Babies on council
It’s hard to deny the dynamics of the new Northern Beaches Council have changed in its second term with two new Mums, Georgia Ryburn (Liberal, Manly) and Kristyn Glanville (Green, Curl Curl) sitting at the table. In fact, Ms Ryburn’s three-month-old son has slept by her side or on her lap (or another councillor's) through some of the extensive training staff have given us on everything from meeting procedures and legal requirements to coverage of the councils’ different divisions. Meanwhile, Ms Glanville went into labour the week following our first Saturday briefing, attended the next one the following Saturday on Zoom, and then turned up for our first full business meeting last Tuesday (February 22) with both laptop and baby. It’s also wonderful to see the gender balance on the new council, with an 8:7 majority of women. Councillors’ surnames also point to a range of family origins, including Canada, Croatia, Portugal and Poland. Of course we have six members of the Your Northern Beaches Team amongst us, five Liberals, two Independents and two Greens. Unfortunately, still no First Nations people.
Councillor pay rise coming
Councillors voted themselves a pay rise at the February Council meeting on Tuesday, so that we will now receive $31,020 per annum with an extra $90,370 for the mayor, who is paid for full-time service. These amounts are based on a two per cent increase recommended by the May 2021 Local Government Remuneration Tribunal 2021/22. The tribunal offers a range of options based on size of council - with NBC classed as a large metropolitan body.
Additionally, councillors voted to be paid superannuation on top of our fees from July 1 this year, following amendments to the Local Government Act 1993 in May last year that enable councils to offer it. The super payments will be equivalent to those guaranteed under Commonwealth superannuation legislation.
Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca opposed the rise in fees, saying that there has been a lot of financial trauma in the community due to Covid and he felt that councillors should be “tightening our belts and setting an example”. He was supported by Pittwater Liberal Councillor Rory Amon.
However, Curl Curl Liberal Councillor David Walton said of the fee rise plus super that: “It’s not a significant remuneration.” An Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal rise of around 2.5 per cent expected in July would bring the total councillor pay rises up to around 12 per cent - bringing remuneration close to those of government board members, he said later.
Curl Curl Your Northern Beaches Independent Team councillor Sue Heins welcomed the super rise in particular, saying that it had been “hard fought for”.
Like Ms Heins, I welcome the fee rise and super payments. A number of former Pittwater councillors I know say work as a councillor can be a fulltime job - which is already true for me. If we want to encourage diversity on council and particular for young people to stand, the realistic payment for work needs to be offered. Otherwise, councillors will tend to be drawn from the ranks of the older and more affluent members of the community.
Outdoor dining fees waived for another six months
The waiver on outdoor dining fees will continue across the Northern Beaches for another six months following a vote by councillors on Tuesday, proposed by new Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn. CEO Ray Brownlee reported that the initiative will cost the council’s budget about $345,000.
Staff will report to the March 2022 Council meeting identifying capital projects of an equivalent value that can be deferred, to offset the budget impact.
I also suggested a successful amendment asking staff for a report in two weeks time on the number of permanent bookings council facilities have lost since Covid began. This could form the basis for a motion to encourage the return of non-profit community activities through fee waivers.
Complaints about councillors and the CEO
Our new councillors are showing a lot of good will and I hope we can all work together to get the best for our wards. However, each year staff are required to present statistics to the public about councillors and the CEO. Accordingly, staff reported that 15 complaints were received about councillors and the CEO in the period September 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. Twelve of these were referred to a conduct reviewer, and one led to a finding that there had been a breach of the Council Code of Conduct. However, a further nine have not yet been finalised. The cost of dealing with these complaints within the period was $133,600.
How’s the budget?
The state government requires the council to make quarterly reports on the budget, and as of December 31, the council papers show that the actual income (including capital grants and contributions such as from the Glen Street Theatre and community centres) was down from an anticipated $304 million for Year to Date (YTD) to an actual $298 million. However, operating expenses were also down from a projected $171 million YTD to $163 million.
The Covid pandemic since March 2020 has now cost the council an estimated $45.6 million, including $16.5 million within the current financial year. Expenditure such as logistics and cleaning ($0.4 million) and Council tenant/licensee support including outdoor dining and merchandise fee waivers ($0.3 million) are responsible for this. However, these costs have been offset by better than expected results from Aquatic Centres ($1 million) and the Golf Driving Range ($0.2 million).
Council calls for infrastructure funds to be spent locally
The council’s response to major changes proposed by the NSW government last year in the way councils can levy developers for funds to provide community infrastructure - such as parks, community facilities, roads, footpaths, and stormwater works - was tabled at the council meeting. The reforms are of concern to council because they will potentially reduce funding for infrastructure. Council’s response includes calls for: Regional Infrastructure Contributions to be spent in the regions that they are collected; and council to be able to retain its ability to levy for community facility construction costs.
Unleashed dogs on beaches enviro study to go ahead
An environment study to assess the impact unleashed dogs would have on North Palm Beach and/or South Mona Vale Beach will go ahead following a vote by the majority of councillors on Tuesday night. I was not amongst them.
The study is a pre-requisite for any trials on either beach and the judgement by NSW Land and Environment Court Chief Justice Brian Preston on the Station Beach case, Palm Beach Protection Group vs Northern Beaches Council (2020), has illustrated how rigorous that assessment must be. Therefore, we’ll have to include a number of new trial parameters, such as parking availability. These will go on public exhibition immediately for 4 weeks. Staff have also recommended changing the boundaries of the trial areas to eliminate problems with complexities in land ownership at the water’s edge. They also propose to allow dogs access for a trial only during daylight hours - thus during daylight saving allocating 5.30am to 10am, and 5pm to 9pm, and during Australian Eastern Standard time 6am to 10am, and 4pm to 7pm, every day of the week for 12 months.
Even for the environmental study to go ahead, the council will have to manoeuvre between legal requirements and the proposal will continue racking up costs including staff time, adding to the funds already spent on legal fees, a Station Beach environment study and surveys. For these reasons and more, I am amazed that we are still considering allowing dogs on more Pittwater beaches. We already have six dog parks and a dog beach at Bayview. Environmentalists know that a seal colony lives at Barrenjoey headland, and wildlife visits beaches throughout the ward. Yet the smell of dogs would discourage them. Both spots are at the more isolated ends of the beaches where residents go to quietly enjoy a walk or swim after work or in the mornings. Even if 100 per cent of dog owners collected their pets’ poo, we would still have urine soaking into the sand. Finally, I’d encourage everyone to be careful about what you wish for - I regard Rowland Reserve at Bayview as overrun with dogs and their owners from all over Sydney on weekends, while parking at Palm Beach and South Mona Vale are already overflowing. And that’s not to mention that carparking at the latter is right next to the only residential palliative care unit on the Northern Beaches.
Residents should note that trials have not (not) begun at North Palm Beach or South Mona Vale and dogs are still not permitted on these beaches.
Northern Beaches Hospital alleged breach of Fire Safety Regulations
A NSW fire and rescue authority found an alleged breach of fire regulations at Northern Beaches Hospital last year but the council has not yet received confirmation that appropriate action has been taken.
Fire and Rescue NSW received a report on March 29 last year, saying in part that: “An attempted evacuation of a level of the hospital was hindered by locked fire doors to the fire stairs’. FRNSW inspected the building on April 7 and detailed concerns in a report to council dated July 9, 2021. It stated that:
“At the time of the evacuation event, there was a programming fault associated with the door. (sic) Where the door did not function and could not be opened manually.
“A review of the evacuation procedure was conducted immediately after the event, where a key is now placed at the nurses station, and the programming fault rectified.”
The report continued:
“FRNSW is therefore of the opinion that there are inadequate provisions for fire safety within the building.”
In the report, FRNSW asked the council to “inspect and address any other deficiencies identified on “the premises” (at NBH) and that the authorities concerns from the April 7 inspection be “addressed appropriately”. However, the council has determined that the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 does not give it the power to issue a Fire Safety Order for State Significant Infrastructure such as NBH, so wrote to the FRNSW on November 19 last year asking it to advise NSW Health about the issue. The council has not received a response to its November 19 letter from FRNSW or the NSW Health Administration Corporation.
News from Pittwater’s Alumni: Shirley Phelps, Julie Sutton and Alex McTaggart
Former Pittwater deputy mayor Shirley Phelps announced in a speech read by staff during the meeting’s Public Address that she’s decided to retire from the board of the Northern Beaches Indoor Sports Centre at the sprightly age of 95! She commended former Pittwater Mayor and state MP Alex McTaggart as her replacement, and councillors supported her call in a vote.
In a Mayoral Minute supported by all councillors, Mayor Michael Regan paid tribute to and congratulated Emeritus Mayor Julie Sutton, OAM on her recent award in the Australia Day Order of Australia Honours. Ms Sutton was Warringah Council’s first elected female Mayor in 1995 and then again in 2002 and served many terms as Deputy Mayor and Councillor during the period 1980 to 2012, Mr Regan said.
“It is incredible to conceive this, but Julie only ever missed one council meeting in this whole time. It is a remarkable testament to her work ethic and commitment to her role as an elected representative serving the community,” he said.
“Many in our community have had the great pleasure of being taught by Julie during her time as a teacher of English and Modern Languages at The Forest High School, Davidson High School and Killarney Heights High School. Then as a Marriage Celebrant, she has married many of them, performed their children’s christenings and sadly spoken at many of our community members funerals and always with class, dignity and kindness. We are so fortunate that she has remained working with Council to perform the role of Master of Ceremony at our Citizenship Ceremonies making them very memorable and entertaining for our new citizens.”
In fact, Ms Sutton presided over Monday night’s Citizenship ceremony at Glen Street Theatre, noting that some in the audience had said to her later she had taught them at school, married them and now made them citizens.
Former Warringah Mayor Julie Sutton OAM. Photo: AJG
Former Pittwater councillor Shirley Phelps OAM. Photo: Michael Mannington OAM
Renaming Walworth Court, Newport
Visitors can find it confusing that Walworth Court at Newport and the nearby Walworth Street have such similar names so property owners have asked the council to help them change the name of the former. The council asked for suggestions from the Aboriginal Heritage Office (AHO) and a list of seven of these were suggested to residents, with Guru Court - which the AHO said means “sea’ in a local language - receiving the most support. However, a number of local residents of Aboriginal descent are concerned that the name is not from a local language. Councillors therefore voted on Tuesday to defer the decision on the name change and look into it further.
Call to lower housing height limits along Coastal Walkway at Narrabeen Park Pde.
Residents called on the council to reintroduce planning rules that protected ocean views for the public at Narrabeen Park Pde, in Warriewood, at Tuesday night’s meeting. Dimity Sawyer and Steve Dean told the meeting during the Public Forum that the Bicentennial Walkway - now known as the Coastal Walkway - runs alongside the road, offering walkers magnificent views. The Pittwater Development Control Plan had previously placed covenants on land on the low side of the road to protect the view - prohibiting structures above the crown of the road. However, with the council mergers, this clause had disappeared. A number of new houses had now been built that blocked the panorama.
Mayor Michael Regan responded that he had asked Planning and Place director Louise Kerr to look into the issue.