Court date set for RMS to answer questions on bypass changes
A TRIBUNAL has ordered the RMS to send an appropriate representative to a mediation session at Coffs Harbour Courthouse on June 24 to answer questions about the design process of the Coffs Harbour Bypass.
The order, made by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal last week, is the result of repeated attempts by Councillor Dr Sally Townley to gain access to documents relating to the RMS's apparent decision to remove tunnels from the Coffs Harbour Bypass.
"My first GIPA request seeking information about the removal of tunnels was refused on the grounds there were so many documents that it was impractical for the RMS to examine them all," Cr Townley said.
GIPA refers to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 which replaced the Freedom of Information Act 1989.
Not to be deterred she continued to dig for information and in December uncovered a letter from the Department of Planning and Environment written in response to a letter from the RMS on June 16 advising the department of 'design changes'.
After uncovering the letter from the Department of Planning and Environment she lodged a second GIPA application for documents relating to any design changes.
"The second application was refused on the grounds that the RMS held no such documentation. I can't understand how this can be the case. So it's quite ironic that firstly they say there's too many documents to go through and then they say no such documents exist."
In frustration she lodged a case with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the matter was listed for a hearing in Sydney on May 28.
"I went with my husband and had no idea what to expect. I took loads of documentation and had to file them - I felt like a lawyer. The RMS had their barrister there.
"In the end I was really pleased with the outcome."
An additional part of her request for information is for the business case submitted by RMS to Infrastructure Australia in late 2017.
Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory body, which assesses and prioritises projects of national significance.
"To my mind that's a really critical document. It contains the background, costings and justification for building the Coffs Bypass. I want to know if tunnels were included in the business case or not."
The Coffs Bypass Action Group (CBAG) has praised Cr Townley's efforts and looks forward to the mediation listed for June 24 at 11am at Coffs Harbour Court House.
"It's time we, the public, were shown all the necessary documents with regard to the Coffs Harbour Bypass. We are really hopeful that this direction by NCAT will finally reveal the reality behind all the rhetoric," Coffs Bypass Action Group (CBAG) spokesperson, Rod McKelvey said.
"The RMS is part of the Public Service, paid for by the tax payer and its refusal to release information that is important for the public to know is shameful.
"We applaud Ms Townley following this through and not taking no for an answer with regard to her request for information that is clearly in the interest of the public to be revealed."