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 McMahon promises, again, to get to the bottom of secret Grose Vale bridge/road re-routing

Jun 25, 2023

Michael Sainsbury.

Hawkesbury Mayor Sarah McMahon has promised for the second time this year to belatedly uncover “in coming months”, who secretly ordered the rerouting of the Grose Vale bridge road that at one stage was going to destroy a local family farm.  

The Redbank Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) and Grose River Bridge project has been a controversial issue since the approval of the Redbank development in 2011 when Bart Bassett was Mayor.

It’s the second assurance from Cr McMahon this year – the first was in January – to solve a years’ old mystery as to who ordered engineers working up the route for the long-planned Grose Vale bridge and connecting road, to avoid the property of millionaire John Starr.

Instead, it would have cut through the Wilcox family farm that is over 150 years old. A new route that avoids the Wilcox farm was agreed to by council earlier this year in a split vote. Last Tuesday, the Hawkesbury City Council (HCC) voted to approve the new VPA which now avoids the Wilcox family home

The developers of the Redbank Estate in North Richmond agreed to build the bridge and road once a certain several hundreds blocks of land had been sold which occurred 2018. SInce then the milestones have changed a number of times. More than 900 blocks have now been completed and subdivision certificates issued. 

The Wilcox family farm has been under threat of compulsory acquisition to make way for the Grose River bridge road.

The Hawkesbury Post has obtained a copy of the minutes of a Jan. 2019, meeting between Redbank developers, engineers and HCC managers that clearly states the route should avoid the property owned by local horse breeder Mr Starr.

Former HCC General Manager Peter Conroy, former HCC Infrastructure Director Jeff Organ were present along with representatives of Redbank, the state’s roads department and construction consultancy WT Partnership were present. Barry Calvert was mayor at the time he is now Deputy Mayor. 

Cr Calvert told the Hawkesbury Post that he can’t confirm why the decision to avoid the Starr farm was made definitively but he did recall some talk that the geology of the farm – including excess water – may have been unsuitable to engineers. He said original discussions on the route predated his stint as mayor from 2018-2020 and never met the Starrs.

“I got verbal reports back form the general manager about these meetings – this was really up to the engineers – but there may be written records with council management I just don’t know,” Cr Calvert said. “I believe the developers are now very keen to build the bridge.”

The Redbank development has previously been mired in controversy when it emerged in 2014 at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) Operation Spicer donations-for-favors probe – that its original owner Buildev had funneled political donations to then Mayor Bart Bassett.  He would later become the State Member for Londonderry for one term before being dumped by the Party. Mr Bassett blamed NSW Liberal head office for the donations and was never charged with any offences.

Cr McMahon admitted at this week’s council meeting she had not got to the bottom of the mystery so far. She appeared to try and deflect responsibility in a comment on her heavily censored Facebook page that has since been removed.

But after questioning from the Hawkesbury Post, HCC General Manager Elizbeth Richardson said: “Due to competing priorities and limited resourcing, such an investigation has not yet commenced. It is expected to be undertaken over coming months.” 

McMahon has also hit back at Councillor Nathan Zamprogno using the Mayor’s Facebook page after he revealed this week that moves were afoot to try and have him ousted from the Liberal Party where he has been a member for three decades. Zamprogno claims that his support for the Wilcox’s in their ultimately battle to save their farm is behind moves to oust him but Cr McMahon who is also on the NSW Liberal state executive has disputed this. 

“Nathan has actively worked to undermine that good faith in many ways. If Nathan wishes to stay in the Liberal Party, that comes with obligations, as it does for any organisation. If he wishes to be truly independent, then he knows what to do,” Cr McMahon said as the acrimonious war of words between Liberal Party members spilled into official council social media pages. 

“One would think that after all our community has been through, residents are sick and tired of the petty and petulant squabbles of elected representatives. The broader community is also sick and tired of the widespread negativity, nastiness and abuse.”

Cr Zamprogno was given permission to run as an independent by the Liberal Party.

To read Cr McMahon’s full comment on Cr Zamprogno’s accusations read here: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=pfbid02bLjEzrfREE6g9A1UJqbszPT1CFioYnP6PB4Rcz4NUUK7vzLWd3KzLLHM16DCVMFJl&id=100063973658321

 

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