THE Coalition state government has quietly abolished a Hunter-based board it set up after the 2011 election to guide 20 years of the infrastructure development in the region.
The decision to wind up the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund board on June 30 has been defended by the government but criticised by board members and slammed by the Labor opposition, which describes it as a betrayal of the region.
The board was chaired by Maitland Mayor Peter Blackmore and was set up to advise the government on the best use of the $350-million Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund that was announced in 2010 as a key plank of the Coalition’s subsequently successful election campaign.
Another $100 million was added to the fund in 2014 and almost $400 million has been spent or allocated to projects selected by the infrastructure fund board.
In December last year the board whittled 57 options down to 10 to be considered for the final $50 million in the fund.
The board had expected to be further consulted as the government made its final choices from the list, which included a Newcastle cruise ship terminal at Carrington.
Instead, members were told by letter that their services were no longer needed after June 30 because the board was being wound up on that date. The Hunter Development Corporation confirmed it had taken over the board’s advisory role.
No announcement had been made before the Newcastle Herald contacted the government on Tuesday.
The Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund website was still displaying information about the fund board on Monday, saying one of its priorities was “setting out the long term infrastructure priorities in the Hunter region based on 5, 10 and 20 year increments”.
Cr Blackmore said he was disappointed that the board had been disbanded. He expressed his “deep appreciation” to the other members; Kristen Keegan, Annette Carruthers, Rob Monteath and David Evans.
“I also want to thank the former premier, Barry O’Farrell, who set up the fund in the first place and ensured that the initial $350 million was made available to the Hunter, which was the only region at the time to receive such funding,” Cr Blackmore said.
Asked about the projects vying for the final $50 million in funding, Cr Blackmore said: “All I can say is that the official line is that we are expecting the government to make announcements very soon.”
Mr Monteath said he, too, was disappointed that the board had been wound up.
“The board was set up on the principle of local people making local decisions about local projects and I believe it should have been continued,” Mr Monteath said.
Asked how the board was told of its demise, he said: “We got a letter to say thanks for your effort and support over the time but we have decided to discontinue the board.”
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the Hunter had “again been betrayed by the Baird government”.
“It’s been more than 400 days since the government opened the final round of funding and recommendations were made in February: it’s a disgrace,” Mr Crakanthorp said.
“Instead of a highly qualified board of Hunter locals making decisions for the Hunter region we are again left with Sydney making the decisions it wants.”
A spokesperson for Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the advisory board was “no longer necessary” as it had advised the government on the final $50 million to come from the fund.
He said the successful projects would be announced this month.