April 7 - 20, 2024: Issue 621


From the Council Chamber - Meeting held Tuesday March 26, 2024

By Miranda Korzy, Pittwater Greens Councillor

Pollution at Birdwood Park, Narrabeen Lagoon entrance. Photo supplied

After many months of work, staff presented the final draft of our Waste Management and Circular Economy Strategy at the March 26 council meeting, which in short, proposes ways of preventing Kimibriki from overflowing. Another important area covered was council funding, which will take centre stage in the lead up to budget time in June. Part of that discussion involves state government attempts to cost shift to councils, the latest attempt being payment for Beachwatch, which council has voted to oppose. And still on finances, we’ve voted for a tighter advertising regime which should restrict gambling promotion on council premises - the subject of intense debate on the night.

Using waste to drive a circular economy 
One of the council’s traditional responsibilities is rubbish disposal - both public and household - but a strategy adopted unanimously at council’s March meeting aims to transform waste into a resource as part of a circular economy.

The strategy is important because we don’t have infinite resources but we currently create 100,000 tonnes of household waste each year on the Northern Beaches. Staff also reported in the strategy that waste and litter management are the council’s largest service, with 11 million bin collections every year costing council $58.5 million this financial year.

Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville noted at the meeting that 900 people had contributed to the production of the strategy, including members of the Environment Strategic Reference Group which she chairs. 

“So we had a broad range of community views,” Ms Glanville told the meeting.   

“(The community) was very passionate about things like FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics Collections).

“They want to see the council taking the lead. It’s a really great opportunity for the community and the environment.”

The introduction of FOGO collections are flagged in the strategy. We know it’s coming - the NSW government has mandated its introduction by 2030. However, although the strategy notes residents are willing to separate their organic wastes, there are still some obstacles to overcome - particularly contamination. Currently our organic garden waste is converted to compost, which the Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre sells as a product, but this must be free of plastic and other non-organic materials that could be found with food scraps.

Under the strategy, introducing FOGO will therefore require a new bin or “caddies” for households, behaviour change to ensure the right waste goes into the organics bin, different frequency of collections and finding new ways of recycling the waste.

Residents can expect a staged approach, with pilot programs for 5,000 to 15,000 households, testing different bins. Meanwhile, the council will offer other households free composting/worm farm kits, on condition they complete composting training.

The council will then review these pilots, before deciding on the final design of the Northern Beaches food waste collection and implementing it.

Ms Glanville also welcomed the strategy’s proposal to continue supporting Kimbriki and initiatives like toy and tool libraries, saying these would “bring the community together”.

In other areas, the strategy sets five directions with a number of targets for each. For example:

1.  Eliminating waste - reduce household waste by 10 per cent per person by 2030. 

2. An easy to use waste service - recover 70 per cent of resources from household waste by 2030 and 25 per cent reduction in bulky goods per household going to landfill by 2030.

3. Tackling priority wastes - halve the amount of household food waste going to landfill by 2030 and work with local businesses, state and federal governments to phase out unnecessary single use plastics in local retail by 2030. 

4. A clean and green environment - reduce local litter at hotspots by 60 per cent by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from household organic waste collected by council by 20 per cent by 2030.

5. Council lead the way - council cut waste it generates by 10 per cent by 2030 and improve local planning controls by 2026 so that private and public buildings and infrastructure are designed for “longevity”. The need for raw materials would thus be reduced and guidelines would also promote future disassembly, reuse and recycling.

I believe this strategy will go a long way to promoting a circular economy on the Northern Beaches and reducing wastes of all kinds. A commitment to provide separate collections of recyclable bulky goods and to explore ways of diverting them from landfill will please many in Pittwater and elsewhere.

Offshore communities, who are concerned about waste being thrown in the garbage truck altogether (particularly where they’ve carefully separated it for recycling) will also be pleased about work to increase waste collections there.

I also applaud the council’s commitment to pilot and introduce a “local circular economy hub” for household items” working with charities and other community groups. This would allow goods to be resold (perhaps repaired where needed) at one or more locations.

My one reservation about the strategy concerns commitments to introduce further plastics recycling if it becomes financially viable. I told the meeting that Australia-wide plastic consumption has increased by 60 per cent from 92 kg in 2000 to 148 kg per person in 2020-21, according to the Australia Institute’s Plastic Waste in Australia and Greenpeace film, A Plastic Ocean. Yet only 15 per cent of all plastic waste generated over the last 20 years has been recovered through recycling and energy recovery. 

Residents ask me why we can’t have a soft plastics collection - which was reflected in the public consultation on the waste strategy. The simple response is there’s no market for it - largely because it’s cheaper to produce new plastic than to attempt to recycle it. Thus, there’s little incentive for anyone to do so - and the Redcycle soft plastics stockpile of 100,000 tonnes across the country. 

However, there has never, in fact, been a reliable way of recycling any plastics and we shouldn’t be fooling ourselves that we can do (see Center for Climate Integrity, The Fraud of Plastic Recycling, Feb 2024.) 

The “recycling” process breaks plastic down into its chemical components, creating toxic by-products and using a large amount of energy. There are also problems involved in separating it from other materials, and even PET and similar plastics, can only be “recycled” once and at the very most twice. By including recycled plastics in other products, we are simply allowing it to proliferate in our environment, producing more problems in the future for its disposal.

This is one area of waste that we must eliminate - hence the importance of the strategy’s third direction on council working with governments and business to do so. 

I congratulate staff for the work that has gone into this strategy and with others look forward to FOGO and other new recycling programs.     

Calls for federal and state governments to boost council funding   
Council finances have attracted intense scrutiny over the past few weeks with councillors attending a weekend workshop on March 23-24 focused on budget strategy for the next 10 years. Following the workshop, councillors voted to contribute to inquiries into council financial sustainability, which have kicked off at state and federal levels.

The budget strategy workshop, held at the old Manly Town Hall over the weekend of March 23 - 24, followed a review over several months by staff of all assets both built and environmental, initiated by the new CEO Scott Phillips. At the workshop, staff outlined the deteriorating condition of council assets and the funding that would be needed to overcome the current backlog in renewal and maintenance. 

This issue was foreshadowed in the 2023-24 budget papers, with staff warning last June that:

“Council’s ability to generate sufficient funds to provide the levels of service and infrastructure agreed with the community into the future is challenged by the growing gap between costs and funding sources, especially the rate peg and the $3.1 million increase in the Emergency Services Levy.”  (See NBC Delivery Program 2023 - 2027, p114) 

Consequently, this financial year’s Long Term Financial Plan modelled two scenarios: one on which the current budget was based, in which rates income increased in line with the council’s rate peg (set by the state government) each year. Under this scenario, asset renewal continues to lag. In the alternative scenario, a rate increase above the peg would deliver an extra $14 million income in the 2024-25 financial year, which could be used to maintain and renew existing assets. 

This year’s budget includes expenditure of just over half a billion dollars with $44 million spent on asset renewal plus $58 million on delivering new assets. However, that is not enough to stem the deterioration that is occurring, some of it exacerbated by the wet weather of the past three years, Covid’s impact on income and inflation.

Additionally, all councils are struggling with cost shifting from the NSW government, such as the Emergency Services Levy bumped up to $9.3 million for NBC this financial year (equivalent to $90 per ratepayer). Labor in December also attempted to offload funding for the Beachwatch Program to coastal councils (see report below).

Putting aside any arguments about mergers and demergers, if we want to stop the decline in condition of our buildings, roads and bushland reserves whilst part of NBC, we will need greater income. At the workshop, we discussed a number of scenarios: significantly cutting funding to maintenance, renewal and services; selling assets; applying for a special rates variation (SRVs) in the 2025-26 budget; or a combination of all three.  

However, we are not alone in this dilemma. Council staff noted at the workshop significant SRVs for both city and regional councils, merged and unmerged, including:

  • Strathfield at 98 per cent last year 
  • Willoughby City Council at 15 per cent this year
  • Randwick at 11.67 per cent this year
  • Kempsey Shire Council at 42.7 per cent over three years from 2024-25 and
  • Snowy Valleys (merged in 2016) at 42.38 per cent over three years from 2024-25
  • Goulburn Mulwaree Council (merged in 2004) at 51.2 per cent over three years.       

Against this background, councillors voted unanimously at the March council meeting to make submissions to two inquiries into the sustainability of local government. The first, in the NSW Upper House, was established on March 14, and will investigate the ability of local governments to fund infrastructure and services .

The other, launched on March 21, will be carried out by the Federal Parliament’s Lower House Standing Committee on Regional development, Infrastructure and Transport - and is important to NBC because we currently receive $9 million each year in federal grants.  

Mayor Sue Heins (Curl Curl, Your Northern Beaches) told the council meeting there was recognition that the funding strategy for local government was broken. I totally agree with her. Our rates are stretched to cover even our road maintenance and rubbish collection, let alone the myriad of other infrastructure councils provide and maintain as well as services supporting the community - while state governments in recent years have been finding more ways to add to these. Councils are extremely limited in our ability to raise funds by contrast with federal and state government taxes and it’s time they recognised this and the importance of councils to local communities. We should not have to raise rates or leave basic infrastructure like roads and rock pools to deteriorate to make ends meet.

Council rejects NSW government cost shifting on Beachwatch
One example of state government cost shifting is the NSW government’s attempt to convince the council to pick up the tab for Beachwatch, which was unanimously rejected at the March meeting. 

The NSW Beachwatch program has operated across Sydney’s beaches, including 39 sites on the Northern Beaches, since 1989, monitoring water quality and informing the public about the results.  However, last December, the department responsible (NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water known as DCCEEW), unexpectedly announced it would no longer cover the cost of the program and Sydney councils would have to pay if they want to continue with it.

The government offered NBC two options: either council collects water samples and sends them to DCCEEW for analysis at a cost of $198,800; or council engages DCCEEW to continue collecting and analysing samples at $129,383.

Background to the council report noted that regional councils have funded their own sampling and analysis for many years, however they are also typically providers of water and sewer services - unlike NBC and other Sydney coastal councils.

However, the Northern Beaches is not alone with this offer and a group known as the Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG), to which NBC belongs, is leading opposition to this latest attempt at cost shifting to councils. As the NBC councillor rep on the SCCG executive committee, I outlined at the March meeting the work the group has already carried out on this issue. 

After being advised about the government’s decision in December, the SCCG obtained legal advice that indicates Councils do not have responsibility for water quality below the mean high water mark. It then informed councils, also pointing out that Sydney Water, which is a major polluter, had not been asked to contribute to the cost of Beachwatch. Then at its March Executive meeting, it approved letters to the Environment and Water ministers opposing the new payment scheme.

As a result, Council staff recommended that we express our support for continuation of the Beachwatch program but object to the payment scheme and support the SCCG in its advocacy on the issue.

Pittwater Liberal councillor Karina Page successfully moved at Tuesday’s meeting that we strengthen the language to “strenuously object”, while Narrabeen Independent councillor Vince De Luca called for the council to also write to the Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water Minister Penny Sharpe, along with her Opposition counterpart and crossbench party leaders.

Some residents had expressed concern to me that without the council participating in the Beachwatch scheme, we would be left without current information about water quality at local beaches. However, I asked at the meeting if our historical Beachwatch data could be used to inform residents and visitors about likely water quality under any given conditions, and staff agreed it could be. 

Furthermore, I argued we simply don’t have any spare money to pay nearly $200,000 towards the analysis. So I told council I thought we should stand with the SCCG and other coastal councils to send a clear message to the state government. I was pleased that all councillors agreed to this approach.

Council votes to support limits on Gambling advertising
Northern Beaches Council has taken a major step in supporting people with gambling problems by restricting advertising by the industry at council sites.

Cur Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville proposed two amendments, one for the advertising restrictions, to a motion to adopt the council’s updated gambling harm minimisation strategy at the March meeting. Whilst the policy passed unanimously, Ms Glanville’s amendments caused considerable discussion.

In her first amendment, she proposed hosting annual forums with local public health and gambling harm-related stakeholders. The second called for the CEO when entering or renewing leases on council owned or managed land, to “use best endeavours to negotiate terms which would minimise or eliminate direct gambling advertising viewable from the public domain”.

Ms Glanville expected her amendments to cause some debate, given her proposal for a ban on gambling advertising had been knocked back by council twice before. She therefore suggested  the policy and amendments be voted on in seriatim (ie one point after another), which Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince de Luca later moved. 

Frenchs Forest Your Northern Beaches Councillor Jose Menano Peres was amongst those to question the point of a local gambling harm forum, given the number of other forums at state level, and suggested it was “volunteer cost shifting”. The council would be better off sending staff to some of the other state-level forums, he said.

“What are you trying to achieve”? Is it just a talkfest?” he asked.

Staff confirmed that the NSW Department of Gaming and Racing held a regular panel on harm minimisation and gambling and other initiatives existed at the federal level. 

However, Ms Glanville maintained there was also value in a local forum and submissions from the community had indicated they were very eager for “us to do our part”, she said.

“I see the point as being for our local public health service providers to check in with each other, to avoid duplication, to understand or raise any trends they’ve observed and share intel,” she told the meeting.

“It’s not intended to produce more work for staff but for free discussion to occur between local service providers.”

Frenchs Forest YNB councillor and Wakehurst MP Michael Regan supported the idea of the forum, saying there's a significant interest in our community about the issue and residents wanted to hear what’s happening regarding it.

He also said he didn’t see how it could be a financial impost and it could be hosted in the council chamber. 

However, he proposed changing the amendment to direct council to host a single roundtable discussion, run by another stakeholder and inviting the local community to participate. Ms Glanville accepted this change.

Mr De Luca asked staff to confirm that state MPs had allowances that could help cover the cost of conducting such a meeting and “why wouldn’t they do so?” he said.

CEO Scott Phillips responded that he could not speak to the issue of MP allowances but said the resources for the council to host such a roundtable conducted by another organisation “would not be significant and we could do that within our existing budget”. 

This amendment passed with the support of: Ms Glanville, Curl Curl YNB Mayor Sue Heins, Manly YNB Councillor Sarah Grattan, Manly Independent Councillor Candy Bingham, Manly Liberal Deputy Mayor Georgia Ryburn, Narrabeen YNB Councillor Ruth Robins, French Forest YNB Councillor Jose Menano Peres, Mr Regan, Curl Curl Liberal David Walton and myself.   

On the advertising proposal, Ms Glanville also said the issue had come out of public consultation.

“There was strong community support for council taking this stand, to have some wording that allowed staff to have some flexibility where it wasn’t possible to implement with any given contract but to make their best attempt,” she told the meeting. 

“I think when, for example, Brookvale oval was called ‘Lottoland’, the community thought it was in incredibly poor taste for council property to be named after a gambling company.

“And that kind of poor taste issue could be avoided by giving this direction to staff that I’ve tried to frame in a way that, if for a particular leasee, it’s just not feasible, there are ways forward still. 

“We’ve had this debate before. The community wants it … These sorts of advertising cues for people with problem gambling are incredibly harmful.”

Mr Menano Peres said gambling advertising was already governed at both state and federal levels, which was confirmed by the CEO. However, he was also concerned about small clubs running a raffle or surf lifesavers running a sausage sizzle being banned.

Ms Page pointed out that even if the council banned gambling advertising from bus shelters, “the buses themselves are covered in gambling advertising” and asked how could this be effective?

Staff responded that the policy would only apply to council owned property and we would still have gambling ads at other places on the Northern Beaches. However, when the existing advertising contract for NBC bus shelters was renewed it would potentially have an impact on revenue, they said.

Pittwater Liberal Councillor Michael Gencher said: “I do struggle with the definition of ‘direct gambling advertising’”, to which staff responded that they would have to “apply our own practical application” of the term.

Meanwhile, Mr Walton described the amendment as “an overreach of government”, and said he was concerned about the small bowling club running keno that might be captured by this. He also believed that the clause could be illegal, because the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority was the statutory body tasked with a wide remit as a regulator. 

Mr De Luca was also opposed to the second amendment (along with that for the roundtable), saying he thought the issues should be led by federal and state MPs who had the power to legislate. 

“We need to leave this to experts who are properly appointed and have proper information,” he said.

“Any prohibition on advertising, I don’t think will be effective. Any roundtable in this chamber I don’t think will be effective.” 

However, Ms Bingham supported the advertising restriction, saying: ”We are the owners of that building and we can dictate whatever we like for the external use of the building.

“It doesn’t effect what happens inside so I will be supporting this motion.” 

Not surprisingly, I also took this position. Thirty or 40 years ago it was quite normal to see tobacco advertising everywhere, I said.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to try and prevent this sort of triggering for problem gamblers, who don’t want to have this sort of stuff in front of their faces and who fight the urge to go and spend their money in this way,” I said.

The advertising amendment was supported by Ms Glanville, Ms Bingham, Ms Grattan, Ms Heins, Ms Robins, Mr Regan, Mr Sprott, Mr Gencher and myself.

Other changes to the Gambling Harm Policy included three additional principles as follow: 

  • Council supporting a public health approach to prevention of gambling harm and possible consequences for the individual, their families and wider community. 
  • That poker machines are highly addictive and designed to maximise spending. 
  • That council will work with relevant agencies concerning local government involvement in licensing of poker machines, giving priority to social impact. 

The policy already noted that councils can’t place conditions on developments, prohibiting or restricting poker machines - a point that seriously limits our control of this gambling menace.

Council also passed motions:

  • Calling on staff to make an Expression of Interest to the NSW Office of the 24-Hour Economy, regarding the establishment of Special Entertainment Precincts within the Northern Beaches. These precincts “support live entertainment through extended trading hours for live music venues and favourable noise controls to provide operational certainty for venues, neighbouring residents and businesses”.
  • Endorsing a local Placemaking Framework, that could be used by residents to “activate spaces in town centres”. This kit will be available on the council website for planning events and projects - and is not related to the council-initiated place planning process (eg Avalon, Mona Vale).
  • Directing staff to evaluate and report back on the new ticketless parking system - and the possibility of reverting to the former system involving a paper ticket on the windscreen and notice in the mail (proposed by Mr Gencher).
  • Calling for a report within six months outlining how council could set up a working group to address the problem of graffiti, involving police, a range of local community organisations such as residents’ groups, schools and business chambers. The aim would be to develop a graffiti mitigation strategy across each ward and the broader Local Government Area (LGA) (proposed by Mr Gencher).
  • To place the draft North Narrabeen Reserve Plan of Management on public exhibition for a minimum of 42 days and the outcomes of public exhibition be reported to Council. The plan includes: formalising lighting on playing Field Seven and an adjacent overflow carpark; installing a synthetic playing surface (to which I’m opposed); improved amenities throughout the reserve.   
  • That Council conduct public education meetings (one for each ward) on the current proposals by the State Government to create increased housing development. (Motion by Cr De Luca)