Hunter developer Hilton Grugeon proposes new highway to flood proof Gillieston Heights

It’s a plan that would save taxpayers $17million and, in his mind, result in a win-win situation for all.

Hunter businessman and developer Hilton Grugeon wants to scrap the “inadequate” Testers Hollow upgrade because there is a better, cost free solution.

He has a plan to link Gillieston Heights with Heddon Greta and the controversial flood prone road over Testers Hollow does not need to be touched.

Mr Grugeon envisages the construction of a road west of Testers Hollow.

The plan would involve rezoning privately-owned farmland to rural residential lots, something that has not been achievable in the past because of development constraints associated with a toxic fallout from the former Hydro Aluminium Smelter which was decommissioned in October 2012.

“Everyone wants to ignore the fact that there is an alternative to the proposed one in 20 years solution and give Gillieston Heights a one in 100-year flood immunity,” Mr Grugeon said.

“In the past property owners in the area couldn’t have built homes west of Testers Hollow because of the smelter emitting toxic fallout.

“You could run a road from the uphill side of Testers, above flood level, all the way to the west and back to a point at the sub divisions around Heddon Greta,” Mr Grugeon said.

“It would be a rural road that would normally only be used by Gillieston residents, but in times of a flood a road that would have the capacity to carry cars, trucks and buses. It wouldn’t be used by commuters all the time because it would be the long way around.”

Mr Grugeon said the rezoning of land along the route into one hectare lots would mean land owners or developers would be under obligation to pay for the rural road.

“All the government has to do is facilitate the rezoning of the small acreages and get out of the way,” he said.

“It won’t need government funding. No one will have to put their hand in their pocket.

“The land involved falls across two local government areas.

“That means Maitland and Cessnock councils would have to work together,” Mr Grugeon said.

FREE WAY: Mr Grugeon's proposed route (shown in red) linking Gillieston Heights and a new sub-division at Heddon Greta.

FREE WAY: Mr Grugeon's proposed route (shown in red) linking Gillieston Heights and a new sub-division at Heddon Greta.

“The government is talking about the raising of Testers Hollow giving one in 20 year flood immunity but this new road option has a far superior outcome.

“It would be a road that is not used, other than by the few people who live there, and for the few days Testers Hollow is under water.

“There would be no through traffic of heavy trucks but it would be open for emergency services and people in times of flood.”

Mr Grugeon said if land owners are not prepared to divvy up their lots council can step in with compulsory acquisition.

Member for Maitland Jenny Aitchison said there is already commitment from the Federal Government secured by Member for Paterson, Meryl Swanson and a smaller commitment from the State Government which Mrs Aitchison has worked for, to raise the road. 

“I understand the option currently being prepared by the RMS is for a 1 in 20 year flood event,” she said. 

“The community has lobbied for this road to be raised for generations. Developers are free to look at additional options on the land they develop, but not in place of a solution which currently has bipartisan support and funding which has taken decades to secure.”

Mrs Swanson agrees. “I believe the community expectation is that the road will be raised and improved and have secured Federal funding to this end,” she said.

“This is important not just for flood risk but also the additional traffic and growing demand on this stretch.

“I know the area will be further developed and there may be an alternative route in the future but there is still an imperative to upgrade Testers Hollow.”

But Mr Grugeon said to settle for a one in 20 year solution is inadequate. “It’s as inadequate as the one lane overpass at Maitland Railway Station roundabout,” he said.

“And if the government has suddenly found $17million there are plenty of other things we need it spent on that cannot be funded by the private sector.”

Fairfax Media reported last week how the Roads and Maritime Services pledged to upgrade Testers Hollow to provide at least one in 20 year flood immunity. It’s not the gold standard some frustrated residents had hoped for, but it will be a vast improvement on the road’s current status of one in two year flood immunity.

The flood prone stretch has flooded four times in 11 years and is an ongoing source of community outrage.