Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund board abolition leaves questions

Questions have emerged after the state government’s decision to disband the independent board that suggested funding priorities for major projects in the Hunter.

Cr Peter Blackmore.

Cr Peter Blackmore.

The Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund’s board was established in 2011 to recommend projects on which the government should spend the proceeds from the long-term lease of the Port of Newcastle.

But the government quietly disbanded the board in June, after directors gave the government a short list of projects that should benefit from the remaining money in the fund.

The government initially allocated $350 million to the fund and topped it up with an extra $100 million in 2014. The board’s function was to make sure money from the port lease was benefiting the Greater Hunter.

Fairfax Media understands the decision to shut down the board will not put any projects that were previously guaranteed funding in jeopardy.

Maitland has benefited significantly from HIIF funding, with millions earmarked for major infrastructure projects in the city.

This includes $25 million for the new hospital at Metford, $5.6 million for a revamp of Maitland Sportsground, and $44 million for the New England Highway upgrades that include the new overpass.

Maitland has also been in the fortunate position of having its mayor, Cr Peter Blackmore, as the chairman of the HIIF board.

While there should be no suggestion that Cr Blackmore has given unfair advantage to Maitland projects over other Hunter initiatives, there’s no doubt that his presence on the board has meant this city’s interests were thoroughly considered when HIIF projects were being shortlisted. For that, Cr Blackmore deserves thanks for his service.

Government agency Hunter Development Corporation has taken over the former HIIF board’s advisory role, with the next round of funding allocations still to be announced.

While the board has, technically, left no unfinished business – there is no more money in the fund – the government’s decision to dissolve the independent body leaves a few questions lingering.

Does the abolition of the board mean the government doesn’t plan to top up the HIIF again any time soon? If that’s the case, where will income from the port lease go?

And will the Maitland area be treated with the same consideration under the guidance of Hunter Development Corporation as it did when the HIIF board had the reins?

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