May 19 - 25, 2024: Issue 626


From the Council Chamber - May 14, 2024

By Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy

Robertson road, Newport

For anyone who thought this week’s council meeting was following quick on the heels of the last one in April, you’d be right. The April 30 meeting was adjourned at 11.31pm with 10 items left over so we picked up again on Tuesday to deal with the remaining issues. For me, this demonstrated that we could actually have meetings finishing at a reasonable time if we held them twice per month - enabling senior and technical staff, the CEO as well as councillors, to head home before midnight!

Northern Beaches Council will “Champion Diversity” with passing of plan

First up was a Multicultural Plan for the Northern Beaches, titled “Championing Diversity”. The plan says that whilst social cohesion is generally high in the Local Government Area, “not everyone in our community experiences these same opportunities or levels of inclusion, connectedness and belonging, and at times have experienced discrimination and exclusion”. Championing diversity is the plan’s objective, and will prioritise actions to promote cultural inclusion over the next five years.

Narrabeen Your Northern Beaches Councillor Ruth Robins moved that the plan composed by staff be accepted. She explained the 2021 census had shown the Northern Beaches community had ancestry from 120 different countries and the number of residents born overseas totalled 79,000 - or roughly 30 per cent of the community.

Ms Robins pointed out the council’s responsibility to champion local diversity, quoting the Local Government Act 1993, Section 8A, that: 

(2) Decision-making The following principles apply to decision-making by councils (subject to any other applicable law)—

(a)  Councils should recognise diverse local community needs and interests.

(b)  Councils should consider social justice principles."

Not sure if you're still up but no rush - it could wait until tomorrow, even if you're still going now. 

The Terrey Hills Anzac Day ceremony provided a snapshot of that diversity, Ms Robins said, with children from the local Armenian and German schools represented, and a Japanese school nearby. She also pointed to the presence of Austrians, Brazilians, South Africans and Tibetans amongst others locally.

“We welcome our multicultural community and advocate for them at every age and (must) educate our community that racial discrimination is not tolerated,” she told the meeting.

In developing the plan, staff heard from more than 650 residents, including 200 from multicultural communities. This included 134 responses on the “Your Say” page of the council website during the public exhibition period in January and February this year.

Examples of the plan’s actions include: 

  • Exploring opportunities to develop and implement activities against racism and unconscious bias and seeking to reduce its impact in the community.
  • Review and revise Council’s recruitment guidelines and processes to encourage applications from people of diverse backgrounds.
  • Investigate provision of bilingual service delivery options for customers.
  • Investigate approaches to open space planning to meet the needs of multicultural communities.
  • Support the ongoing development of community language material in libraries.

Mr Robins accepted a suggestion from Pittwater Liberal Councillor Michael Gencher that the motion include: “investigating the cost and feasibility of having the plan translated into the most commonly spoken and prevalent languages on the Northern Beaches”. 

Whilst the plan relies on data from the census identifying two ancestries for any individual, I had hoped to amend it to include up to four - given many of us will have more than two ancestries. However, staff said the council does not collect its own data on ethnic background so that this would be too expensive to implement - and the amendment was voted down.  

The Plan was adopted unanimously - by all councillors present: Ms Glanville, Manly YNB Councillor Sarah Grattan, Manly Independent Councillor Candy Bingham, Pittwater Liberal Councillors Michael Gencher and Karina Page, Mayor Sue Heins, Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn, Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca, Narrabeen Liberal Councillor Bianca Crvelin, Ms Robins and me.

Those absent were: Frenchs Forest Liberal Councillor Stuart Sprott (who attended later in the meeting), Curl Curl Liberal Councillor Dave Walton, Frenchs Forest YNB Councillors Jose Menano-Pires and Michael Regan (also NSW MP for Wakehurst).

New compliance policy continues “risk based” approach

The council’s risk based approach to compliance was updated in a new policy adopted at Tuesday’s council meeting, following exhibition of the plan in June/July last year. 

The report explained the council had been using this approach since 2018, meaning that each matter was assessed and then assigned a risk rating between “Urgent” and “Low”. That was then applied to enforcement measures.

“A risk-based approach to compliance ensures our effort is focused on activities that pose the greatest risk to the public, environment, or the integrity of the regulatory frameworks,” the policy states.

“All customer enquiries are reviewed using a risk-based approach and are triaged to determine their priority/urgency.”

Staff said in background to their report hat the revised version had created a more concise and less repetitive document, and had removed irrelevant content.

The policy applies to a range of issues, including: development and building control; tree preservation and land clearing; pets; pollution control and environmental damage; and residential swimming pool safety. However, it doesn't apply to on-street parking - which is regulated by the NSW Fines Act of 1996. 

Attracting only 18 submissions during public exhibition, half in support of the amendments and a quarter of them opposed to it, the main objections related to: the provision for “discretion” in relation to enforcement activity; a general lack of enforcement and the council’s role in managing private certifiers.   

One submission outlined my own problem with the policy in a situation where staff admit we do not have enough compliance staff.

“The policy very neatly explains that the council takes a ‘risk based approach’, stating that all enquiries are triaged to determine their priority/urgency, with matters identified as greatest risk (urgent/high), to be actioned as a priority,” submission 9 reads.

“Whilst this may suit a resource starved Compliance team, community members consider that their ‘complaint’ or ‘compliance issue’ is in fact a priority and should be dealt with by a Council officer with appropriate training and resources in a timely fashion.”

I believe Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville spoke for many residents when she opposed the policy, saying many in the community saw council as a “lame duck regulator”. 

Ms Glanville said she did not feel the policy was firm enough and that council needed to be taking a tougher stand on compliance issues.

“In my view what this policy says, and how it says it, is not in line with what I believe the frustrations of the community to be,” Ms Glanville said.

“... When I speak to residents, many of them have this feeling that when they raise compliance issues there’s a little bit of a feeling that they are being fobbed off at times.”

Mayor Sue Heins (YNB Councillor for Curl Curl Ward) said she understood Ms Glanville’s frustrations but we were voting on a policy. 

“We certainly have frustrations with things like with rangers and we have frustrations with trees being cut down, when they shouldn’t be,” the Mayor said.

“And if it was possible to have a ranger on every corner, ready to spring into action, that would be fabulous. But the reality of it is, as we know, that even (though) we have a certain number of rangers’ positions in council, only half of them are full - same with parking rangers and all kinds of things.

“So I’m gathering that being a ranger probably isn’t an attractive proposition - I could think of other jobs that might be probably easier to deal with. It would be a very stressful thing to deal with. 

“But at the end of the day, this is about a policy, it’s not about the people.”

Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince said we could be very proud of our rangers, who often did a great deal of work beyond the call of duty, despite being verbally and physically assaulted.

“I don't think it's a matter of any council staff member ‘fobbing off’ complaints,” Mr De Luca said.

“It is either that (the complaints) are vexatious, or they’re lacking evidentiary material to support them, or they are just under-resourced.” 

It was not a matter of misconduct by frontline staff but of funding for them, whether we had  enough of them and whether they were receiving appropriate remuneration, Mr De Luca said

I told the meeting I thought the risk management approach was sensible: “No matter how many resources you have there’s a limit to where they can be deployed and when.”

However, what I thought the policy lacked was positive reinforcement.

“We should have ways that we can be sending out positive messages to the community about enforcement and how things are done in our community - the carrot and stick approach. 

“So rather than always having to be policing, developing a culture within the community where it just becomes socially unacceptable to do certain things.

“There will always be certain people who will continue to do those things anyway but it would lessen the load.”

The policy was adopted, with all councillors present voting for it except me and Ms Glanville. 

Plan of Management for 316 Hudson Pde., Clareville adopted 

Some Pittwater residents have expressed deep concerns about development at 316 Hudson Pde, Clareville, due to the steep and unstable landform around Refuge Cove, where it is situated. 

However, councillors were limited in what action we could take regarding this item on Tuesday.

It had resulted from a Office of Local Government direction to council to produce a Plan of Management for the area, which would then enable it to provide a licence to the owners to access their boatshed across the Crown Land Reserve. 

A previous owner of the site had passed ownership of this foreshore land to the former Pittwater Council, on the understanding a lease would be provided for access. The original lease expired in 2013 and the current owner had applied to Northern Beaches Council for a 20-year licence - to allow them to access the adjoining land in the reserve to construct a new boatshed, and to be able to reach it via stairs through Refuge Cove Reserve. 

The report to council and resulting motion therefore had nothing to do with other development at the site, rather the draft Plan of Management laid out what would be permitted on the public land under the licence.

This included use of the site for: 

  • Public access to the foreshore.
  • Private access to the foreshore by the owner of 316 Hudson Pde.
  • A wharf or boating facilities at the site.
  • Demolition of structures and rehabilitation of the site consistent with the character of Refuge Cove.
  • Construction of a boatshed.
  • Construction of a sandstone seawall around the perimeter of the boatshed. 

The draft document states that Refuge Cove Reserve, which lies directly below the property, “is undercut by shales and sandstones relating to the Narrabeen group rock platforms”, and the site itself, along with the land below and above it, were assessed as subject to Geotechnical Hazards.

“The steep landforms and soil clay content contribute to the potential for mass movement and a severe soil erosion hazard if disturbed,” the draft said.

The site is also mapped on the NBC Flood Risk Precincts layer as being flood affected.

Furthermore, it assessed the “condition of the former boatshed and footprint as poor” and as  posing “a potential safety risk to the public”.

However, whilst the council staff noted the “iconic” value of Pittwater boat sheds, they also assessed the values of the site as:

  • contributing “to the scenic and natural quality of the foreshore”
  • the natural environment - sea life, birds and
  • the intertidal habitat and ecology.

The 50 submissions regarding the PoM largely supported it, however, some were opposed to: public land being licenced privately; the potential use of the boatshed for purposes other than those permitted - eg Aibnb or an office; and the impact on the natural environment, including wildlife in the reserve and the integrity of the reserve itself.

I discussed these issues with staff in the lead up to the meeting, who told me the directive to draft the PoM meant that if councillors voted against its adoption, the way forward would be unclear. Potentially, it could have opened the council up to legal action, staff believed.

As a result I told Tuesday’s meeting that I was reluctant to vote in support of the draft, however, felt I had little choice. The issue was a longstanding one, that commenced under Pittwater Council, and staff told me we were now subject to a Land and Environment Court direction to develop the PoM to facilitate the licence.

However, I also noted the instability of the Refuge Cove Reserve, which belongs to Pittwater’s Spotted Gum Forest. It has experienced a number of landslides since the intense rainfall of 2022, in which one house lost a swimming pool, and a tree has recently fallen on a house. The reserve around 316 Hudson Pde now has extensive erosion and weeds proliferating. The area will also be subject to sea level rise over time.

With this in mind, I told the meeting we need to consider these issues going forward when dealing with applications to build homes, boathouses and seawalls.

The plan was adopted unanimously by all councillors present.

Currawong Beach Cottages managers to be offered one year extension

The current managers of Pittwater’s historic Currawong Beach Cottages will be offered a one year extension to their current agreement when it expires next month, following a vote at the council meeting.

The heritage-listed site with 10 cottages and an old homestead building, were run as a NSW Labor Council workers holiday camp for 60 years, until 2007 when the renamed body, Unions NSW, sold it to developers amidst much controversy. In 2011 Currawong was acquired by the NSW State Government, the then Pittwater Council was appointed to manage the site and Currawong State Park was established.

The Currawong State Park Advisory Committee was created in 2015 to provide strategic direction to ensure Currawong retains its tourist, heritage and recreational values and to preserve its environmental integrity. Northern Beaches Council, which now administers the site, appoints managers to live at Currawong, and it is the contract for these managers that was under discussion.

Council staff recommended a one year extension to the managers’ current agreement, which they said would provide an opportunity to “collect updated occupancy and financial data for a full year post-cottage refurbishment and increased marketing”. This would be crucial to drawing up a tender and contract, they said.

However, Friends of Currawong, who are represented on the state park advisory committee, were dismayed by the staff proposal, which appeared to delay a longer-term appointment of managers for another year.

Friends of Currawong President Shane Withington told me that the current managers, Adam and Cathie Oliver, are locals, who “packed up their lives to move to Currawong and are doing a tremendous job”. The bookings are up, he said, and “they’re the best caretakers we’ve ever had”.

They had introduced a range of personal touches and had shown they understood the heritage of Currawong as a workers holiday camp and “not just any old caravan park”.

I relayed this information to Tuesday’s council meeting, and moved an amendment, seconded by Ms Glanville, that Council work immediately towards a three year management agreement for caretakers of the Currawong Beach Cottages.

I said I was moving the amendment because I believed delaying the tender process until we had collected 12 months worth of occupancy and financial data introduced unnecessary risk into the process. 

Asked at the meeting when the current agreement would end, staff said it would be in June. Therefore, they would have a year’s worth of data at that point and could move towards the tender process in the new financial year.

As a result my motion failed to attract any support, and the original motion was passed by all councillors except me. 

It takes a special kind of person to commit to managing Currawong, with its offshore lifestyle meaning a couple are rarely able to leave the site together. Whilst the tender process will be open to all, staff say: “A large amount of positive feedback has been received regarding the current management of the site.” I hope those managers will still be available to apply when we finally go to tender for a longer term contract.

Planning for Robertson Rd to start with Working Group

Council formally approved the establishment of a working group to consider plans for Robertson Rd and a review of the Newport Master Plan following passage of a motion presented by Pittwater’s Mr Gencher and Ms Page at Tuesday’s meeting.

The motion followed a meeting in early April to which Save Robertson Road campaigner Simon Barlow had invited a number of Newport residents, a local architect and a local developer, Pittwater MP Rory Amon, Mr Gencher, Ms Page, and myself. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss possibilities for development in Newport, given the complicated ownership of land by council, the federal government (via Newport post office), Woolworths and a number of developers. Mr Amon - a former Pitwtater councillor - had raised the idea of a working group at the meeting.

Mr Gencher introduced the motion, and in his background said: “Robertson Rd, nestled within the heart of Newport, stands as a symbol of the community’s history and potential for growth.  

“Over the years, it has been a focal point for locals, embodying the essence of Newport’s culture, recreation and commerce.

“However, recent proposals for development threaten to alter the very fabric of this cherished street and surrounding precinct.”

He noted the Save Robertson Rd Campaign had emerged in response to the prospect of these changes - and said he believed the campaign’s success would rest on the collaboration of all stakeholders.

I told the meeting I was very happy to support the motion. In fact, I had already contacted staff on the day of Mr Barlow’s meeting to line up another one with planning staff and councillors, to begin work on Terms of Reference for a working group. I also observed it was a good time to be exploring the options for Robertson Rd and reviewing the masterplan, given developers are currently finding it difficult to borrow for major projects unless they have sold all units off the plan.

All councillors present except Ms Grattan, voted in support of the motion.

DA notifications to be reviewed

The ways of notifying neighbours of Development Applications will be examined as part of a broader review of NBC’s Community Participation Plan (CPP), following a vote at last week’s council meeting.

The plan governs public consultation on planning matters, including DAs, Environmental Impact Statements and Development Control Plans. 

I raised the motion in response to the many complaints I’ve received from residents who haven’t been informed about a DA either next door or across the street - let alone a few houses away but close enough to be impacted by both the development itself and the final outcome.   

The CPP was due for its five year review in December, however, I asked that it be brought forward and a report made to council within two months, so that the issue can be dealt with before the September Council election.

The motion calls for the review to consider how notifications to residents can be improved, particularly:

  • Increased geographic distribution of mail notifications
  • Improved website visibility and
  • Resident/community group notifications.

I also told the meeting that many residents say that by the time they’ve received notification or have seen a sign outside a property, they don’t have time to make a submission before the 14 day expiry date - and don’t realise council will accept them up until the time the DA is assessed.

Additionally, with the loss of a daily or weekly printed newspaper, and the government removal of the requirement for publication of DAs, residents now miss the hardcopy publication.

There was general consensus amongst councillors that they had heard similar complaints to the  ones I had. Ms Crvelin suggested an amendment specifying an increased radius for distribution of notices. I was happy to accept it, however, when I explained I’d raised that issue with staff and they had advised me they would include suggestions along those lines in the report, she decided to withdraw it.

Finally, I observed there might be opportunities to improve DA notifications on the council website, making it more intuitive, and improving the prominence of DA notifications in the Council's online Northern Beaches News - which residents can register to receive. 

All councillors present voted unanimously for the motion.