The NSW government's roads bureaucracy is holding up nearly $8 billion in development projects and 33,000 construction jobs in the Hunter, according to an analysis by Lake Macquarie City Council's economic development company.
The Hunter development industry has been simmering for years over perceived delays in gaining approvals from Roads and Maritime Services.
The report by Dantia identifies 16 residential, 12 commercial and 10 infrastructure projects totalling $7.8 billion in capital investment which could be unlocked by "more efficient interaction between RMS and the urban development industry".
Dantia did not make public the individual projects, but the Newcastle Herald understands the massive Black Hill industrial estate, Winten Property's 2000-lot housing subdivision at Minmi and the Cedar Mill redevelopment of Morisset golf course have been delayed significantly while awaiting RMS approval.
The Mayfield Coles supermarket now under construction in Maitland Road was another project delayed for many years by negotiations over a set of traffic lights.
Developer John Stevens, whose Stevens Group company is building the 200-lot Black Hill estate with Hilton Grugeon's Hunter Land, said the RMS had become "too difficult to deal with".
It's currently holding up every job that we've made applications for.Developer John Stevens
"We've got a number of sites that we develop in the Hunter and Central Coast, and every site seems to have issues with the RMS," he said.
"State planning is hard enough in its own right, let alone having a statutory body that makes it as difficult as they do to get approvals.
"It's currently holding up every job that we've made applications for."
The level of disquiet has forged a rare alliance between the development industry and Hunter councils.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia, Property Council of Australia and Hunter Joint Organisation, a coalition of Hunter councils, met with Regional Transport and Roads Minister Paul Toole on Thursday to thrash out what the UDIA described as "significant delays which have impacted the development industry".
The UDIA said Mr Toole had agreed to oversee a new reference group comprising government and industry representatives to work on a seven-point plan to unlock investment in the region.
Mr Toole said the meeting had been "very positive" and all sides had agreed the "changes proposed would address many of the issues raised".
UDIA Hunter chapter chair Geoffrey Rock said his organisation had held "numerous" meetings with government and government agencies for more than a decade to try to resolve issues with RMS, which was absorbed into Transport for NSW late last year.
"We see this [reference] group as being able to deliver some quick wins as well as long-term, sustainable, whole-of-government solutions to remove the delays," he said.
The Black Hill estate developers have taken City of Newcastle to the Land and Environment Court over RMS delays in approving the project after they lodged a development application in July 2018.
It is understood other government agencies and the council have ticked off on the project but RMS has asked the developers to pay for $40 million in road works.
"There's a court case taking place which has held up 3000 jobs for at least 12 months," Mr Stevens said.
"The development is ready to go in every aspect except for an RMS approval on reasonable terms."
A spokesperson for Winarch Capital, the company behind the Cedar Mill proposal, said the developers had worked effectively with Lake Macquarie council, NSW Crown Lands, police, Ausgrid, Sydney Trains, the Natural Resources Access Regulator, Rural Fire Service, Hunter Water Corporation, Subsidence Advisory and Land Registry Services.
"On the whole, all have worked to meet their statutory time frames," the spokesperson said. "RMS is the only agency we are waiting on to allow our project to proceed. We can push the start button the moment we get a green light from RMS.
"Their approval will allow us to commence an investment of millions of dollars in Lake Macquarie in a time when our region desperately needs it. We hope that approval will be soon."
The Housing Industry Association's latest update says the pause on immigration and the economic shock of the coronavirus would cut new home starts by 28 per cent this financial year and 34 per cent next year, putting half a million residential construction jobs at risk.
The NSW government is keen to kick-start the economy as it emerges from lockdown, which the Newcastle Herald reported on Friday had cost the Hunter 26,000 jobs in two months.
Mr Rock said RMS hold-ups were the "antithesis of a productive economy".
"The Hunter region is bleeding jobs right now, and we need swift action to guarantee future employment, investment and housing in the Hunter," he said.
"Based on our recent engagement with Transport for NSW and Minister Toole, we are optimistic that with the minister's support and the involvement of Transport's senior executive we can finally get on the right course."
Mr Rock said one of the "quick wins" to emerge from Thursday's meeting was a government commitment to review RMS's requirement for 100 per cent bank guarantees against the cost of road projects.
"If a developer has to build a $5 million intersection at their cost, they've got to try to get funding for $10 million to be able to stump up a 100 per cent guarantee," he said. "It's outrageous that they have to do that, and some projects don't proceed on that basis."
He said RMS had often operated at odds with government strategic planning which identified land for large-scale economic and residential development.
Property Council Hunter region director Anita Hugo said RMS delays were "drastically" affecting the region's growth in houses, jobs and infrastructure at a "really critical time".
Hunter Joint Organisation said in a statement that it hoped the meeting with Mr Toole would lead to less red tape and more resources so that RMS delays became "a thing of the past".
"The former Roads and Maritime Services must evolve and improve its practices to meet ... growing demand by delivering significant reforms," it said.
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