You are here

What price for City Hall accountability?

Article by Darren Godwell, President, West End Community Association

This article, written on 5 February 2008 and published here on 24 February. It was submitted to the Courier Mail but not published. The Courier Mail Newspaper supported both the Hale Street Bridge and the North South Bypass Tunnel. This article can also be found as a Micro$oft Word document on www.stopthehalestreetbridge.com/media.htm.

The State government's Co-ordinator General report on the inner-city toll-bridge at Hale Street paints a picture of an auction where the price keeps on rising well after you've made the final bid.

"For the HSL to proceed would require an increased project budget above that of the $245 million approved by Council".

At the last council election candidate Newman made a $180 million promise to build a toll-bridge. Today Lord Mayor Newman says it'll cost $450 million.

The report's measured tone rings alarm bells - "it may be necessary for a new financial analysis.to ensure the project is good 'value' and is able to service the cost of project with the toll revenues collected."

The Co-ordinator General's insight tells us City Hall is having difficulty coming to grips with another major project. Sadly, if Newman persists the end result will be either a larger subsidy from the pockets of Brisbane's ratepayers through more rates increase or a top-up from the taxpayers of Queensland. So it's either the pockets of ratepayers or the pockets of taxpayers.

"Most projects of this size in recent times have been subject to significant cost-escalation pressures...It is likely that this project was also finding significant cost pressure and difficulty of remaining within the Council-approved budget."

The Lord Mayor's new alternative is to scale-back the approaches onto the bridge.

Logically, the State government finds that "a reduction in project scope is likely to result in reduced benefits [and] the project business case will need to be revisited to ensure that the 'value' of the project is acceptable"

.

Here's the rub. To test for "value" and to consider its "acceptability" before the local Council election we'll need to see City Hall's "project modification report". But Council's revised report is not due until the 20th March - five days after the election.

The Co-ordinator General rightly asks are we getting 'good value' from ratepayers' monies. To figure out what's 'good value' we'll also need to know if the project works.

The independent umpire reveals that City Hall made interesting choices from the beginning: "BCC did not seek the assistance of the Coordinator-General. BCC instead undertook a voluntary assessment process. However, a 'voluntary assessment process' may not necessarily be conducted with the same robustness and rigor."

Rigor was never to bother this process. Process became a rude joke when the Mayor's staff solicited big business and interstate relatives to make submissions supporting the proposal.

The latest revelation is City Hall's obligations under the "conditional approval" by the State government. Specifically, filing an acceptable "traffic management plan" for both construction and operational stages. Including a "public transport management plan" to detail impacts on non-car commuters.

We now know City Hall has only assessed a portion of the traffic impacts. Amazingly, the Coordinator General reveals, this project is only half tested. There is no assessment of the traffic impacts on the southern end.

"BCC was not asked to and did not submit a traffic management report for the proposed southside works. I note that Main Roads do not intend to request a traffic management report for these works as, in their opinion, any impact would be on local traffic only in the immediate area."

This finding points to the Labor majority in Council who approved the project without the full information on all of the impacts.

South Brisbane Councillor Helen Abrahams is left out on a limb by not knowing the impacts on local businesses, streets, suburbs and constituents. To a lesser degree, the local State Member, Anna Bligh, is also exposed by this oversight.

The Coordinator General recommends that State government compel City Hall for a traffic management plan for the southern side. This plan is critical to making an accurate assessment. The final report may prove unpalatable reading for the people of the Gabba, Highgate Hill, South Bank, South Brisbane and West End.

Once every four years, people hold their Lord Mayor and local Councillors to account. To do this properly, in the interest of seeing public monies well spent, the people of Brisbane will need to have all the pieces, traffic and financial, on the table before the election.