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Liberal Party move to expel Councillor over Grose River Bridge
The members of the local Liberal Party are moving to expel local Councillor Nathan Zamprogno from the organisation because he voted to help save the Wilcox family home from being bulldozed last year in the Grose Vale bridge debacle.
Councillor Zamprogno sits as an independent on council but has been a member of the Liberal Party for the last 33 years. He told the Council’s monthly meeting this week he had sighted a letter seeking to expel him from the Liberal Party due to his support for changing the planned new Grose River bridge route away from the Wilcox farm.
The developers of Redbank estate in North Richmond promised they’d build a bridge across the Grose River back in 2012. They said the bridge would be completed by the time the development had sold 641 lots. Since then the milestones have changed a number of times. Council confirmed that 901 lots have now been completed and subdivision certificates have been issued for these.
Zamprogno has been an independent voice in Council, often deciding not to vote in line with the four person Liberal Party block on the council that includes Crs Sarah McMahon, Patrick Conolly, Jill Reardon and Paul Veigel. He has long pointed the finger at council inaction as the key reason the bridge has not been built 11 years after the initial promise.
Hawkesbury Mayor Sarah McMahon confirmed she knew moves were afoot to expel him but denied it was because of the vote about saving the Wilcox family farm.
“Councillor Zamprogno that is a misrepresentation that is not the reason that you were being asked to have an enquiry to remove your membership of the Liberal Party (sic) and I’d like to correct the record on that thank you,” Cr. McMahon told Council.
But a copy of the letter sighted by the Hawkesbury Post says: “We gain nothing by continuing to retain Mr Zamprogno as a Liberal Party Member… When it suits him, Nathan operates on the principal that the rights of an individual or a single family are more important than the rights of thousands of other voters within the Hawkesbury. A case in point is his blocking of a route for the new Grose River Bridge for the sake of one family despite very generous compensation being offered.”
The Mayor denied she was the instigator of the letter. “Sorry I don’t think anything…(incoherent)…but if you want to infer that Councillor Zamprogno, we can have a great debate here about reasons why you should be out of the Liberal Party but that is not what’s on the agenda, so please stick to the agenda,” she said.
Section 3.15 of the NSW Code of Conduct for Councillors, bans political parties from imposing binding caucus positions on Councillors, especially on planning matters. Councillors are supposed to be guaranteed a free vote.
The plight of the Wilcox family received national attention when it was revealed that the government planned to forcibly acquire their 15 acre family farm for the new Grose River Bridge. The bridge is supported broadly by the community but will at the same time open the western side of the river to more property development.
In January this year, after years of uncertainty, Hawkesbury City Council (in a split vote) voted to place a revised route – which would avoid the Wilcox family farm – on public exhibition to the community. Only a few submissions were received and there was little opposition to this route proceeding.
The win was a major victory for the community who were upset by the treatment of the Wilcox family and more broadly the Liberal Councillors who voted to support plans to compulsory acquire the Wilcox family home. The bridge which has been beset by delays will now proceed without compulsory acquisition of the Wilcox home after Council this week voted to adopt the revised Redbank Voluntary Planning Agreement despite some questions remaining.
Much about the bridge and its route remains shrouded in mystery. Engineers were instructed to avoid using vacant land on the adjacent Starr property, yet it is unclear by whom. In January, McMahon promised to investigate who gave the instruction to avoid the Starr property – but she admitted this week she had not yet done so.
According to documents obtained under GIPA (freedom of information) the road was never supposed to go through the Wilcox’s farm but that changed when a directive was given to engineers, preparing the plans, to specifically avoid vacant land on the property next door, owned by wealthy horse breeder John Starr.
Late last year Council heard that a “hidden” route, which would bypass the Wilcox property and meets all the planning criteria was kept from Councillors. Former Councillor, Peter Reynolds told that meeting in October that the choice of the route raised some serious questions that needed to be answered.
“You need to understand why you weren’t told this information and why this wasn’t provided as an option. The vacant land just across the boundary from the Wilcox home was quarantined by the developer in their design brief. Arup, who were the consultants for the developer, were told not to include that land in any of their options. They were told to stay away from it. Now this design brief was drawn up by the developer….,” Reynolds said.
“…Just by coincidence the strip of vacant paddock secretly isolated by the developer was used in the 1986 corridor plan and that’s the plan that council staff didn’t tell you about. That’s something you should think about because that is something that court is going to think about,” he said.
Redbank is owned by Investment Management Australia Ltd (IMA). According to its website it is: “A private investment company specialising in property development investment and financial management services. Since 1999, IMA has raised in excess of $300 million for more than 70 property development projects throughout Australia.”