A senior bureaucrat has rubbished the claims made by a former police deputy commissioner around modelling which led to the government blocking housing development on high-risk flood plains in Western Sydney.
Last Sunday, the NSW government announced areas of the North West Growth Corridor would be rezoned, preventing the construction of about 12,700 homes in Marsden Park North, areas of West Schofields and the Riverstone Town Centre.
The decision was backed by flood-evacuation modelling for the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, which found flooding in the area would post a potential “risk to life” if development continued.
Opposition Leader Mark Speakman has questioned the modelling, calling on the government to release a report from Dave Owens he said had been “intentionally ignored”.
However, when asked during budget estimates on Friday, NSW Reconstruction Authority chief executive Simon Draper said that report was “flimsy and ill-informed,” and was abandoned due to Mr Owens’ connection with property developers, which posed a conflict of interest.
During this time Mr Owens was also a member of the Reconstruction Authority Board, however, he resigned in August.
“In effect Mr Owens was making representations on behalf of property developers to a public official, and then he was a member of the Reconstruction Authority Board. I was very concerned about that,” Mr Draper said.
The senior bureaucrat said Mr Owens was told his private business posed a potential conflict of interest that “wouldn’t pass any sort of sniff test in the public,” and he was asked to choose between his board position or his tenure at his risk and emergency management firm Risk-e Business.
“His company earns a living off of doing that work for some of those parties, and he chose to continue to do the work for property developers and other related parties and resigned.”
However, Mr Owens maintains the assumptions used in the government’s flood evacuation modelling in the Hawkesury-Nepean Valley were “wrong”, especially around the use of contraflow – where incoming road lanes are used for outward evacuation.
He also said he had repeatedly declared his conflicts on interests “at the time of my appointment,” and when he was talking to politicians, including Planning Minister Paul Scully.
“I kept notifying them in writing and providing them with copies of the reports that said: ‘Whilst I obtained the information through doing work for the property developers, I am giving this on my own, as my own profession,” he said.
Compo for affected residents off the table
Mr Scully also dodged a question asking whether compensation would be given to residents who’ve had their property prices negatively impacted by the rezoning.
Instead, the minister said the government’s main priority was ensuring lives weren’t at risk.
“There are real risks if we don’t … start to act on some of the risks that are involved,” he said.
“What we will do is we will continue to work through the state disaster mitigation plan, we’ll continue to do local disaster adaptation plans, we will continue to work with communities on not only prevention, but also recovery in the event of an emergency.”
Mr Scully also maintained the report into flood evacuation modelling would not affect insurance premiums or house prices.
“The suggestion that property values of existing residents and their homes might be undermined is just wrong,” he said.