NSW councils call for funding boost for rain-related repairs or they will ‘start closing roads’

A New South Wales mayor is threatening to close roads if his council does not receive a funding boost to cover the “beating” they have taken from this year’s record rainfall.

Related: Sydney marks its wettest year on record, smashing past 1950 high-water mark with three months to spare

The mayor of Blue Mountains council, Mark Greenhill, said extreme weather, including heavy rain, flooding and landslides, had caused $400m worth of damage in the shire – the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of roadworks in 12 months. The council’s total annual income is $90m.

Greenhill said the damage was likely to continue with the forecast for heavy rain through spring and summer, which he said would also have a major impact on the council’s ability to conduct repairs. Crews have been working extended hours to patch potholes during downpours.

“If we don’t start getting more government funding fast, I’ll be forced to start closing roads,” he said. “If they’re not safe, I can’t put people’s lives at risk. That’s how serious the situation is.

“We are all absolutely exhausted by it … on top of record rains, material shortages and sky-rocketing costs, our roads have taken a literal beating that has left one third of the network damaged.”

Councils are responsible for 90% of the NSW road network, including road safety and maintenance.

“There’s no way local governments can cope alone with the impacts of climate change,” Greenhill said. “It hits rural and semi-rural councils particularly hard as we have such a narrow rates base.

“Every time it rains, it sets us back. And we are once again facing a very wet summer.”

Other local governments across NSW are facing similar issues. Some are still trying to repair infrastructure damaged in the 2019-2020 bushfires.

Local Government NSW president, Darriea Turley, said councils were “really struggling” with the snowballing impact of natural disasters.

“I don’t think there’s one council that hasn’t been affected,” she said. “You go out and repair a road it washes it away, it’s constant, not just a one-off.”

On Thursday, the federal and state governments announced $312.5m in funding for 26 flood-impacted LGAs in northern NSW to rebuild damaged roads.

Turley said it wouldn’t go “anywhere near” what was needed to address the crisis.

Flooding in February and March alone caused $1.3bn worth of damage to local roads.

“The government has to look at the funding for infrastructure and recommendations identified in the flood inquiry about building back better, building resilience,” Turley said.

Before the 2019 state election, the NSW government promised to take responsibility for 15,000km of regional roads from local councils.

Almost 120 councils applied for the program but only five applications – representing just over 391km of road – met the government’s criteria. So far, none have changed hands.

Brewarrina council in north-west NSW has been attempting to maintain a sealed and unsealed road network of more than 1,700km.

The second wet weather returns, the council’s transport manager, Tim Williams, said “you’re back to square one”.

“It’s really hard to keep up,” he said. “If it rains one day, we’re off the road for four or five until it dries, but everything is full and we’re just doing the bare minimum.”

Heavy patching, which permanently repairs the road, requires full dryness – which can take weeks, depending on the amount of rain.

At the moment, Williams is just repairing potholes on sealed state highways to keep them open, “running around with premix trying to top it all up”.

On Thursday, nine roads in the area remained close due to flooding, including parts of the Kamilaroi Highway.

Williams said it would take “a couple of years” to survey the extent of the damage.

“We have a skilled workers shortage, and you’re cutting roads to smithereens getting bogged it’s so saturated,” he said. “It’s all time and money.”

The mayor of Blacktown, Tony Bleasdale, said the past 18 months had a “catastrophic” impact on the region, with $25m in damage to council roads in the past 16 weeks alone.

“When you look at maintenance alone of bridges and roads and essentials, it’s making it very, very difficult to maintain,” he said.

“Our land is going to fall apart if we aren’t given massive support.”

The mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown, Khal Asfour, said there was “no doubt” the council could benefit from more funding from the state government as repeated floods had caused significant damage across the city to roads, water pipes and drains.

“Our crews are doing what they can to repair roads and clear fallen trees and debris but are being hampered by the atrocious weather conditions,” he said. “No sooner do you finish one area, you’re returning to do more repairs.”

A NSW government spokesman said they were delivering “a $312m regional roads and transport funding package to help councils rebuild roads to a more resilient standard.”