Monday, January 4, 2010

Visy Truck Curfew Update.

Hon. Mr. Tony Kelly.
Minister For Planning
Level 34 Governor Macquarie Tower
Farrer Place Sydney

This is a request for Ministerial intervention to vary a determination made under the Environmental Planning And Assessment Act (1979). The Act empowers the Minister:

(e) to investigate the social aspects of economic activity and population distribution in relation to the distribution of utility services and facilities, and
(f) to monitor progress and performance in environmental planning and assessment, and to initiate the taking of remedial action where necessary.

I make this request on behalf of the members of the Australian Long Distance Owners’ And Drivers’ Association Inc. and otherwise in the public interest for the safety of all other drivers and other members of the public who use Gocup Road in both Gundagai Shire and Tumut Shire.

A copy of the determination and some related matter in respect of transport arrangements for a development application by Visy Paper Pty. Ltd. for its plant near Tumut – is duly provided.

This development is in operation and has recently undergone extensive expansion. The role of this Visy enterprise in the economy of the Tumut Shire is notable and this is a fact within the Minister’s purview. This enterprise is regarded as ‘State significant’.

The matter for reconsideration is a single order which instituted a curfew for heavy vehicles operated for Visy; these vehicles may not pass through Adelong between 10 pm and 7 am daily. This order was made to allay certain public concerns that noise levels would be unacceptable to Adelong citizens during these hours.

Vehicles belonging to other companies and individuals may still pass through Adelong during these hours. It is clear from the recommendations made at the time, that the intention was for Visy-connected vehicles to travel via the Gocup Road from Gundagai to Tumut and vice versa during the Adelong curfew hours. It was considered that the Gocup Road needed to be drastically upgraded to accommodate in safety the increased volume of traffic.

The order agreed to by Visy Paper Pty. Ltd. transferred vehicles off the Federal road – the Snowy Mountains Highway – onto a Councils’ controlled road which was 50 kilometers longer. In other words, considerable effort was done to cater to Adelong objections to traffic in the curfew hours.

As matters stand, the vital work on Gocup Road has not been done. Public monies from both the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments have not been available. It is further known by relevant authorities that the Gocup Road is dangerous and is deteriorating under the pressure of heavy traffic.

Indeed, in December 2009, there have been two ‘roll overs’ of trucks on the Gocup Road. There was no loss of life or injury; but there was damage to vehicles and to the loads. The drivers blamed the conditions of the road for the accidents.

The obvious defect in the original consideration behind the curfew order may have the legal effect of rendering void this order. If the order is void as the result of events, then Ministerial intervention is the remedy to overcome the conundrum.

It is submitted that the only viable short term measure to ensure driver and public safety is to: order that all Visy vehicles travel outside the curfew hours ie. Travel only between 7 am and 10 pm, or in the alternate: order that the Visy vehicles’ curfew be rescinded such that its vehicles may travel at all hours through Adelong, until either the Gocup Road is upgraded, or other alternatives pursued and completed.

Public Opinion And Public Interest

I affirm that I have had dealings with innumerable drivers. These drivers have relayed grievous concerns that it is only a matter of time before a serious accident will occur on the Gocup Road, causing death and/or injury and damage to private and public property. I affirm that I have spoken with many members of the public who are similarly concerned.

It is certainly true that some citizens of Adelong oppose the lifting of the curfew. I called a meeting in Adelong in December 2009 which was attended by about 60 persons. A group associated with the Adelong Progress Association (which was responsible in large measure for the instituting of the curfew in the first instance) opposed my position. I have no doubt some people oppose any lifting of the curfew in Adelong.

The Tunut Council indicated that Visy Paper Pty. Ltd. “accepts the condition” of the curfew. It is not relevant whether Visy “accepts” the condition (letter November 11 2009). There could be any number of reasons why Visy executives do not take a public stand. In any case, the matter extends beyond the immediate interests of Visy Paper Pty. Ltd.

A petition was recently presented in the Commonwealth Parliament by the Hon. Kay Hull (Riverina) in respect of the urgent need for work upon Gocup Road. The facts are given (see attachment).

There is some division of opinion in the Tumut Shire as to the validity of the curfew. However, there is no public interest in putting lives and property at risk. Should there be a death or injury or damage to private or public property, it may follow that the economic activity in the Shire on a ‘State significant’ project would surely be affected by industrial and other action. In view of the risks associated with the Gocup Road, such action may be inevitable in any case.

The proper decision is one in the public interest, one which alters the curfew conditions.

Theoretical Alternatives Do Not Serve The Present Problem.

If there is a risk on the Gocup Road, there are alternatives:

The upgrading of the Gocup Road.

The construction of a bypass around Adelong.

The conversion of the former railway line between Gundagai and Tumut into a truck haulage road.

All of these alternatives have public currency in the Tumut Shire. However, as is reasonably clear, these alternatives take time, public resources and will to turn into a reality, and cannot serve the immediate problem of public safety and security which sums to the public interest.

The Tumut Shire Council Cannot Resolve The Matter

As stated, the Tumut Shire Council has stated to me that the position of Visy Paper Pty Ltd. Is one that it “accepts the condition” (letter November 11 2009). If that is so, then this company has not been proactive in the defense of its employees’ interest, nor in the defense of the public interest.

The Tumut Council stated to me that only “Ministerial consent” could alter the
curfew order on Adelong (letter December 8 2009). It is reasonably the case that the Tumut Council has not yet requested such action from you.

On November 20 2009, a Timber Industry Roads’ Forum was held with two broad sessions involving Councils, timber industry representatives and transport operators – and then other interested parties (a copy of this report is produced).

I alert the Minister to various sections of the published report which deal with the matter of the Gocup Road. The word “disaster” is prominent.

This meeting was predicated on the basis that only a united response could solve the various problems of transport for the timber industry (and otherwise) in the Gundagai and Tumut Shires. The issues canvassed in the report of this Forum raise the necessary basis for my submission which is simply one seeking urgent remedial action.

Submission From The Australian Long Distance Owners’ And Drivers’ Association Inc:

The Minister has the power to intervene to alter the curfew order at Adelong to either the alternates proposed above. Given the nature of twenty four hour production at the Visy plant, the abolition of the curfew itself may be the best solution, unless and only if production and transport can be organized to fit in with current curfew hours. The latter option may not be a viable economic solution. Whatever the solution the Minister adopts, I aver for the right to safety and security as all drivers and members of the public would demand.

Circumstances have changed from the time of the original development determination. It was considered previously that work would have long ago commenced on the upgrade to the Gocup Road. This has not occurred. In the interim, the condition of the Gocup Road has deteriorated. Members of the Australian Long Distance Owners’ And Drivers’ Association are concerned, as are many other drivers and residents, that it is only a matter of time until there is death or injury and damage to private and public property on the Gocup Road.

There is no time to create other transport solutions to ameliorate the situation on Gocup Road. The only fair and proper solution in the public interest is to act to alter the order in respect of the Visy truck curfew through Adelong.

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