council Catch-up: march 2022
Community meeting held March 24th at Newport
Congratulations to Pittwater Councillor Mike Gencher for initiating a new program of resident forums. The first of these kicked off at Newport Community Centre on Thursday night, with about 40 residents and the three ward councillors. Locals seemed pleased to meet and be able to ask councillors question from 7pm to 9.30pm. It was also good for us councillors to hear about the community’s concerns - although at this stage, we‘re already only too aware of most of those problems.
The evening kicked off with questions about flooding on Wakehurst Parkway, the new NBC LEP and DCP, and expected changes to the scheme by which developers pay levies to support infrastructure for local communities (with the likely loss to council of those from residential homes). Later, the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council’s plans to develop up to 450 homes near Lizard Rock at Belrose and at other sites in Frenches Forest and at Oxford Falls were discussed.
Modifications to a DA at 231 Whale Beach Road that is now proposing a large restaurant in an area with extremely limited parking caused a great deal of concern.
Residents also called for a footpath on a treacherous section of Barrenjoey Road, in Avalon, near the Serpentine - and for the Coast Walk from Newport to Bilgola to be completed. Stormwater problems at a Church Point home we’re also raised.
A resident from Climate Action Pittwater praised the council’s move to renewable electricity however, called for staff to measure progress on actions in its Climate Change Strategy and report back to residents on this.
A regular swimmer at Newport Rock pool warned that it is impossible to walk along the track to the pool at high tide now because of a recent landslide. A film by local resident John Illingsworth had informed the community of the danger at the site and council has erected warning signs.
Finally, another resident raised the question of how we can encourage the development of larger businesses on the Northern Beaches (the answer, I believe lies in developing great health facilities and a local public University).
Some of the issues were discussed there and then but we also encouraged residents to email or phone councillors for more feedback or resolutions to problems.
Finally a big thank you to staff for setting up the hall and providing refreshments.
Protecting the Mona Vale Hospital site
The fight to return acute services to Mona Vale Hospital arrived at this week’s Northern Beaches Council meeting, when I moved a motion calling for Council to advocate with the NSW and federal governments to:
1. Retain the entirety of the Mona Vale Hospital site in public ownership.
2. For the footprint of the now demolished main hospital building and emergency ward to be maintained as open land for the rebuilding of a new public acute services hospital and
3. For any further development on the hospital land to be for public health services only.
I imagine that most Pittwater residents will be familiar with the campaign by the Save Mona Vale Hospital group over the last 20 years to retain an acute hospital at the site. The support of Pittwater Council on this was critical to its success in at least keeping the hospital land in public hands.
However, we know that the current NSW government has already allowed a number of private health units to be build and operate at the site and the community does not know what future plans for it are. We also know that all roads leading out of Pittwater can be closed during emergencies such as this month's floods and the 1994 bushfires, when flames leapt across Narrabeen Lagoon closing Wakehurst Parkway. Furthermore, during these crises, weather conditions often make it impossible for helicopters to transfer patients out of the area.
We also know that many residents must now travel more than 20 km to reach the nearest emergency department. That’s living in one of Australia’s largest cities - not a remote country town. In fact, Bondi and Erskineville are closer to Northern Beaches Hospital than much of the Pittwater Council Ward. The unique situation of the many offshore communities also demonstrates the inequity of local hospital services.
I won’t go into all the background here that I included in the motion, however, we also know that the February 2020 report from the inquiry into Northern Beaches Hospital recommended that the land remain in public hands and that the state government immediately begin negotiations with all local stakeholders on ways to restore a public, level 3 emergency department to the site.
The shortage of hospital staff and beds at both Royal North Shore and Northern Beaches Hospitals during the Covid pandemic highlights the need for this planning to begin and I believe residents would want our council to advocate for this.
I’m therefore extremely disappointed that our other two Pittwater councillors amended the motion to remove the 2nd point (maintaining the footprint of MVH main building) and deleting the reference to “health” in the 3rd point - i.e. meaning the council should advocate for unspecified public services at the site. However, the majority of the council passed the amended motion - calling for the council to advocate to keep the land public - although this majority did not include the Mayor.
Go ahead for Wakehurst Parkway work
Planning will move forward for work towards limited floodproofing of Wakehurst Parkway following a majority vote at the council meeting.
Immediate progress on detailed design and environmental assessments for reducing flooding at the Oxford Falls and Oxford Falls Road west sites will now go ahead as well as a technical review of the options at The Bends site, to see if the environmental impact of the work there could be reduced.
Curl Curl Greens councillor Kristyn Glanville and I were the only ones to oppose these plans because of the likely destruction, if the project proceeds, of nearly two and a half hectares of bushland - including threatened ecological communities such as Swamp Sclerophyll Wetlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Swamp Oak Floodplains, and Coastal Saltmarsh.
With some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in Greater Sydney, environment groups have pointed out that the area provides habitat for nationally threatened species including the Southern Brown Bandicoot, Spot-tailed Quoll, Giant Burrowing Frog, Swift Parrot, and Australian Little Bittern. Habitat would also be destroyed for many NSW threatened species, including the Powerful Owl, Masked Owl, Barking Owl, Red-crowned Toadlet, Black Bittern, Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Squirrel Glider and others.
Other problems include the risk of earthworks exposing contaminated sediments, including benzene and lead and the destruction of Aboriginal sites which haven’t been fully surveyed in the area as yet.
None of the three proposals would completely floodproof the road - at best resulting in water over the bitumen once in every two years, and with minimal work and damage to the area known as The Bends - flooding four times per year. That compares to 6 to 7 times now - and we know what that means after this month’s rain. With sea level rise of between one and two metres projected for the end of this century, the road could well be below water again before long.
Some councillors were concerned that grants for the roadworks totalling $18.5 million should be spent as soon as possible, with Councillor Sue Heins (Curl Curl, Your Northern Beaches) saying the government “wants something done” and “the clock is ticking on this”.
However, a council survey reported to the meeting showed that while 76 per cent of respondents wanted flood mitigation works carried out, only 50 per cent supported any of the councils proposed options. 26 per cent wanted a permanent flood-free solution and another 24 per cent would prefer nothing to be done.
The report mentioned that: “Wakehurst Parkway is a major state-owned arterial road that provides an important transport connection on the Northern Beaches.” However, it failed to mention that it now has a major social function, providing the most direct access to Northern Beaches Hospital from Pittwater (and further south from Narrabeen and Collaroy too.)
It also noted community concerns about protecting the environment, saying:
“One of the key outcomes that emerged within all options was the value placed on the importance of protecting the environment. People are generally worried about potential damage to the environment, as well as the costs involved to deliver effective flood mitigation measures.”
That is where Kristyn and I believe the NSW government must step up and take responsibility. With its decision to place the Northern Beaches Hospital at Frenchs Forest, the road is now a critical piece of state infrastructure, and the government should provide sufficient funds to end flooding without destroying the surrounding environment. The local council should not be left to carry any of the financial burden and responsibility for its construction.
Development of Aboriginal Land
Another challenging topic to be dealt with at Tuesday’s meeting was a plan to develop land in the Oxford Falls, Belrose and Frenchs Forest area that’s owned by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. First up would be a 71 hectare site at Lizard Rock, on Morgan Road in Belrose, within the next two years. The listing would remove some of the council’s power as the consent authority for developments.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment had exhibited a proposal to include six of these MLALC’s sites under special planning regulations for Aboriginal land. Submissions on the proposal closed this week. Councillors have received a flood of emails about the development, which would occur on land that includes environmentally sensitive sites.
Council staff developed a submission including concerns over environmental impacts, inconsistencies with state and local strategic planning, with procedural issues and conflicts of interest for the statutory body assessing the proposal. I thought it did a great job of summing up the fears of councillors and the community. However, the motion, which needed only to direct staff to submit the report to the state government, took a stronger stance, which I felt unable to support. All other councillors voted for the motion.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge arranged for Kristyn Glanville (who is an Environment and Planning lawyer) and I to meet with the Metro Land Council last week and I believe it’s important we build a relationship with them. We must recognise Aboriginal people’s ongoing ownership of the land on the Northern Beaches - which was never ceded.
Cr. Miranda Korzy,