March  3 - 9, 2024: Issue 616


From the council chamber: February 27, 2024 Meeting
By Councillor Miranda Korzy

Pittwater Residents at the February 2024 Meeting making their views known about state government plans to overule Pittwater's LEP and DCP

Council unites to reject Labor’s “one size fits all” increased density proposal 
Councillors from across the Northern Beaches united on Tuesday night to send a strong message to the NSW government that we oppose its proposed one-size fits all approach to planning.

The proposal, outlined in the Department of Planning and Environment’s document, “Explanation of Intended Effect: Changes to Create Low and Mid-rise Housing”, would remove council planning powers in residential areas, conflicting with work towards our new Local Environment Plan - which governs planning in the area.

Councillors were of one mind in opposing the scheme, and eventually unanimously passed a motion for Council to:

“Write to the NSW Government calling on (it) to abandon the low and mid-rise housing reforms as outlined in the Department of Planning and Environment “Explanation of  Intended Effect: Changes to Create Low and Mid-rise Housing” noting that Northern Beaches Council has the capacity to plan for future growth as outlined in our adopted Local Housing Strategy and is best placed to make planning decisions that affect the community due to our knowledge of our unique, fragile natural environment and infrastructure constraints.''

However, the road to this resolution was long and convoluted, so I’ll describe it here in some detail for the many residents who were sitting in the gallery and trying to follow what was going on.

A number of residents spoke passionately against the scheme at the outset of the meeting, including local environmental activist Anna Maria Monticelli, who criticised the council’s original submission as “weak and disappointing”.

“I am not saying there should be no development, but it needs to be carefully thought through – not this one-size-fits all slash and burn approach,” Ms Monticelli told the meeting.

“If council really cares about the character of this area and the fragile environment - their submission needs to have a total re-think and re-write which is tougher - and addresses the issues on the ground.”

Pittwater MP Rory Amon also sent a speech against the proposals for staff to read at the meeting, taking up one of the two places in the Public Address session open to residents.

As a result, young science communicator Merryn Baker, who also opposed the motion, submitted her speech for staff to read in the Public Forum (for general issues unrelated to a motion). 

She was registered to address the issue of “Housing density on the Northern Beaches”. Ms Baker and her family had also emailed councillors opposing Labor’s plans for increased density. 

“When talking about ‘home’, it is difficult not to speak in emotive terms, because the unique bush/water character, and low key built environment, of the Pittwater area - and Avalon particularly - means everything to our family – and to most residents in the area,” the Baker family wrote in their email.

“The far reaching and irreversible outcomes of this ill-thought-out, undemocratic, irresponsible, plan, will see the destruction of our home by developers. Developers will be the only winners.

“This is not exaggerating or sensationalising. It WILL be the reality - but most importantly, it will not solve any of Sydney‘s existing or future housing problems - of trying to build AFFORDABLE homes for people who truly need them.”

Council staff had worked throughout January to analyse the impact the proposal would have on the Northern Beaches and had prepared a 22 page draft submission explaining the many damaging effects and their recommendations for dealing with them.

The document outlined the ways in which the scheme would increase density, namely via: 

  • Dual occupancy developments in all R2 (low rise residential) zones - up to 9.5 metres high, with a minimum lot width of 12 metres, area of 450 sq metres (compared to 800 sq metres under the Pittwater LEP).
  • Terraces, townhomes and residential flat buildings of 2- 3 storeys in R2 zones within 800 metres of a “town centre” - undefined except that it would have a “full line supermarket - with maximum height of 9.5 metres.
  • Shop top housing to 6 or 7 storeys in E1 and MU1 (Employment and Mixed Use zones) - up to 21 metres in a “town centre”. With a 30 per cent allowance for affordable housing, this could be closer to nine or 10 stories.
  • Residential flat buildings to 6-7 storeys in the R3 (Medium density) zone and R1 (General Residential) within 800 metres of town centres - ie 21 metres with potential for affordable housing allowing a 30 per cent height increase.
  • Establishment of non-refusal standards for these developments - including maximum building heights, floor space ratio, minimum site area, lot width and car parking.

Problems discussed included:  

  • A scale and density of development that in many cases would impact local character and place, tree canopy and the environment, access, transport and traffic; demand for increased community infrastructure, exposure to natural and manmade hazards, damage to areas and items of heritage significance, and affordable housing provision.
  • Conflict with council-led planning for Frenchs Forest, Brookvale and Mona Vale.

However, early in the draft a statement was included that read:

“Council provides conditional support for residential flat building development in the R3 medium density zone and dual occupancy development in the R2 low density zone subject to more stringent development standards than those outlined in the EIE (Explanation of Intended Effect.” (My italics and bold).

Many in the Pittwater community objected to this statement and its tone - which I believe was compliant. As a result, councillors received numerous emails opposing it from residents and community groups over the last few weeks.

Before the meeting and in an attempt to reach a consensus decision on the proposal, councillors had asked me to edit the draft to strengthen our opposition up front, and to adjust the tone. After the Mayor Sue Heins (Your Northern Beaches, Curl Curl) circulated the alternative draft to councillors the previous weekend, I moved a motion at the meeting for it to be sent to the NSW Planning department as the council submission.

The first paragraph of the new draft removed the statement of “conditional support” and replaced it with the following:  

“Council believes local government is best placed to make decisions about local planning to meet community needs. Council therefore strongly opposes the state-imposed controls proposed in the EIE that would override Local Environment Plans and democratic processes.”

I had also removed recommendations to proceed with the Beaches Link Tunnel - which the other Greens Councillor Krisytn Glanville (Curl Curl Ward) and I opposed on environmental grounds - because it made no difference to the statement of opposition.

However, Pittwater Liberal Councillor Karina Page brought an amendment to the meeting that I eventually accepted into my motion. Ms Page and Pittwater’s new Liberal Councillor Michael Gencher (formerly from Your Northern Beaches) both said they opposed removal of the call for the Beaches Link tunnel to proceed, along with Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca who asked for the original staff submission to be restored and sent to the NSW Planning department.

I explained, however, that the original draft would have been in conflict with the new motion stating our opposition. As a compromise, I accepted the return of a call for the return of the Beaches Link tunnel project given that it’s unlikely to be a high priority for a Labor government. 

The final motion therefore endorsed the alternative submission, as well as calling on staff to forward it to the Planning Department, and the newly announced Legislative Council Parliamentary Inquiry into the development of the Transport Oriented Development Program.

The inquiry, established the previous Friday and to be chaired by Greens MLC Sue Higginson, includes in its Terms of Reference “the impacts of the proposed Diverse and Well-Located Homes process and program”, of which the low and mid-rise housing density proposals are part. 

I think that with the council having reached consensus on this issue, that it sends a strong message to the NSW government and allows us to stand with other councils opposed to the proposed reforms. However, I’m alert to the fact that the amendment put up by Ms Page does not actually condemn state government interference in planning by local councils, and hope that Liberal councillors will continue to fight against this proposal. 

Rockpools review for whole Northern Beaches to take at least six months
Pittwater’s murky and leaky rockpools came to council notice at last week’s meeting, after I submitted a motion calling for a report on their condition, maintenance and suggestions for improvements.

The motion called for a report back to councillors within three months, to enable the suggestions to be considered in Council’s budget talks for the next financial year. 

My original motion focused solely on Pittwater's pools because of the large number of problems reported to me about them - and staff informed me before the meeting that the Pittwater pools  were in a worse condition than others in the LGA, except for Queenscliff. 

At the meeting, I said: “Pittwater’s rockpools are an important part of the area’s infrastructure, both physical and social, particularly given the absence of any public aquatic centre close to the area. 

“They feature at the southern end of six of the beaches north of Narrabeen lagoon. Children learn to swim in them, people of all ages do laps for fitness or carry out other exercises, the elderly and disabled enjoy a splash, and the community meets in the long hot months to cool off and relax. They are also important places for those who are scared of the surf, can’t swim or when the surf is dangerous.” 

I also noted that a number of swimming clubs are based at the pools including: the Palm Beach Tea Bags, the Avalon Bilgola Amateur Swimming Club at Bilgola; and during winter, the Pittwater Pirates at Mona Vale and Shivering Sharks, at North Narrabeen.

“In particular, many of the pools have been very murky, as well as full of sand and seaweed, preventing residents from using them during summer,” I told the meeting. 

“For example, Avalon pool often has weed washed in at high tide by a big swell in summer, but it’s usually crystal clear with lots of tiny iridescent fish swimming around you. This summer, it’s often been brown, really smelly, and full of rotting weed.

“We’ve also had murky water, broken pumps and unscheduled closures at Whale Beach, Bilgola, Newport and North Narrabeen. It’s important we know that the water residents are swimming in is as clean as possible.

“However, most seriously, Palm Beach rockpool has significant leaks, so that after cleaning and refilling, it’s half empty by the next low tide. I’m worried that even with warning signs, swimmers could still dive in and injure themselves. And just today, I’ve heard that Newport pool has a jagged bottom.”

However, new Liberal Mr Gencher submitted an amendment at the meeting, extending my list of two points for review to 10, including factors such as evaluation of safety measures, assessment of the ecological impact of current cleaning and maintenance, and consideration of broader implications, such as the integration of rockpool management into broader coastal conservation and management strategies. 

He said my points could simply have been addressed through a councillor request - however, I had discussed the motion with staff and it had been cleared by both the council’s assets team and the CEO Scott Phillips.

Mr Gencher also told the meeting that most of his points could be dealt with through phone calls by staff, who were familiar with most of them.

“It addresses a wide range of factors that would ultimately lead to us making decisions based on fact,” he said.

Asked if extending the scope of my proposed review in this way would be possible, staff responded: “Not within three months,” estimating it would take at least six months.

Curl Curl Liberal Councillor David Walton asked staff if an annual audit of pools was carried out, and they responded that the review under Mr Gencher’s amendment “is more significant than an annual audit”.

They also agreed it would be possible to extend the review to all rockpools in the LGA, however they said that none of them were now considered “unserviceable”.

Manly YNB Councillor Sarah Grattan said she was worried about the cost to the budget, to which the CEO responded:

“There will be budget requirements for this and it goes to expenditure of funds.

“If you are comfortable for staff to give you a preliminary briefing, we can give it to you within six months.

“It would be a teaser for (our) strategic planning work and we intend to use ocean pools as an example (at a councillor budget workshop later this month).”

Supporting the amendment were: Mr Gencher, Ms Page, Ms Heins, Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn, Narrabeen Independent Vince De Luca, Frenchs Forest Liberal Stuart Sprott, Narrabeen Liberal Bianca Crvelin, Frenchs Forest YNB Jose Menano-Pires and Mr Walton.

Those voting against were: Ms Glanville, Ms Grattan, Manly Independent Candy Bingham, Narrabeen YNB Ruth Robins and myself. The amendment thus became the motion, which was passed unanimously. 

Whilst I supported the final motion which piggy-backed off my own, I hope the additional work required doesn't delay improvements to Pittwater’s rockpools. However, I’m grateful to the CEO and staff for picking up the issue and hope we will have enough information in time to reassess our rockpool strategy for next year’s budget. 

Council to protest state government cost-shifting 
With councils around the NSW struggling to make ends meet, Tuesday’s meeting addressed the findings of a report detailing how local governments are carrying budget burdens passed on by the state.

The report from the Local Government Association of NSW, outlined the costs the NSW government has transferred to councils, now totalling more than $1.36 billion per year - up 78 per cent from $820 million five years ago. (Analysis carried out by independent consultants Morrison Low on data for the 2021/22 financial year).

LGNSW calculated in its report that each rate payer was now contributing an average of about $460 per year extra as a result.

The major sources of cost shifting were:

  • The waste levy, which the report said was the single largest contributor to cost shifting in NSW, totalling $288.2 million. That’s because the government does not reinvest that levy - paid by local councils - back into waste infrastructure and programs.
  • The Emergency Services Levy (ESL) and other associated contributions, totalling $165.4 million in 2021/22. Another $12.7 million was contributed through Rural Fire Service obligations, and $10.7 million on depreciation expenses on RFS assets (which councils do not own).  
  • Failure to reimburse local councils for mandatory (and I would argue ethically appropriate) pensioner rate rebates - which bled another $55.2 million from councils.
  • Failure of the NSW government to honour its promise to reimburse councils for 50 per cent of library operations - resulting in an extra $156.7 million in costs to councils.

The situation has been exacerbated in NSW by the rate pegging system, where the maximum amount a council can increase its rates is set by IPART (the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal).

Ms Grattan asked staff what the impact of cost shifting was on NBC? The answer, $39 million in 2021/22 - via services such as libraries, the Emergency Services Levy (ESL), and pensioner rebates on rates.

The Mayor, who noted that Ms Glanville had suggested the Mayoral Minute, said NBC paid the highest ESL in the state. In the 2023/24 financial year, the levy increased by $3.1 million, comprising a $1.5 million (19.5%) increase to $9.3 million, and $1.6 million through the removal of the levy subsidy (previously paid by the state government).

Ms Pages asked, what would happen if the council refused to pay the ESL. 

“That option is not available to us - it would be unlawful,” the CEO told the meeting.

“Cost shifting used to be a bugbear of mine. I have taken it to local government conferences repeatedly. I don't think the public realise the impact.”  

Ms Glanville pointed out the irony of the situation. “It’s perverse,” she told the meeting.

“They tell us what we can ask for rates, then demand it back.”     

In response to the report, councillors voted to place a copy of it on the council website for residents to access, and to write to the NSW Premier, Treasurer and Local Government Minister asking them “to urgently seek to address these costs through a combination of regulatory reform, budgetary provision and appropriate funding”. 

Call on NSW government for action on affordable housing
Affordable housing was the focus of another Mayoral Minute at Tuesday’s council meeting. The Mayor told the meeting that we had the opportunity to increase the quota of Affordable Homes at Frenchs Forest from the current 15 per cent in the new town centre of Frenchs Forest from 15 per cent, “which many of us around the table have been disappointed about”.

The Minns government was currently proposing an increase to 30 per cent on government land, while Wakehurst MP Michael Regan was suggesting 50 per cent, Ms Heins said. (Greens councillors have advocated for 30 per cent.) 

“What this NoM is trying to say is, look here, we have the perfect site (the current Forest High School site) and the state government can pull levers to do the job with its many tools and provide a much needed housing target affordable housing than we currently have,” she said. 

“This is a great opportunity to bring in affordable housing in an area notoriously known for its lack of (it).”

Ms Robins said she totally supported the motion, but called on the four local MPs “to sit down together again and try to come up with some sort of strategy”. 

Similarly, Ms Glanville commended the motion, saying it would support essential workers like nurses and teachers, as well as young people, many of whom have to move away from the area. 

However, some Liberal councillors opposed the motion, with Mr Sprott (who represents Frenchs Forest Ward), saying there was no consensus from the community about the proposed increase (although no specific target was mentioned in the motion.) He pointed to a lack of infrastructure in the area, and said transport services there were already overburdened.

Mr Gencher said he appreciated the intent of the motion, “but I think this falls short” on providing a meaningful quantity of housing.

The motion as carried by Ms Glanville, Ms Grattan, Ms Bingham, Ms Heins, Ms Ryburn, Mr De Luca, Ms Robins, Mr Menano-Pires, Mr Walton and me.

Only councillors Gencher, Page, Sprott and Crvelin opposed it.

Underwater photographic award to be named for Valerie Taylor
Councillors voted to rename the major prize in Council's annual Underwater Photographic Competition as “The Valerie Taylor Underwater Photography Award For Excellence”. The motion calls for the creation of a sustainable perpetual trophy for the award, funded from the existing Ocean Festival budget.

Ms Bingham, who proposed the motion, said Ms Taylor is a long-term Manly resident, “with an almost lifelong passion for the ocean” and a decades-long commitment to ocean conservation and a love of underwater photography. 

“She has an enduring record of advocacy for the conservation of the oceans and their marine life,” Ms Bingham said.

“She is an internationally recognised underwater photographer and, with her late husband Ron, a respected documentary maker.”

Ms Taylor, who has been diving since 1956, turned her attention to the conservation of sharks and other marine creatures in the early 1970s and has campaigned tirelessly for marine conservation locally, nationally and globally ever since.

Now in her late 80s, Ms Taylor’s association with the award would enhance its status, and interest in the competition, Ms Bingham said.

The motion was passed unanimously.

Would you pay for a dog poo bag?
Councillors addressed the issue of providing bags for dog owners to collect their pet’s poo at dog parks, after Mr De Luca proposed a motion to investigate finding a firm to design a dispensing machine for them. 

Mr De Luca’s told the meeting Northern Beaches Council budgets $100,000 to help dog owners by providing Dog Defecation Bags at certain parks and reserves. 

He said he’d been approached by residents asking why bags had run out at Rowland Reserve, Bayview, and others wanting them at extra locations. Providing those extra bags would be prohibitive, he argued.

However, under legislation, council was not responsible for providing these bags, he said, and proposed instead that Council liaise with Innovation NSW, Global Australia, relevant universities as well as invite expressions of interest from the public “to ascertain whether any organisation can develop and introduce paid vending machines for dog defecation bags and the costs, noting the number of grants on offer for such innovation projects by Investment NSW, GrantsAssist, Innovate NSW and others”.

I argued that waste was a basic responsibility of government, and providing dog poo bags was like providing toilet paper in bathrooms. It was therefore a public hygiene service and environmental issue. I also said that I thought dog parks would have even more poo left behind if owners needed to buy bags, because many would not carry any way of paying for them on a dog walk. And finally, along with some other councillors, I thought the machines, if they could be developed, would be open to vandalism. 

Mr Menano-Peris noted the pressures the council budget was under, and said “There’s no harm to do some investigations”. 

Ms Bingham asked staff how much was raised through dog registration each year and what did it cover - to which they responded it raised $226,000, used for education and a few other things. It could be spent for purposes relating to control of companion animals, staff said. 

Mr Gencher again commended the motion, praising its innovative approach.

However, the Mayor said “I’m not quite there with this one”.

“A couple of years ago, people were outraged about single use plastic bags everywhere, hanging from trees,” she told the meeting.

“... I don’t think it’s a simple solution. I know a couple of years ago it was important to move away from plastic bags (the council now provides compostable bags).

“It’s a balance of doing what’s right for the environment and the cost.

“We know human nature sadly doesn't always do the right thing and it’s … easy to leave little landmines everywhere.”

Voting for the motion were: Ms Glanville, Mr Gencher, Ms Page, Mr De Luca, Mr Sprott, Ms Crvelin and Mr Menano-Pires. Against were: Ms Grattan, Ms Bingham, Ms Heins, Ms Ryburn, Ms Robins, Mr Walton and myself. With equal numbers of votes, the Mayor then used her casting vote to oppose the motion, which was declared lost. 

Public Forum Address by Pittwater Resident: february 2024 council meeting

I support the motion that council should object to the Minns Government  proposed radical planning changes. 

BUT I found the content of the council’s submission weak and very disappointing. 

I am not saying there should be no development, but it needs to be carefully thought through – not  this one-size-fits all slash and burn approach.

If council really cares about the character of this area and the fragile environment  - their submission needs to have a total re-think and re-write which is tougher - and addresses the issues on the ground. 

For example, Pittwater is currently in a crisis where the planning rules/guidelines mean nothing.  Illegal tree destruction occurs daily and so-called regulations and penalties are non-existent.

I’m reminded of the outrage that the Conservations Zones Review Proposal caused.   A Proposal that was generally backed by the council, but not by the community - forcing council to significantly change it.

State Government’s proposal is the Conservation Zoning Review on steroids.

There NEEDS to be a radical strategy change, if local government has any merit left.

And the people need to know the changes that are proposed, their voices need to be heard and forcefully communicated to the authorities. 

These proposals have been shoved at us at the last minute and have not been explained to the community.

It was only through lobbying that the council did a few talks in Pittwater to a small invited audience  - leaving the vast majority  in the dark. 

There should have been a massive leaflet drop  - and major forums planned so that everyone knows what’s coming and can act and eventually vote accordingly – not these behind closed door secret meetings for a selected few.

It’s up to the councillors here now to take back control of the council and reinstate the people’s faith in the system by reflecting what the community wants.

The council’s submission should be re-written, demonstrating  the strength and determination of the community’s wishes -  not this  surrender to PLANNERS.

Anna Maria Monticelli
27th February 2023