Sunday, May 26, 2024

Final crossing – as future for Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service sinks

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In a formal statement issued late on May 10, Transport for NSW announced the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service will cease to operate from early next month with its last journey across the Clarence River set to take place before low tide on June 10.

Transport for NSW Regional Director North Anna Zycki cited reduced patronage, poor service reliability, the age of the vessel, and the availability of alternative routes as influencing factors which contributed towards the decision to decommission the 74-year-old ferry.

The news has been received with immense anger and frustration by many Clarence Valley residents including Member for Clarence Richie Williamson and Ulmarra locals Sue Kearney and Steve Pickering, who both manage businesses in the riverside village.

Ms Kearney, who launched a petition which attracted thousands of signatures calling for the NSW Labor Government to abandon plans to close the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service on March 25, and also wrote a song protesting its proposed withdrawal, told the Clarence Valley Independent the announcement is a real kick in the guts.

Ms Kearney also revealed the announcement was made less than 24 hours after she and Mr Pickering spoke with Ms Zycki via video link on May 9 about the future of the ferry, where they were informed it was “still under review” and a final decision had not been made.

During an interview with Loving Life FM 103.1 earlier this week, Ms Zycki reiterated her previous comments surrounding targeted consultation within the local community by Transport for NSW in the lead up to the announcement to allow them to better understand who uses the ferry and their purposes for travel before confirming the decision to withdraw the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service had been made “within the last few weeks.”

Ms Kearney and Mr Pickering strongly refute allegations made by Ms Zycki published in the May 8 edition of the Clarence Valley Independent and are adamant the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service has not incurred an average of 250 closures per year, is regularly utilised by emergency services, and no reasonable or practical alternative routes are available for those who rely on the service with travellers now facing the more expensive and time-consuming 76km round trip to get from one side of the Clarence River to the other compared to a five minute passage on the ferry.

“Our community is up in arms,” Ms Kearney exclaimed.

“The ferry is a necessity which so many people rely on.

“Transport for NSW and the NSW Labor Government don’t understand the full impact of this announcement and I am furious with their lack of honesty and integrity.”

When asked if there was any community consultation undertaken by Transport for NSW prior to the announcement on May 10, Ms Kearney and Mr Pickering revealed there was none and said if there was any targeted consultation carried out it was not done locally.

Describing himself as devastated and disappointed when he learned of the fate of the ferry, Mr Pickering said the Ulmarra and Southgate communities are in turmoil, and the timing of the revelation which took place on the same day the last of the petitions were handed into Mr Williamson’s office was questionable.

“To be informed of this subsequent decision not even 24 hours after Sue and I had spoken with Ms Zycki, we felt that we were just given a lip service,” he said.

“This (announcement) is very sad news.

“It’s not just people in the Clarence Valley who are affected by this decision, it’s the tourists, its people who come to the area for work, farmers, local businesses and industries, and because of their lack of community consultation, Transport for NSW and the State Government wouldn’t know who this is affecting.”

Mr Pickering said the ferry is a vital piece of infrastructure which has serviced the region for around 130 years, and its imminent decommissioning is nothing more than a cost saving measurement.

He also questioned the absence of dredging along the section of the Clarence River regularly used by the ferry in response to earlier comments made by Ms Zycki who identified a build-up of silt as being one of the main culprits responsible for restricting and impacting the frequency and reliability of the service.

Mr Pickering also berated Transport for NSW and the State Government for giving the community false hope and misleading thousands of people into thinking there was a chance the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service could be saved, only to be told the decision had been settled upon weeks ago.

When approached for comment, Mr Williamson said he was shattered by the announcement and shared the community’s anger, adding they have every right to feel completely let down by the decision.

Mr Williamson confirmed he is committed to tabling the petitions in Parliament this week and will fight to have the decision overturned. 

Clarence Valley Independent 15 May 2024

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 15 May 2024.

Related story: Community send ferry clear message


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