The following is a statement from Hawkesbury City Council about the new RFS Fire Control Centre proposed for the Hawkesbury region:
Hawkesbury City Council, in partnership with the NSW Government, is in the process of establishing a new Hawkesbury Fire Control Centre to replace the existing facility at Macquarie Road, Wilberforce.
A preferred site for further investigations was selected in late 2021 at Sackville Road, Wilberforce. A sod-turning ceremony to launch the commencement of the project was initiated by the NSW Government, not Council. Representatives from Council were invited to participate by the previous Minister for Emergency Services.
Since the funding announcement, Council has provided options for suitable sites, including the Sackville Road site, which have been vetoed every step of the way by Hawkesbury Rural Fire Service (RFS) or State and Commonwealth planning laws.
A new Fire Control Centre is vital for our community and our valued RFS volunteers. Council is fully committed to providing this critical infrastructure to our community. It is therefore regrettable that the Hawkesbury District RFS leadership has seemingly failed to explain to the local brigades the many challenges with identifying suitable land for the Centre. Instead, it appears that the Hawkesbury RFS has sought to deflect and apportion blame to Council rather than choosing to work together to get the necessary work done to build the new Fire Control Centre that the Hawkesbury needs and deserves.
The project is governed by a ‘Project Control Group’ that is made up of staff from NSW Public Works, Council staff, and the RFS including Fire Control Officer Hawkesbury District, Superintendent Karen Hodges.
As the project progressed, the Control Group has identified that:
- NSW planning laws explicitly prevent the Rural Fire Service from benefitting from expedited planning approval pathways. This is in contrast to the Police, SES and Fire and Rescue who do have such pathways.
- As such, a Development Application is required to be submitted for approval by the Regional Planning Panel (a NSW Government Panel).
- In preparing the Development Application, a more detailed Biodiversity Assessment of the site was undertaken by an ecologist, engaged by NSW Public Works, for the purposes of addressing State and Commonwealth biodiversity laws. The ecologist identified that the site contained critically endangered flora and fauna including Cumberland Plain Woodland and that the proposal would result in serious and irreversible impacts on those species. As such, the project would be unlikely to be approved by the Planning Panel in these circumstances.
The Crown and Council continue to actively investigate alternative sites that meet the demands of the local RFS, in conjunction with planning controls that include:
- located west of the Hawkesbury River
- preferably not shared with other agencies such as the SES
- easily accessible, situated on a major access road
- free from threatened species and
- not bushfire-affected or situated on flood-prone land.
These demands significantly reduce the number of suitable options that Council can offer from its limited property portfolio.
Current proposed changes to flood levels in the Hawkesbury have brought about further uncertainty over site selection. A number of alternative sites have been identified and fall short of the requirements raised by the Hawkesbury District Fire Control (RFS) and the State and Commonwealth planning laws.
Council called a face-to-face meeting with the Minsters for Emergency Services and Planning in August 2023 to raise these issues. At this meeting, the planning obstacles for the NSW RFS, which exclude the RFS from a faster planning pathway that is available to other agencies, were outlined. The solution to this is within the Minister’s control.
We look forward to the NSW Government confirming its funding commitment to the people of the Hawkesbury and working with Council while due diligence is undertaken to finalise a suitable location. Any threat of this funding being reallocated is causing undue fear amongst RFS volunteers and in a community that is still recovering from the impacts of the Black summer bushfires and staring down another potentially challenging summer bushfire season.
Council will provide more updates when they are available. Keep up with Council news at: https://www.hawkesbury.nsw.gov.au/your-council/council-news