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Grose Vale Road Route Report A Sham

Apr 2, 2024

The reason the planned Grose Vale bridge road route was initially diverted from a significant property owned by real estate agent John Starr – and through a historic farm –  remains a mystery. A report aimed at uncovering the rationale behind this detour has cost ratepayers over $13,000. However, details of why the diversion occurred have been kept secret.

The Hawkesbury Post has learned that solicitors O’Connor Marsden, the report’s authors, had no power to compel individuals associated with the decision-making process to discuss the diversion concerning the Starr property. Consequently, numerous key figures crucial for a thorough investigation did not talk to investigators. Moreover, rather than being overseen by an independent party, Council controlled the investigation’s parameters.

“The Investigation Report is a confidential document and cannot be released. Publicly available information can be found in the Council Meeting business papers from January 2024. The investigation cost $13,993.88, an HCC spokesperson said.

An artists impression of the Grose River Bridge.

A summary of the report’s findings was offered to HCC at a 23 January 2024 briefing; however, this only covered meetings regarding the project between 12 November 2018 and 30 January 2019. The briefing did not cover any correspondence between council officials or with external parties.

The summary said there was sufficient evidence that discussions about minimising the impact on or avoiding the Starr property were based on the intention to minimise the number of affected properties ( and/or properties to be acquired provided the most direct route to the Grose River Bridge.)

It added that there was “insufficient evidence to identify a person/persons or the entities that, at the meeting on 30 January 2019, issued instructions to avoid the Starr property or that such instruction was actually made. The minutes of the meeting stated; that the – “Road (be) designed to avoid the Starr property as per the design brief” 

“There is no evidence to support an assertion that the minute recordings to avoid the Starr property were made as a result of instructions that were improper and/or were acting on instructions from any third party not present at the meetings.”

The report was commissioned by Council after community uproar, covered in state-wide media, that the Wilcox family farm, dating back to the 1800s, was to be bought by the government, sliced in half, and the primary residence on the property to be bulldozed.

The Wilcoxes were in the middle of renovations when they found out their house was to be demolished for the Grose River Bridge route. Now they are living in what Mrs Wilcox describes as “limbo land.” The Wilcox family has been farming on Ashtons Rd for 20 years after moving from Freemans Reach so they could have more space. They help feed Sydney from their 15 acres and are not ready to retire. The land has been a farm since the early 1800s.

“They could put it [the new road] either side [of the property]; there are vacant blocks on each side, but they are choosing to put it through our house,” Marianne Wilcox said last June.

Yet no one would clarify for them or the Post who decided on this specific route and why it could not cross the edge of the 75 acres next door, which is part of a horse stud—known by the engineers working on the bridge project as “the Starr property” and named after the owners of that land.

The findings also came despite evidence that came to light after the Wilcox family’s Freedom of Information (FOI) searches, clearly indicating that some instructions had been given—although not in official meetings.

 The Wilcoxs put in a GIPA – a freedom of information request – to get hold of discussions about the route held in 2019, and in the material they received – from minutes of a meeting with staff from Redbank Communities, Hawkesbury Council, TfNSW, and engineering consultants WT Partnership – there are some curious lines. It says, “Road designed to avoid the Starr property, as per design brief”.

And “A small deviation of Grose River Rd at the intersection with Ashtons Rd to facilitate alignment with the new extension of Grose River Rd link which is to avoid the private land housing the horse stud”.

Eventually, the Wilcox farm was saved,  but one of the casualties was Hawkesbury City Councillor Nathan Zamprgrono’s membership of the Liberal Party. Zamprogno was previously a Liberal member of the Council but, dumped from the Party’s ticket at the 2021 election, stood as an independent candidate with the Party’s blessing and won a council spot.

He claims that HCC Mayor Sarah McMahon’s successful move to have him thrown out of the Party was primarily due to his advocacy for the Wilcoxs and their farm, against McMahon’s wishes. While she has denied it, the Hawkesbury Post has seen documents confirming this version.

At the time, McMahon was on the NSW Liberal Party State Executive as Vice President, a role she was recently dumped from in the Party’s new election for office bearers last month.

 

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