Minister and bushfire boss visit Mountains

The head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency and the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management have pledged to help Mountains residents and businesses badly affected by the bushfires.

Andrew Colvin and David Littleproud visited Bell, Bilpin and Mt Tomah today, hearing from residents who homes and businesses were destroyed or badly burnt in the December fires.

They were joined by Senator Marise Payne, Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, Upper House MP Shayne Mallard and Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill.

The group then visited the Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath, which sustained significant damage, losing up to one-third of the gardens to fire.

As well as inspecting the blackened scenery, they met with a number of business owners, all of whom have experienced massive downturns during the fires.

The Fairmont Resort has lost $2.5 million in revenue since November 1 and staffing levels have been reduced from 120 to 50. The Victoria and Albert in Mt Victoria had 100 per cent cancellations for its 23 rooms which had been fully booked. Scenic World was also down 50,000 visitors in December.

Michael Paag from the Blackheath Alliance, head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew Colvin, the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill, Rhododendron Gardens expert Dick Harris and Macquarie MP Susan Templeman at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens earlier this evening (Monday).

Michael Paag from the Blackheath Alliance, head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew Colvin, the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill, Rhododendron Gardens expert Dick Harris and Macquarie MP Susan Templeman at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens earlier this evening (Monday).

The group was reassured by both Mr Colvin and Mr Littleproud that help was on the way. Already $1 million has been allocated to Blue Mountains Council to help the community recover.

The business people were most concerned to get some positive media coverage, showing that the Mountains are open for business.

George Vergotis from the Blackheath chamber of commerce said small business may need financial subsidies to ensure they can continue to employ people.

Amanda Byrne from Scenic World said international media was very important to her organisation, which enjoys about 60 per cent of overseas visitors.

Senator Payne, the Foreign Minister, reassured those present that her department was doing its best to convey the message that the country is not all ablaze or burnt and that tourists are extremely welcome.

"We're putting a lot of work in with heads of missions in key markets to put the word out," she said. "Every ambassador and high commissioner is to push that message out."

She said the $1 million allocated to council would allow it to choose the best way to use the money to help the community recover.

"As we have seen in the township of Bell, council's recovery teams are already on the ground and this initial grant will help council to build on this effort by prioritising and delivering local recovery projects."

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, chairman of Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise Donald Luscombe, president of Blackheath Rhododendron Society Deb Wells, head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew Colvin and Mark Barton from the Blue Mountains Regional Business Chamber at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens earlier this evening (Monday).

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud, chairman of Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise Donald Luscombe, president of Blackheath Rhododendron Society Deb Wells, head of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency Andrew Colvin and Mark Barton from the Blue Mountains Regional Business Chamber at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens earlier this evening (Monday).

"The feedback I have received from locals highlights the acute need for funding to flow immediately."

The mayor, Cr Greenhill, thanked the federal government for the announcement, which he said "is deeply appreciated".

"This funding is a good start. We believe the full cost to our community - environmentally, economically, socially and in terms of the actual infrastructure rebuild that will be required - is going to be significantly more," he said.

"We are working closely with our community to determine the needs. We will work with both federal and state governments as we rebuild. But we learnt after the 2013 bushfires that it is going to take years to recover, and at this stage the full cost of the recovery is still unknown.

Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman also welcomed the funding.

"But there's no doubt we will need more funding, and it's important the government sits down and listens to local councils to make sure they get the resources they need to rebuild our communities physically and mentally," she said.

"We will also need assistance to overcome the dreadful impact these fires have had on the local economy, and we'll need swift action to help with that business recovery."

The funds will be drawn from the $2 billion allocated to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency. The only condition placed on councils is that they develop a program of works within three months and report back to the Commonwealth in 12 months' time.