Mr HICKEY (Cessnock) [5.08 p.m.]: Honourable members will be aware that over a period of many years the central business districts [CBDs]of many regional and rural towns deteriorate to the extent that the only way to ensure their future viability is to improve the streetscape and the traffic conditions. The Cessnock CBD is in dire need of development and improvement. Some 20 per cent of the shops in Vincent Street are in a poor state of repair and are currently vacant. Poor shopfront maintenance is compounded by absent landlords who purchase investment properties in the area and allow them to deteriorate to the point where they are no longer viable for lease.
I suspect that this is the product of asset stripping to allow for tax write-offs by unscrupulous investors who have no sense of responsibility to the town or its residents. During my period on Cessnock City Council the condition of Vincent Street and adjoining areas was a constant source of consternation. Council was not in a position to provide funds to improve the streetscape, and the CBD degenerated. In recent times Cessnock business houses have attracted increasing levels of consumer support. That can be attributed to the growth of tourism in the area and an increasing population base.
People have discovered that Cessnock is a great place to live. Along with the increase in confidence in the local economy came interest from large retailers, which have chosen to set up outlets in Cessnock. Cessnock now boasts a diverse variety of supermarkets, department stores and specialty shops. However, the new developments that lie on the western side of Vincent Street placed increasing pressure on the existing shopping strip of Vincent Street. The time came when a push had to be made to develop and improve traffic conditions in Vincent Street, or let it deteriorate further and die an ugly death, just like the traditional shopping strips in many other country towns. As the situation was being debated at the local and State levels it became apparent that the historical route for heavy vehicles on Main Road 220, which includes the main shopping strip of Vincent Street, was presenting major problems and obstructing development of the central business district [CBD].
The resultant noise and traffic management problems make social and business interactions in the area almost impossible. This situation is longstanding. Honourable members will be aware of the importance of the F3 link road to the Cessnock electorate to remove heavy vehicles off Main Road 220. I have mentioned that many times in this House. The people and business houses of Cessnock joined with council to call on the Federal Government to provide funds to enable the State Government to build the F3 link road to remove the trucks from Vincent Street. To date, this request has fallen on deaf ears. The current Federal Government has not made a single statement supporting funding of this important piece of road infrastructure.
During my term as the local member for Cessnock I have made many representations to the Minister for Roads to look at ways of improving the current road infrastructure to accommodate the social and economic needs of a growing and expanding community and economy. The upgrade of the town centre has to make allowances for heavy vehicles using Main Road 220 until the Federal Government provides the funds required to complete the F3 link road. It was heartening for me to discuss the issues with the Minister for Roads, who was very well briefed on the local situation in Cessnock. The Minister agreed that the situation in the Cessnock CBD had become untenable, and the Cessnock electorate had his full support in attempting to devise strategies at a local level to reduce traffic problems and improve the streetscape through Cessnock.
This support came not only in words but also in dollars, in the form of a $10 million package announced as part of the 2001 budget. Some $3 million of that funding has been allocated for this year. This funding will be directed through a task force that has been meeting to develop strategies to make the local roads safer and to improve local traffic flow while making the Vincent Street precinct amenable to future development. The task force is made up of representatives from Cessnock City Council and the Roads and Traffic Authority. Its brief is to determine priorities for improvements along the Main Road 220 route through Vincent Street.
The options currently under consideration include intersection upgrades, road safety traffic management improvements and landscaping to improve the visual and social amenity of the area. The upgrade of the CBD will include new pavement for footpaths, which will be in character for future developments; underground power lines, with improvements and upgrades to overhead lighting in Vincent Street; landscaping works in Vincent Street that improve the local community; upgrade of the Aberdare Road Bridge, realignment of the Aberdare Road, Snape Street and Vincent Street intersection to allow a smooth flow of traffic; and realignment of the intersection of Vincent Street, Wollombi Road and Allandale Road to improve traffic flow and increase safety at this major intersection.
I thank the Minister for Roads for his proactive approach to ensuring that the impact on Cessnock is minimised as a result of the Federal Government's refusal to provide the funds to build the F3 link road, which would remove the majority of heavy vehicles from the business precinct of Cessnock. The decision to allocate these funds to my electorate by the Minister for Roads again provides proof that the State Government is not prepared to shirk its responsibilities in regional New South Wales, while the Federal Coalition sits back and allows regional and rural centres to deteriorate to the point of no return.