity at the the site of the proposed Hawkesbury Fire Control Centre site.

Despite an announcement in 2021 and a scheduled completion date in 2024, the project has seen no progress, jeopardising $8 million in funding from the NSW Rural Fire Service, a joint letter to HCC from 32 Brigade Captains and Group Captains of the Hawkesbury Rural Fire Service said. 

The 110 year old building is in one of the state’s most significant fire districts and is not “fit for purpose,” the letter states.

“It is ill‑suited to the needs of day-to-day operations and management of one of the most strategically significant fire districts in NSW. This was clearly evident during the Black Summer (2019/2020) fires. The current building is insufficient in size, has an unmanageable layout and challenging infrastructure. It is unsuitable for managing bushfires and other emergencies. It does not meet the needs of the community,” it said.

Independent councillor Nathan Zamprogno said he had repeatedly warned that the funding was at risk. 

“After the terrible fires in 2019-2020, Hawkesbury Council were lucky to receive such generous funding for the construction of a new RFS headquarters. It is incredibly distressing to find that the funding is now at risk through Council’s inability to settle on a location,” Cr. Zamprogno said. 

“Successive Mayors, and the Liberal and Labor bloc who lead this Council have been happy to appear for photo-opportunities and sod-turning ceremonies without actually completing the work that guarantees the funding for the projects that they are happy to claim credit for. There is no excuse, and the community are right to be angry about this inaction,” he said.

A unanimous council decision in 2021 endorsed the Woodlands Reserve location – between Wilberforce and Ebenezer –  for the new FCC. The decision emphasised planned  state-of-the-art features, including an Emergency Operations Centre and advanced training facilities. However, the council has withdrawn the identified land and failed to provide an alternative, leading to growing frustration among the fire service leadership.

The Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry (July 2020) recommended a review of Fire Control Centres in heavily affected fire areas to improve communication and coordination. Hawkesbury was identified as needing a purpose-built FCC, prompting the allocation of $8 million by the NSW RFS. Despite initial support from Council and a ceremonial ground-breaking event in September 2022, progress has stalled.

The 32 Brigade Captains and Group Captains express concern that unless suitable land is secured promptly, the $8 million funding may be reallocated, leaving the Hawkesbury District to bear the financial burden of the entire project.

The leaders of the Hawkesbury Rural Fire Service are calling on Hawkesbury City Council to take immediate action to allocate an appropriate land parcel, urging councillors to prioritise the critical community infrastructure. 

“We strongly urge the Hawkesbury City Councillors direct the staff of Hawkesbury City Council to allocate an appropriate block of land before the next Council Meeting. Those residents of the Hawkesbury who are prone to impacts from bush fire and other natural emergencies expect Council to act in the best interests of the community, and we, the undersigned Brigade Captains and Group Captains of the Hawkesbury Rural Fire Service believe action on this front is long overdue and fulfilling the commitments undertaken in 2021 should be at the very forefront of Council priorities, “ the letter said.

A council spokesperson said that the organisation would respond at some stage but not in time for publication today. Cr McMahon did not respond to a request for comment. The full letter can be read below

 

 

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