Muswellbrook Shire Council unveils its 2019/20 budget projects with an emphasis on future plans

CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush was focusing on the future during his council budget speech on Tuesday morning.
CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush was focusing on the future during his council budget speech on Tuesday morning.

MUSWELLBROOK Shire mayor Martin Rush delivered a speech on council's 2019/20 budget, outlining projects for both the short and long term.

Addressing a strong audience at the Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry breakfast on Tuesday, he revealed a number of big ticket items that were to begin or be completed within the next 12 months.

The aquatic centre, Olympic Park Sports Precinct stage one, Upper Hunter Performance Space, Hunter Beach, a number of road upgrades, renewable energy target works and Denman Business Precinct stages four and five will form part more than $20 million worth of investment into the area.

While the overall cost seems large, Cr Rush stated Muswellbrook Shire Council (MSC) was still in a strong economic position, having not borrowed any money for the general fund since March 2015.

He also emphasised his assertion the MSC has the lowest rates in the region, despite social media backlash over a recent rise.

Long-term projects were also discussed, with tourism at the Wollemi National Park and the future of Denman and Muswellbrook town centres being focused upon, including the sustainability of Bridge Street after the Muswellbrook Bypass is built.

Another contentious issue, which was spoken about, was the gradual transition away from thermal coal power.

Cr Rush said it's a question of when and not if, but displayed serious interest in shifting towards metallurgical coal which has a lower ash, moisture, sulphur and phosphorus content.

"We will still remain a centre for power storage and distribution... met coal is an important part of our future," he explained.

Cr Rush accused the state government of not injecting any funding into the venture over the past five years, and said the window was closing to capitalise on its potential in the region.

Council's decision to move away from thermal coal comes as they bring forward their expected decline of the form of power generation.

In 2012 they revealed a predicted downfall by 2025, but now believe a cessation at Muswellbrook Coal will begin by 2021, at Liddell Coal by 2022 and Liddell Power station by 2023.

However, Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen is in disagreement over the topic, stating that coal fired power stations were still being built around the world, and the industry still had up to a century worth of life left in it.

He also argued only about 20 per cent of coal was available to become metallurgic, and would not be enough to sustain the 5000 jobs in the Upper Hunter.

The council and state government being at odds with each other is nothing new, however local residents will be hoping for some synchronicity in their aims when the NSW Budget is announced next Tuesday.