August 27 - September 2, 2023: Issue 596


From the Council Chamber, August 22, 2023

By Pittwater Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy

Avalon Beach Council Customer Service Centre to be closed

Two controversial Pittwater issues were on the agenda for Tuesday night’s council meeting, with votes supporting closure of Avalon’s Customer Service Centre and the continued pursuit of two more off leash dog beaches. As often happens, we once again ran out of time for the meeting, with 10 items remaining for next month. However, nearly $70,000 agreed by councillors for funding to the Avalon Community Library might take a little of the sting out of the loss for residents (or perhaps that’s what staff hope!)

Avalon Council Customer Service Centre to close
The Avalon Council Customer Service Centre, operating since 2003, will now close by the end of November, following Tuesday’s meeting. This had been on the cards since last year, with staff concerned that the number of face to face dealings at the centre were much lower than those at Mona Vale, Dee Why and Manly. So, for example, while a total of 4,344 visits were received at Avalon between March 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023 (averaging 13 visits per day), Mona Vale saw 10,322 (31 pd), Dee Why 12,706 (38 pd), and Manly 17,486 (53 pd). This worked out to an average cost of about $87.50 per day at Avalon compared to an average cost of $15.90 in other centres, the council papers said.

The report concluded that: “As residents and businesses move to a digital future it is expected that customers will demand a greater digital presence from Council and a lesser reliance on traditional service models.

“It is recommended that the Avalon Customer Contact Centre be transitioned to an online service with face-to-face service at Mona Vale, Dee Why or Manly Contact Centres …”

Staff also noted the vacated space could provide a site for alternative community or recreational use, discussing strong demand for mental health services. 

Pittwater Your Northern Beaches Councillor Michael Gencher and I moved for the report to be deferred to allow our Pittwater colleague Liberal Councillor Katrina Page to be present for the vote - she was absent due to sickness. We were outvoted on this proposal, although in reality, her one vote would have made little difference.

During the public forum preceding the meeting, Avalon Preservation Association president Craig Boaden addressed councillors, appealing to us to save the centre (See speech). 

Manly YNB Councillor Sarah Grattan and her Liberal counterpart Georgia Ryburn moved the motion, Mr Gencher following up with an amendment that the council call for Expressions of Interest encouraging a community use. He also called for staff to report back within six months.

“This is one of those opportunities where we are charged with acting in the community’s interest, weighing fiscal responsibilities with providing a service,” Mr Gencher said. 

Demand existed for mental health, youth, and aged care services amongst others, he said.

Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca welcomed the amendment, saying the government had promised during debate on amalgamations that no council services would be lost as a result. Mr Gencher’s amendment recognized there were not the numbers to save the centre. 

“Sadly, things are changing,” Mr De Luca said. “Pittwater people would be left with zero if this motion is lost.” 

Ms Grattan said she appreciated people wanted to keep the Avalon centre but Pittwater had two service centres, while other wards had one or none.

“There are other community services looking for space in that area, particularly youth,” Ms Grattan said.

“We’re not cancelling, just relocating (it) down the road. It’s important we make difficult decisions now and then.” 

Meanwhile, Ms Ryburn said she thought it was a sensible rather than difficult decision.

Deputy Mayor and Curl Curl Liberal Councillor Dave Walton noted that residents were moving away from face to face services in all sectors.

“The move to digital transactions is significant. There are probably some young people who have never been to a bank,” he said.      

However, I supported continuation of the service in the interests of the community, particularly elderly residents.

In my speech, I said I suspected users were predominantly elderly, and it provided an important point of contact and independence for them. 

“This group in the community are currently being disenfranchised and alienated as more and more services move online or out of the area,” I told the meeting.

I also believe the costs reported by staff were misleading. Whilst the report says closing the centre will save $270,000 per year, that’s based on three staff stationed at the centre - I had never seen more than two, I said.

Further, while staff were not helping residents face to face, they were taking calls on the Customer Service Line. And the staff report said there would be no redundancies - rather “staff would be redeployed to vacant customer service positions”. 

My other issue with the motion was that the space is a council facility and should be used for community services, not rented out to make a profit. This is why I did not support Mr Gencher’s amendment.

Finally, I took issue with the report’s reference to “the vulnerability of young people in Avalon”. At that point I ran out of time, but I would like to have completed this point by saying the comment was highly inappropriate. Implying young people in Avalon as a group suffer from mental health problems is inaccurate labelling - no matter how many are afflicted in this way there or elsewhere.

In the end, all councillors except me and our other Greens rep, Kristyn Glanville from Curl Curl ward, voted for the motion. We were promised at the time of council amalgamations no services would be lost - yet another bites the dust. 

Council pushes on with moves to dog beach trials
A contingent of about 15 dog beach supporters waving placards ensconced themselves in the gallery at Tuesday’s council meeting, as the majority of councillors voted to progress through the legal maze ahead before any trial can proceed.

A council motion from June 28 last year provided for steps toward running off leash dog trials during morning and afternoon/early evenings at Palm Beach North and Mona Vale South. 

On Tuesday, council’s environmental and legal staff presented a series of reports outlining the community’s response to the draft Review of Environmental Factors (REF) that would be affected by unleashed dog beaches at these beaches. This followed public consultation for a month during August and September last year. Staff noted they had received 879 submissions, which were broken down into 18 themes and 1,583 discrete issues. 

The findings of the revised environmental review remained substantially unchanged from those reported to the council meeting of June 28 last year, they said.

“In particular, the potential impacts of the proposed Trial are considered unlikely to significantly affect the environment,” their report said.

Feedback from government agencies, however, outlined major legal hurdles to be overcome before the council could move forward with a trial. First amongst these were preparation of new POMs, that would need to be approved by council and the relevant minister, for reserves where trials are proposed. 

However, other hurdles included: taking over as the Crown Land Manager (or gaining a licence over) relevant Crown Land below the Mean High Water Mark; completion of other required environmental assessments under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act; changes to the Pittwater Dog Control Policy; and orders under the Companion Animals Act declaring the off leash dog areas.

“There’s no lawful way we can hold one (a trial) now,” staff told the meeting.

Mayor and Curl Curl YNB councillor Sue Heins also noted the obstacles.

”So even if we want to put a dog trial in place, we have to go through this process,” Ms Heins told the meeting.  

Councillors therefore voted on a set of staff recommendations at the meeting that would allow it to obtain control and management of the Crown Land needed for the trial and to progress POMs for Governor Phillip Park and Mona Vale Beach South.

Resident Russell Phegan, describing the beaches as our greatest asset during the Public Forum, said he was impressed by the amount of detail presented by the council on the issue, but he thought there was a “huge bias” in the conclusions. The REF said that impacts of dogs on beaches could be minimised, for example by displaying signs. 

“Sites will be affected because off leash dogs and their owners do not read signs,” Mr Phegan told the meeting.

“They’re on our beaches now. The present laws are not being adequately enforced now.”(See speech).

Mr Walton said councillors had been presented with numerous briefings related to the trial and he supported the staff recommendations.

“It’s all been explained and it’s all quite sound,” he told the meeting.

I’m unconvinced by the latest draft of the REF because of some remaining problems. I therefore left the chamber before I could explain why, to avoid the vote. The council is now obliged to review its POMs, so I did not believe I could vote against that recommendation. However, it explicitly mentioned the off leash dog trials should be provided for in the POMs, which I could not support. 

I had planned to tell the meeting I believed the methodology was still weak, despite survey time increasing to 10 hours at each site. The consultants found only two or three threatened species present but checking on the government BioNet database, records show sightings of a number of species they said are only moderately likely to occur. These included the Hawksbill Turtle (critically endangered), Little Eagle (vulnerable) and Sooty Oyster Catcher (vulnerable).

One local ecologist told me that: “Given the serious decline in numbers of shorebirds and their habitat globally, so that we see many species as endangered, any remaining habitat should be conserved”.

Another asked to meet me recently and said the smell and sight of dogs will impact a far greater area than the off leash sites themselves. Given the current presence of dogs in the dunes at Palm Beach and Mona Vale, it seems unlikely dogs will not venture into these areas during a trial. The REF talks about “monitoring and compliance”, but when we have dogs present against the rules on all of Pittwater’s beaches currently, I have no faith we would be able to monitor a trial or eventual dog beach adequately. 

And not only wildlife but many humans too perceive dogs as a risk - with the REF noting 29 serious dog attacks requiring medical attention on the Northern Beaches over one year - and a total of 200.

Finally, in addition to the legal quagmire we face, I am also disturbed by the amount of money being poured into the pursuit of these dog beaches. Staff could not quantify total costs remaining, but we have already spent $800,000 on legal costs resulting from the previous trial at Station Beach. The REF cost us $125,000 alone and staff had spent hundreds of hours working on the Consultation, which cost $96,000.00 both these figures ex-GST, they said at the meeting.

All councillors present - except me - voted for the staff recommendation (Pittwater Liberal Councillor Karina Page and Manly Independent Councillor Candy Bingham were absent due to illness.)

Funding approved for community libraries
Avalon Community Library will receive council funding of $69,290 (excluding GST) for the 2023-24 financial year, while Terrey Hills Community Library gains $27,716 (excluding GST), following a unanimous vote at the meeting.

Other financial assistance for community libraries on the Northern Beaches included $25,584 (excluding GST) to Balgowlah Seaforth Community Library and $2,132 (excluding GST) to Booklovers’ Club Northern Beaches Incorporated. 

Asked why Avalon received so much more than its counterparts, staff said it was because the Avalon library is significantly larger than the others.

Business on the beaches supported with new council economic strategy
At a time when many local businesses are suffering due to cost of living pressures on customers, the council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a new “Business on the Beaches” economic development strategy.

The strategy aims to build “a more diverse, innovative, vibrant and green economy” over the 10-years of its operation. Staff reported that public consultation between January and March strongly supported the draft, with “calls to protect employment lands, encourage greater business diversity in town centres, and tackle skills shortages and housing affordability”.

Thus, amendments to the strategy included: adding performance measures for jobs growth; adding current data on the economic value of employment precincts; as well as retaining and supporting new commercial floor space and mixed land use in the new LEP. The policy will be implemented by a new Northern Beaches Business and Industry Stakeholder Committee - and Ms Grattan, Ms Crvelin, Mr Gencher, Mr Menano-Pires, and the Mayor were elected to join it.

Targets such as increasing the number of local jobs over the next five years, increasing the number of local businesses by 10 per cent over the same period (amounting to 3,500 new businesses), and increasing the number of local jobs in “green industries” by 10 per cent in five years, will give the strategy solid goals.   

Speaking in support of it at the meeting, Ms Grattan welcomed the targets, saying she looked forward to meeting with the new committee.      

New award introduced for community service 
A new award for Community Group of the Year will be introduced, following a unanimous vote by councillors at Tuesday’s meeting. Two other changes will also be made, allowing  non-Australian citizens to be eligible for the Outstanding Community Service Awards and inviting the current Citizen of the Year to join the judging panel for the next year.

Bushfire season prep ongoing
Preparation for the bushfire season continues across the LGA, with some residents concerned about a hot dry summer developing.

Supporting the report back from council’s Bushfire Management Committee, staff said the Northern Beaches had 239 Asset Protection Zones (what my neighbour calls the “barbeque belt”). Thirty hazard reduction burns had been planned in readiness for the season, with five of those completed, including Angophora Reserve in Avalon. Another 19 were “ready to go”, staff said. 

“A lot of pre-work is required - whether it goes ahead is dependent on the weather,” staff said.  

The Bushfire Management committee draws its members from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney Water, Ausgrid, the NSW Fire and Rescue Service, Rural Fire Service, Nature Conservation Council, councillors and council staff. 

Get Ready Weekend is held across NSW in around 500 locations and its aim is to encourage residents and landowners to plan and prepare for the upcoming bush fire season.

In 2023, the majority of Get Ready Weekend events will be held on the weekend of September 16 and 17. Visit:

Going on exhibition
A draft Gambling Harm Minimisation Policy and draft Cultural Policy will both go on public exhibition following votes at the meeting.

For next meeting …
Some councillors, including me, are becoming reluctant to stay at meetings beyond 11pm - after five hours of discussion. So it was on Tuesday that as 11pm approached, Frenchs Forest YNB Councillor (and Wakehurst MP) Michael Regan, who had arrived at 7.30pm, moved that the meeting continue until 11.30pm, seconded by Ms Glanville. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor supported the motion, along with Ms Grattan. However, they were outvoted by the rest of us. 

That left 10 items remaining on the agenda, including: tenancy of the Avalon Surf Life Saving Club Cafe and Restaurant; recommendations from a Safety Audit of Electric Bike and Electric Scooter Usage in the LGA; and a rescission motion regarding council support for discussion of the issues surrounding the Voice referendum - arising from a Notice of Motion originally presented at the June council meeting. 

Unfortunately, given the likelihood that the Voice referendum will be held in mid-October, Liberal councillors Ms Ryburn, Ms Crvelin and Mr Walton’s rescission motion has effectively scuppered the council’s promotion of discussion of the Voice. That’s despite no significant changes to the Voice debate over the past three months and a democratic - though close - vote on the issue at the August 1 resumption of the June meeting. 

Pittwater Residents addresses to august 2023 meeting

Speech to Northern Beaches Council meeting 22 August 2023 re: Avalon Customer Contact Centre - speaking against closing the centre
by Craig Boaden
Avalon Preservation Association

Madam Mayor, I’d like to thank you and Councillors for allowing me to present to Council this evening.

My name is Craig Boaden and I’m the President of Avalon Preservation Association. APA represents the interests of several hundred members and their families, and many more Avalon Beach residents support our aims.

I’m here to support the retention of the Avalon Customer Contact Centre. I’ll call it the A Triple C for short.

The A Triple C presents the personal face of Council to residents of Avalon Beach and nearby suburbs in the northern Pittwater, like Palm Beach, Whale Beach, Bilgola Plateau, Clareville, and Bilgola Beach. It allows these residents to speak face-to-face with a Council staff member and it provides direct services, like information, advice, payment of fees with cash etc.

Not everyone uses the internet to conduct business. The A Triple C allows residents who cannot use online services to take up Council services in an accessible and effective way.

The proposed termination of the Avalon Centre continues a trend that has been evident to Avalon residents for some time. It includes the loss of police, ambulance services, most banks, and other service facilities. This trend makes living in Avalon harder.

Surely Council exists to make life better for ratepayers, not more difficult. So why take away this service?

The staff report details that Avalon A Triple C has fewer visits than other such centres in the LGA. This is true, for several very good reasons:

 Historically, the A Triple C has not been promoted, advertised or adequately signposted. Even now it’s difficult to tell if the A Triple C is open. Recently, the signposting has been improved, but a legacy remains, meaning that many residents in the northern peninsula still don’t know of the Centre’s existence. Even so, patronage increased markedly once signage improvements were made.

 Geographically, we sit on the northern tip of the LGA, in a cul-de-sac. Fewer residents live on the Peninsula, compared with some other parts of the LGA.

 Northern Pittwater is predominantly low density residential, for valid geographical and historical reasons. So there are fewer residents per area than other localities such as Manly or Dee Why.

However, I want to emphasise that fewer visits does not mean less need or lower interest.

Will Council save money by closing the A Triple C? I don’t see how. The customer contact centres all use similar facilities and cost similar amounts. Why then is Avalon being singled out?

Surely as the most geographically remote location, a face-to-face Council presence is even more necessary.

In conclusion, Avalon Beach residents ask all Councillors to consider the needs of residents in the northernmost part of the LGA. Please consider also the benefits that the Avalon Customer Contact Centre provides in terms of providing a fundamental service and a friendly face for Council in Avalon.

Please vote to retain the Avalon Centre. 

Thank you.

Speech to Northern Beaches Council meeting 22 August 2023 re: Outcome of the Public Exhibition of the draft Review of Environmental Factors for the Proposed Trial Dog Off-leash Areas at Palm Beach (North) and Mona Vale Beach (South) - speaking against progressing offleash dogs on Pittwater's ocean beaches.

by Russell Phegan

Thank you for this opportunity to speak here this evening.

As you know, we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The subject of dogs on or ocean beaches threatens our greatest asset. 

I’m very impressed with the detail and trouble council has gone to on this subject. 

I’m also amazed at the amount of time and money being spent on this Item.

I’m even more amazed that all the potential problems have resulted in a conclusion of ‘nil impact’ or ‘negligible impact’. There seems to be a huge bias in the conclusions. 

It says that the impacts have been minimalised through management safeguards, when in actual fact, putting up some signs and doggie bags does not solve the problem of dog waste.

It also says that waste generated by dogs are routinely managed by council and don’t result in any environmental problems, when in fact, the present management is completely inadequate, as can be seen by the dog faeces in our parks and on our beaches.

It says the proposal will not cause increased demand on resources, when in fact it will cause an even greater supply shortage of our already understaffed council rangers due to a further increase in their workload. 

Aboriginal Heritage sites are 130metres north west of the subject area at North Palm Beach it says, and therefore will not be affected by the proposed activity. However, these sites will be affected because offleash dogs and many of their owners don’t read or obey signs. 

Dogs are found on our ocean beaches now, in breach of the current legislation, and frequently chase wildlife, even into the dune areas. 

Yes there are more dogs now, however, having more offleash areas is not the solution, as the present laws are not being adequately enforced. 

The existence of present offleash areas are adequate. The problem is that many dog owners take their dog to the closest park or beach to allow their dogs to ‘run free’. They don’t bother to go to the legal offleash dog areas, a visit to any of our parks or beaches will show how this prohibition is being ignored and flagrantly violated. 

Also some people have young children who are afraid of dogs. After all, dogs are animals with animal instincts and sometimes, they bite people. 

Our beaches are being used by dog owners now illegally. Any legalisation of any area will result in more dogs on our beaches.

For two-thirds of Mona Vale beach to be considered for this, from the southern end up to Golf Avenue, is shocking.

Please don’t contribute to the problem by approving these proposed offleash areas on our beautiful areas. 

Please do not contribute to the destruction of our greatest asset.