A meeting of protestors opposed to an orbital road in Port Macquarie have passed a motion of no confidence in the council.
A crowd of 300 people packed into a hall at the racecourse on Sunday afternoon, September 8, and applauded speaker after speaker opposed to the planned project. They included the mayor, Peta Pinson, the member for Port Macquarie, Leslie Williams and the leader of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Robert Borsak MLC.
Denis Lane from the Port Macquarie Better Orbital Options Alliance told the crowd that the orbital and airport link road proposals, if ever constructed, would not be in place for 12 to 20 years, according to the council.
He described them as extremely ambitious projections and wondered why six councillors - Deputy Mayor Lisa Intemann, Cr Justin Levido, Cr Rob Turner, Cr Peter Alley, Cr Geoff Hawkins and Cr Michael Cusato - appeared to be 'wedded to the project', which he described as an 'antiquated plan'.
"Without specific design details, Council has announced that the proposed orbital links will cost at least $1 billion (in 2016 dollars). Again, it will not be built until 2040, if then, given the significant hurdles that need to be jumped. How does any of this help motorists now?
"At this stage, council neither has the funds for construction nor any support from NSW and federal government for this massive project," added Mr Lane.
"Despite the opposition to the schemes, the block of six councillors recently resolved to invest a further $800,000 of ratepayers' funds in pushing on to the next step with another $5-6 million to follow for an environmental impact study.
"Even the recent publication of the letter from the environment minister, clearly stating that the state government would not support crossing the Lake Innes Nature Reserve, drew only a response from council reinforcing their commitment to the project," said Mr Lane.
Phil Lloyd, on behalf of the Alliance, told the meeting that the orbital road would not solve Port Macquarie's current and future traffic congestion.
"We have traffic congestion issues at peak times, but there are significantly cheaper and more effective initiatives that offer more immediate solutions rather than 20 years down the track," said Mr Lloyd, and questioned the council's reluctance to completely duplicate Lake Road.
"This east-west link solves nothing - neither current nor future road users will likely use this route during peak times. It simply moves traffic into the already existing choke points," he said, adding that it would be wasteful to spend $800,000 on a strategic business case, considering options which aren't feasible.
"Their preferred route passes through sensitive wetlands, containing known delicate ecosystems and acid sulfate soils that, if disturbed by any construction, could be catastrophic to our waterways. Although koalas often gain media attention, there are numerous species under threat from this orbital proposal," said Mr Lloyd.
Terry Muldoon from St Columba Anglican School Port Macquarie said they were concerned about the choice of preferred route by the council.
"Does placing a four-lane road within a few metres of our most vulnerable residents, those children from six weeks old to five weeks old, with the noise and pollution that would come with that a good idea? We think not," he said, adding that it would cut their outdoor play areas as well. He said the school hoped council would pause and think of a better way.
Representatives of the racing community spoke of their concerns about how the proposals would affect the racecourse, jockeys and racehorses.
A letter was read from Cheyne Flanagan, clinical director of the Koala Hospital, which attracts 150,000 visitors a year, expressing fears for the animals which are already in serious decline in this region.
She said koalas typically occupy large home ranges, of up to 100 hectares for life, they need specific eucalypts for food, and cannot easily move. Ms Flanagan said where habitat is disturbed by increased urbanisation, more koalas wander on to roads and are hit by cars, or attacked by dogs, and more develop chlamydia through stress.
She said the genetic diversity of Port Macquarie koalas makes them nationally important. Ms Flanagan said key areas of concern include the airport access road option which would remove large areas of koala habitat, especially at the shooting range.
"Even small remnants of koala habitat are important," said Ms Flanagan.
"Of most concern is the east-west link through Lake Innes nature reserve to Greenmeadows Drive. It introduces a pathway for feral animal movement. This road will undermine the health of the koala population and its sustainability," she added.
John Tingle, who chaired the meeting, proposed a motion of no confidence in Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in regard to its proposal for the orbital road development, the strategic business case for it, and called on the council to discontinue all development of the proposal forthwith.
The motion was passed unanimously by a show of hands from the 300-strong crowd.
Mayor Peta Pinson said she disagreed with the decisions of the council on the issue, and had shared the alliance's concerns to the minister for local government.
The mayor said she would table the motion at the next council meeting on Wednesday, September 18, and if she is returned as mayor at the upcoming council elections in September next year, she will take the "most viable" orbital route off the table at the first meeting.
"I have to accept that the power is with the six councillors who hold the balance of power at the moment. My being here this afternoon displays my commitment to you as mayor," she said.
Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams commended the community and the mayor for their determination on the issue, and reminded them of the upcoming council elections in September next year.