Northern Rivers Councils have urged Premier Iemma to immediately implement the recommendations of the Rural and Regional Taskforce, released this week.

Chair of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils, Cr Ernie Bennett, said the Taskforce, chaired by Legislative Assembly Speaker Richard Torbay, had held extensive public hearings across NSW and arrived at a sensible list of recommendations to support country areas.

The recommendations include a Victorian-style Regional Development Infrastructure Fund to assist transport and community facilities specifically in non-metropolitan areas, and more funding for water and sewerage infrastructure.

“The Northern Rivers is the fastest growing part of the State and I can say clearly that we need assistance to keep up with our transport infrastructure and water and sewerage needs,” Cr Bennett said.

“At the moment, the lack of investment in vital infrastructure forces councils to take on greater debt, raise rates, or simply make do with sub-standard infrastructure.”

Cr Bennett said that the recommendations on transport were especially welcomed.

“The Regional Development Infrastructure Fund would provide a pool of funds for regional development, including roads – in the Northern Rivers a good start would be an Integrated Regional Transport Plan that commits governments to improving our highways, improving roads such as the Bangalow Road, and increasing our public transport options such as returning trains to the Casino-Murwillumbah line, and increasing support for community transport,” Cr Bennett said

Cr Bennett said that NOROC also supported the Taskforce’s recommendation for a greater role for councils in economic development, provided it was properly resourced by the State Government.

“In rural communities, people look to their local council to drive economic development, and it is time that role was properly recognised by governments and supported with appropriate funding,” he said.

Cr Bennett said that it was clear from the report that certain issues unified country areas in NSW.

“There has been a common theme from country councils that infrastructure is under-funded, and that the Country Towns Water and Sewerage Scheme needs to be extended,” he said.

“There was also strong support for more funding for libraries.

“NSW libraries are the most under-funded in Australia, and in many cases are at breaking point.

“The State Government should heed the call and increase funding to rural libraries in this year’s Budget.”