Concerned Wentworth Falls residents have met with local Labor councillors to discuss the growing problem of noxious weeds growing along the Great Western Highway.
Member for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle and Councillor Romola Hollywood said Blue Mountains Council has been tasked with maintaining the garden beds along the State Government road, but has not been provided with any extra funding.
Ward 2 Councillor Romola Hollywood said council has costed the maintenance of the Roads and Maritime Services designed landscaping from Woodford to Wentworth Falls at around $200,000 per year.
“It is simply not fair that our local community has to pick up the tab for the maintenance of vast tracts of RMS landscaping along our national highway," she said.
In the years since the highway widening project finished, stretches of new highway between Woodford, Hazelbrook and Wentworth Falls have been overrun by weeds such as Scotch Broom, Blackberry, and grasses such as Coolatai and Pampas.
“This is a classic case of a conservative state government penny pinching and cost-shifting to local council.” Ms Doyle said.
But Member of the Legislative Council and Katoomba resident Shayne Mallard said the council needs to accept responsibility for the area’s gateway.
“Council’s duty, just like all other councils is to maintain the landscaping on the verges after an establishment period,” Mr Mallard said.
He said during the project development phase of the upgrades, council provided input into the landscape design and acknowledged its responsibility for maintenance of verges.
“Frankly the neglect of key tourist junctions like Katoomba are an indictment of this Labor council’s funding priorities such as campaigning against the second Sydney airport or wasting money on lawyers fighting the State Government in the courts,” Mr Mallard added.
But residents including Stuart Grigg from Wentworth Falls said the State Government’s priorities were out of step with community expectations.
“They’re building multi-billion dollar sporting stadiums in Sydney which nobody needs … while failing to do basic maintenance on their existing infrastructure. It’s madness,” Mr Grigg said.
And another resident, John Johnston of Hazelbrook, said it had “been steadily getting worse since the State Government’s highway widening project wound up in 2015”. He also expressed concern at the increased fire risk the weeds pose during summer.
“Some of the invasive grasses that are sprouting up ... produce the sort of dry, brittle foliage that can easily catch alight and cause bushfires to spread more quickly or begin in the first place,” he said.
Mr Mallard said this year, Roads and Maritime will carry out maintenance along the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains up to eight times. This includes weed and vegetation management with further median maintenance carried out as required.
“The State Government provides a world standard vital highway through the region, pays for upgrades, maintenance, lighting and traffic lights. Council and Trish Doyle do not contribute a dollar towards that infrastructure. It’s not unreasonable for local councils to maintain the highway verges as their contribution,” Mr Mallard said.