From the Council Chamber December 2022 and January 2023
From the Council Chamber - December 2022
With Christmas fast approaching and a pile up of issues in December, including the debacle with road works in Avalon, I delayed my round up from December’s council meeting until this month. The extraordinary council meeting called to deal with the latest stage of proposed development at Lizard Rock provided the perfect opportunity to blend the two reports into one.
Avalon Shared Roadway
Traffic disruption and prolonged road works in the middle of Avalon village during December left many residents and businesses angry and feeling let down by Northern Beaches Council, as the chaos continued into the Christmas holidays. Although this issue did not arise during the December council meeting, it was the backdrop to deferral of a staff proposal to cut hours at the Avalon Customer Service Centre.
Other major issues discussed at the meeting included a NSW Auditor-General’s report into council’s Development Application performance and from the other end of the LGA, council staff’s advertising of a property for sale without clearance from councillors. I’m including a report from Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville on this item. Also on the agenda, a major strategy for outdoor recreation - including mountain bike riding - was signed off on. And on a positive note, grants to celebrate WorldPride next year were approved for Pittwater.
Avalon Customer Contact Centre to remain open five days per week - for now
Council staff proposed at the December 13 meeting to reduce opening hours of the Avalon council service centre from five days to only two days per week in a six month trial. However, I put up a motion, seconded by Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca, that a decision on the commencement of the trial be delayed until after the March 2023 council meeting and the current road works are finished. I also called for proper signage to be erected, (I noticed this week that the hedge obscuring the office has been trimmed), residents to be informed via social and print media that the centre is open, and that staff investigate opening a tourism information centre there. Councillor Gencher suggested that we expand that to considering other services as well.
Staff noted in the council papers that the centre had been closed for most of the Covid pandemic and only reopened on March 1, 2021. Since then it had hosted 1,709 visits in total, or an average of 11 per day. That compared to 4,743 at the Mona Vale service centre for the same period (average 32 per day), 5,361 in Dee Why (36 per day), and 7,000 in Manly (47 per day).
The major cost for running the Avalon centre was staff costs, which were estimated at $270,000 per year, according to the report. However, for those who know the centre, notices on the door in December indicate it is closed for one hour at lunchtime - which is because only two staff are stationed there usually and they are not allowed to run the centre alone. The workers also answer customer service calls during the day when they are not dealing with inquiries from residents visiting the centre. In reality, staff told the meeting that the cost of the six month trial at two days per week would be $100,000.
I argued that Avalon residents have endured months of disruptions with Woolworths’ renovations and closure of the adjacent council carpark, Sydney Water investigations and hieroglyphics painted on the pavements, and council roadworks - culminating in flooding in the village centre in early December. The community was now angry about the disruption at Christmas - and I said this was not the time to be removing a service from the village.
However, I also pointed out that residents had been told before council amalgamations that Pittwater would not lose any services as a result of the merger into Northern Beaches Council and that there was scope to widen the range of services anyway - with Bookoccino, the book shop, having told me that they keep printed maps of the area for tourists because so many visit the shop looking for the tourist information centre. The fact that the only signage were the paper notices on the centre’s door also means that many residents didn’t even know it had reopened.
Pittwater Your Northern Beaches Councillor Michael Gencher criticised the lack of consultation with residents about the partial closure and said it “sounds like spin from a bank closing a branch”. He also disagreed with the evidence provided saying: “I think this is more an issue of how you interpret the data based on the outcome you desire.”
Our Pittwater Liberal colleague, Rory Amon, said the proposal didn’t have a sense of fairness about it, given that in Manly the Hop, Skip and Jump service costs $695,000 per year and that a fundamental function of council was to provide information about services. “In Avalon, we’re proposing what’s envisaged to be a pedestrian paradise,” Mr Amon told the meeting. “There will be far more foot traffic … so it makes sense to wait till we can see the fruits of its labour.”
Mr Amon also asked staff if they anticipated that the proposed changes would result in any redundancies, to which the response was “No”. He also asked how savings could then be made, to which CEO Ray Brownlee said through “natural attrition”, meaning when staff resign or retire.
The motion to defer the reduction in hours was supported by all councillors except Manly Independent Candy Bingham and from the same ward, Your Northern Beaches Councillor Sarah Grattan.
NSW Auditor-General gives council a gold star for DA assessments
Mayor Michael Regan has congratulated staff on the council’s system for assessing developments at the December Council meeting.
On the day of the meeting, councillors were notified of the outcome of a report by the Auditor-General into the performance of the council staff on assessment and determination of DAs. The report effectively gave staff a gold star for their work, making no recommendations for improvements to the council’s processes - which CEO Ray Brownlee said was incredibly rare.
Mr Regan then submitted a “Mayoral Minute” shortly before the meeting to: “Congratulate and thank our Development Assessment Team and senior staff on their continued efforts to ensure we have a robust, transparent and efficient development assessment system.”
However, as was pointed out to me by residents later - because the Mayoral Minute was submitted so close to the meeting that councillors had little time to read it - the report notes that the audit required interviews with a long list of council and government staff - but not with residents. Those on the list included council planning and compliance staff, NSW Planning and Environment department, ICAC, NSW Ombudsman, and the Planning Institute of Australia (NSW).
Secondly, the audit required detailed examination of only 25 of the 4,475 DAs the report said were determined by NBC between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2021. The total estimated construction costs for all 4,000 plus developments was $1.8 billion.
NBC was one of three councils audited, and findings, reported on December 12, included that:
“Northern Beaches Council has established processes to support compliant and effective assessment and determination of development applications …
The Council has a clear governance and risk management framework for development assessment that sets out roles, responsibilities and delegations…
Northern Beaches Council's approach to managing conflicts of interest promotes transparency ...
Northern Beaches Council has established processes to deliver consistent, quality assessment of development applications …
Northern Beaches Council has established processes to effectively support the Northern Beaches Local Planning Panel.”
Without having had an opportunity to read the full report, I could not support this motion given the experience of Pittwater residents. I told the meeting that I recognise the technical skill and professional expertise of planning staff.
However, I noted that many Pittwater residents are extremely angry about DAs approved in recent years that permit cutting down of large numbers of mature canopy trees, with massive excavations changing the contours of the land and creek lines along with destroying wildlife habitat. These developments appear to many of us to be contrary to the intent of the Pittwater LEP and DCP as well as the community’s intense desire to protect Pittwater’s environment.
All other councillors supported the Mayoral Minute, apart from Manly Liberal Georgia Ryburn and Curl Curl Green Kristyn Glanville who were absent from the chamber.
Open space strategy gives go ahead to formalise illegal mountain bike trails
A number of illegal mountain bike trails will be formalised under the council’s Open Place Strategy, passed at the December Council meeting.
The strategy, known as Let’s Play, was placed on public exhibition for six weeks last July and August, with the community making 141 submissions. The majority of submissions either supported the strategy or expressed support providing for some changes.
Developing off road bike tracks for a broad range of interests and skills was one of the strategy's key initiatives - which raised the concerns of local environmentalists. In fact, the council found environmental protection and enjoyment was one of the significant themes residents raised in submissions.
However, the strategy formalises the illegal Mona Vale Downhill track, which runs through environmentally sensitive bushland at Ingleside Chase reserve. In Avalon, the proposal for a new bike park opposite Avalon Primary school received enough objections to convince the council to consider an alternative site in the suburb.
Objections were also received to proposals for updating and improving mountain bike trails at Manly Dam, however, the Nemesis and Quarry trails there will also be formalised.
There are some great initiatives in the strategy, such as installing more outdoor fitness equipment and basketball, netball and multi-use courts; improving maintenance; supporting sustainable recreation in bushland; and continuing to partner with the NSW government over shared access at schools for new and upgraded sports grounds and facilities.
At Whitney Reserve, the strategy has been modified to make clear that it won’t be developed as sportsfields and lighting won’t be installed. However, the basketball area will be retained in line with the community’s wishes, under the strategy.
Horse riders called on the council to protect the use of JJ Melbourne Hills, at Terrey Hills, for horses and the strategy aims to do this. A recreation plan, including recommendations for a cross country horse trail are amongst proposals for this site - along with “Acknowledgement of horse riding at other locations aside from Terrey Hills and Duffys Forest has been added to the Strategy, for example, Warriewood and the National Parks” (my italics).
I supported much of the draft, however, told the council meeting that I don’t believe the public support for environmental protection is reflected in proposals for formalising illegal mountain bike tracks - or encouraging horse riding in national parks.
National parks and bush reserves were created to protect biodiversity - and encourage low-impact recreation such as bushwalking. However, damage by MTB riders to bushland has been extensive in recent years, with trees chained-sawed down and Aboriginal sites damaged.
I believe it’s time now to close the illegal trails and build substantial mountain bike parks on already degraded sites on the Northern Beaches, like Bare Creek at the former tip site at Belrose, or those at Cringila Creek (near Wollongong) and Mount Stromlo (in Canberra).
However, other councillors disagreed. Your Northern Beaches Pittwater Councillor Michael Gencher said that the senior leadership of groups like the Garigal Gorillas Mountain Bike Club included environmentalists, like Matt Ward, from Trail Care (which liaises with national parks).
Liberal Pittwater Councillor Rory Amon said the Greens wanted “to lock mountain bike riders out of bushland”. “We can have tracks and retain the beauty of the area,” Mr Amon told the meeting.
Economic benefits would also flow from the tracks and they provide an opportunity for families to “get out and do it together”, he said.
Greens Curl Curl Councillor Kristyn Glanville objected to Mr Amon’s claim that the Greens were trying to shut down mountain bike riding, and said the council needed to work out more holistically where we can put off-road tracks.
“Many of the tracks that have popped up are illegal. The fact that we‘re willing to turn a blind eye to this is disappointing…,” she said. “We keep putting pressures on this environment that’s already under so much pressure.”
YNB Frenchs Forest Councillor Jose Menano-Peres said that Warringah Council had experienced problems with mountain bike riders in Garigal National Park and so had decided to formalise the track. “By formalising and maintaining it, it will prevent damage,” he said.
The motion was carried with only me and Ms Glanville opposed, while the Mayor and Ms Ryburn were absent.
Are we selling or not? 2 Bangaroo St, North Balgowlah
By Greens Councillor for Curl Curl Kristyn Glanville
I wanted to update you about the outcome of the (December council meeting) concerning a Notice of Motion by Independent Manly Councillor Candy Bingham, calling for a pause on the sale process for 2 Bangaroo St, North Balgowlah.
An amended version of this motion was then debated (and not Cr Bingham's original motion) at the meeting, which was then approved by a majority of the councillors:
- Confirms that a community consultation process will be undertaken in relation to 2 Bangaroo Street, North Balgowlah
- Places information on its website to detail the process to be undertaken in relation to any potential sale of 2 Bangaroo Street North Balgowlah
- Brings the matter back to Council for a further briefing
- Notes that any final decision on the potential sale of the site is to be determined by Council at a future Council meeting
- Notes that:
a. There is no proposal to destroy or sell a riparian zone at Nth Balgowlah
b. The draft Conservation Zones review (as exhibited) does not propose that the current R2 zoned land, which has been subdivided into three lots, be rezoned to a Conservation Zone.
c. Any construction of a dwelling house would be subject to Council approval.
d. Council has no report stating that new development should not occur on these sites.
e. DA approval is current to subdivide the land to enable the construction of dwellings on each new allotment. The impacts of the riparian zone are a matter for consideration in the design and assessment of any future DA, as they are for all development located close to riparian zones.
I found that, unfortunately, I was not able to support this amended version of the motion. The other councillors voted to put the motion to a vote, and I was not allowed the opportunity to amend the motion to address my concerns.
I wanted to take the time to explain to residents why I voted against this amended version of the motion. I know this proposal caused considerable stress in the community, and from the minutes of the meeting it is not clear why myself and Cr Korzy did not support the amended motion. I think that it is beneficial this motion was put, as it has highlighted shortcomings with the process for disposing of surplus land.
However, firstly, I felt the original wording of the motion was more clearly in the spirit of what I saw the community asking for: a halt on the sale process. I felt concerned that this amended version did not halt the process, although it will seek community consultation before the next step. I felt the very clear feedback from the community was that the subdivision plan which is proposed was not supported, and that the clear position from the many emails councillors received was that the community sees value in retaining green open space rather than selling such land off for development. Put another way, the community did not want to see the sale process progress, and did not see this as surplus land but land performing an environmental and community function.
Secondly, I felt that bullet point “5” did not address some of the community’s concerns:
1. Re 5a – I felt this point was unclear at conveying the situation (and sorry if this is too technical, but there is a fine point to be made here). While the land proposed for sale does not include the mapped Riparian Corridor for Burnt Bridge Creek, the land proposed for sale does include a substantial portion of land mapped as Riparian Buffer on the latest Waterways study by Council. Riparian Buffer is land which adjoins a Riparian Corridor, and is intended to protect and minimise disturbance to the Riparian Corridor. I felt the clear feedback from the community was that it wanted to retain a wide buffer between existing development and Burnt Bridge Creek due to the value of green open space and flood mitigation this provides. The note “5a” did not acknowledge that the land is mapped as Riparian buffer or the benefit of Riparian Buffers.
2. Re 5c&e – I hear regularly from the community their concerns about non-compliance with DAs and CDCs, issues with certifiers, and situations where owners initially comply with DA conditions but later remove trees and soft landscaping, and replace it with hardstand surfaces. I felt the clear feedback from the community was that it would want to totally avoid such pitfalls, and avoid a plan of subdivision which encroached so close to the riparian corridor. 5c&e did not engage with these potential issues.
Where to from here? There will be a community consultation process, so fortunately there will be another opportunity to voice your concerns, although for some of you this will no doubt be frustrating when you have already done so. I shall keep you informed of the ongoing consultation process - and how you can help the local residents oppose the sale of the land for the construction of residences in the riparian zone identified in the council's own waterways review.
World Pride 2023
Pittwater residents will be able to join World Pride celebrations close to home, following council’s unanimous approval of grants to help local groups and businesses promote community participation across the Northern Beaches.
Organisers say the LGBTQI+ festival launches in Sydney on February 17 and runs to March 5, the first time it’s been held in the southern hemisphere. It will incorporate the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, along with a Human Rights Conference and broad range of events including arts, sport, parties, and First Nations events.
Council opened applications in October, for a month, for the grants towards local events and received 24 submissions, of which seven were recommended for funding totalling $20,000.
The “Love is Love Community Social & Pride Swim”, to be hosted by the Avalon Palm Beach Business Chamber, secured $5,000 towards its costs. It will be an “Open day style event by and for the Queer Community of Pittwater and a charity swim,” the chamber said in its application.
For those more interested in athletics, Running Stars at Mona Vale (and Curl Curl) will “Run the rainbow” to promote the importance of diversity, tolerance and accessibility. Having secured a grant for $500, they will dress their courses and participants with rainbow colours and host a post run rainbow breakfast!
Manly Business Chamber also secured a grant of $4,000 to install a rainbow arch for the duration of WorldPride, with weekend activities including live musicians and roving entertainment.
And Harbord Diggers Club was granted $4,000 towards a large-scale lighting display on its terrace and a program of inhouse activities and fundraisers.
The groups, Rainbow Families and Fusion Pride secured $5,000 towards their free, all ages picnic on Saturday February 18 at Ted Jackson Reserve, Dee Why Beach. The focus will be on families and meeting friends, giving them the opportunity to grab some lunch from the local cafes and enjoy live music from local artists.
Council events will also run throughout the festival, including an exhibition at Manly Art Gallery and Museum, film screening, and rainbow story times at local libraries.
From the Council Chamber - January 2022
What’s happening at Lizard Rock
Over recent months, we have seen increasing opposition growing to development proposed for land equivalent to 45 football fields in area at Aboriginal-owned sites at Lizard Rock, in Belrose.
Whilst this is not strictly a Pittwater issue, many of us in this area feel strongly about the loss of 71 hectares of this relatively pristine bushland (with only 19 of it saved for conservation areas), remarkable for its biodiversity and Aboriginal sites.
The city-based Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council was granted ownership of the land under the 1983 Aboriginal Land Rights Act, in compensation for dispossession caused by colonial invasion and to help economic self determination for its members. Its CEO Nathan Moran has told me it is the largest landholder on the Northern Beaches.
Council was not due to meet until February 28, however, we were called to an extraordinary meeting on January 24, because of developments in the Lizard Rock planning process.
In short, NBC voted against overseeing development of a planning proposal for the six MLALC sites at Lizard Rock, meaning we will be free to oppose any plans when they go on public exhibition, rather than obliged to progress them.
All councillors bar one, Narrabeen Independent Vince De Luca, supported this position, which had also been recommended by council staff - with Independent Manly Councillor Candy Bingham and Liberal Frenchs Forest Councillor Stuart Sprott both absent.
The North Sydney Planning Panel (NSPP) had filed a report to council on December 22 approving a Gateway determination for the MLALC’s proposal to build up to 450 houses at the so-called Lizard Rock site.
This means NBC will not have the opportunity to assess any ultimate plans for development at the site. Instead, they will go to a so-called "Gateway determination", which is granted by the NSW Planning Minister or their delegate.
The plans also cater for dual occupancy, secondary dwellings, seniors housing, a community cultural centre, open space/recreation areas as well as road and stormwater management infrastructure.
At the same time, the NSPP via its "Strategic Planning Panel" had offered the council the role of overseeing the proposal, known as becoming the "Planning Process Authority", which would have meant we would have been responsible for progressing the Metro Land Council plans. We were given 42 days in which to respond - ie by February 2.
Council had submitted a proposal (passed at the November Council meeting) opposing the MLALC’s application to proceed via a Gateway determination on a large number of grounds, especially risk of extreme bushfires with inadequate evacuation routes possible. Others included: inconsistency with the Conservation Zones Review; enormous loss of high biodiversity habitat; unjustified and outdated urban design; insufficient survey work of Aboriginal heritage; major impacts on waterways; slope instability; and insufficient information regarding stormwater infrastructure impacts.
The NSPP’s explanation for the Gateway determination was extremely brief. It did not address the majority of more than 20 points (and related evidence) that the council had raised. Instead, three days before Christmas, it sent council a page and a half long letter, with the following qualifications:
- The number of dwellings is to be capped at 450;
- 10% affordable housing is to be provided;
- The final zoning arrangements and boundaries are to be resolved to maximise the retention of important biodiversity values; and
- A site specific DCP, to guide future development to deliver on the objectives and intended outcomes of the Proposal, is to be finalised in consultation with Council and the Department before exhibition of the planning proposal.
The decision concluded that: “the panel concurred with the Proponent that strategic merit had been demonstrated”. Although it noted: “Both parties considered bushfire risk and evacuation routes to be significant issues”, the panel accepted the “Proponet’s argument that the significant risk could be properly managed and mitigated”.
This is in an area with limited access roads, and dense bushland connecting to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and subsequently to national parks and bushland on the Central Coast. The 1994 bushfires blazed through this corridor to nearby Ingleside, where the NSW government has abandoned plans for development due to that bushfire risk. Of course, that risk would be reduced if the bushland was all bulldozed.
Furthermore, prominent members of the local First Nations community - which comprises 1,700 Northern Beaches residents, 469 of them in Pittwater according to the 2021 census - publicly condemned the proposal, along with Brewarrina First Nations leader Bruce Shillingsworth, who was in the gallery for Tuesday’s meeting. (Brewarrina is our sister city.)
A number of amendments were added to the staff’s original recommendation to vote to decline the offer to be the Planning Authority for the MLALC planning proposal, and discussion ensued for close to two hours.
- a decision to write to the NSPP requesting more detailed reasoning on each of the issues raised by the NBC in its submission to the NSW Planning and Environment Department on November 24 (from Your Northern Beaches Manly Councillor Sarah Grattan).
- reiterating council’s strong opposition to the planning proposal in writing to the NSW Premier and the NSW Leader of the Opposition to seek their support to overturn the decision.
- asking the NBC CEO and the Mayor to request meetings with the NSW Premier, NSW Leader of the Opposition to oppose the development (my suggestions) and to request a meeting with the NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister to discuss supporting alternatives with the Aboriginal Land Council for different solutions (from Ms Heins).
I could only agree with Ms Grattan, when she told the meeting: “Most of us are very opposed to this.” This was primarily because of the environmental impact and bushfire risk. However, she also condemned the lack of information provided by the NSPP, particularly regarding how they came to their decision.
Mr De Luca emphasised the point that the MLALC owned the land and that their plans for 450 dwellings were insignificant compared to the 1,300 new dwellings with 12 storey buildings proposed for Brookvale in its draft Structure Plan (currently on public exhibition until February 28).
However, Mr Amon, who also proposed amendments, supported the recommendation, saying the environment in the Lizard Rock area was special but disappearing.
YNB Curl Curl Councillor and Deputy Mayor Sue Heins recognised the complexities of the issue, and problem of the council speaking on behalf of Aboriginal people.
Meanwhile, Mr Menano-Peres said his problem with the plan was that the NSW Planning Minister had “introduced a planning instrument to bypass the normal planning process” to advance the development.
Ms Glanville, a Planning and Environment lawyer, noted the pro-development nature of the NSW planning regime and recognised that the proposed development could potentially trigger provisions in the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. She thus proposed a significant amendment, that council:
“Write to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment in relation to the potential that this proposal concerns matters of national environmental significance and is a controlled activity under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.”
I told the meeting that I was opposed to us becoming the planning authority because it would co-opt us into progressing the MLACL plans, despite the clear opposition of the local community, including First Nations residents.
“The episode illustrates the problems with our planning system with its Byzantine process that the applicant and council are forced to negotiate,” I said.
“Yet when it comes down to it, decision making is carried out by a panel headed by a former NSW Liberal opposition leader, Peter Debnam, rather than by an elected official or planning expert.”
The British colonists created the problems for Aboriginal people of alienation from their land and destruction of their culture, and modern governments struggle at best to support First Nations people - often exhibiting outright disrespect and discrimination.
“However, our NSW Aboriginal land grants process is flawed when it results in land with significant biodiversity being granted to a group without traditional ties to Country, pitting one Aboriginal community against another.”
I believe the NSW government must sort out this mess, and negotiate to pay to resume the Lizard Rock land, offer more appropriate development sites or else establish a national park there with First Nations control.