From the Council Chamber: July 26, 2022
As we celebrate National Tree Day today, it’s hard not to be saddened by the revelation this week that we are losing more trees from the Northern Beaches than are being planted. The figures, revealed in papers for Tuesday’s council meeting, are discussed further below. However, another issue raised the ire of many Avalon residents.
What do Avalon residents want?
That’s what we’ve been discussing for four years now and the outcome, My Place: Avalon, otherwise known as the Avalon Beach Place Plan, was on the agenda at this week’s Northern Beaches Council meeting.
More than 1,000 residents took part in the consultation with council staff over the four years filling in surveys, going to workshops and pop-up stalls, joining a community reference group as well as a public forum last year - organised by former Councillor Alex MacTaggart. As an Avalon resident I took part in that consultation, and as the only one on council, I have read every submission (736) made on the final draft, including more than 600 written ones.
In a speech to council at the meeting, Clareville and Bilgola Plateau Residents Association president, Catherine Kerr, appealed to councillors to pay attention to the outcome of this public consultation.
“The community has spoken and if council truly stands by their own timeline and organised practice, we need to move forward with what the majority of the community have (said in their) feedback … and begin to implement the place plan after 4 years with no more delays,” Ms Kerr said on behalf of CABPRA, Avalon Preservation Association, and the Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association.
I appreciated staff’s removal of the proposed bike paths from the plan’s final draft because they were opposed by 69 per cent of the 615 written submissions. I’m a Greens councillor and supporter of active transport. As a cyclist living for many years in Canberra and Amsterdam - where bike riding is ubiquitous - I rode to university, work and for leisure.
However, residents clearly said that freedom of movement for pedestrians and protection of trees in the centre of the village were more important - and anyway Avalon’s hilly geography makes bike riding less attractive for most locals. So I was very happy to support the community’s wishes on this issue.
Shared one-way road
On the proposed trial for a shared one-way section of road on Old Barrenjoey Road outside Woolies, 55 per cent of residents were opposed. However, when I approached staff about it, they said that the intersection no longer meets current standards. Because the council had carried out the assessment of the intersection, it was now legally obliged to bring it up to scratch. I therefore asked to see the traffic modelling, which staff then walked me through, and it appears it will significantly lessen congestion at the crossroads - with much shorter waits.
So even though 52 per cent of respondents were opposed to the plan in general, following the expert advice, I felt I had to support changes to the intersection. And when I’d previously talked to staff about getting the patchwork of footpaths fixed, I’d been told that can’t happen until the plan is finalised and implemented.
looking towards Avalon shared zone; from north to south
The Ziggurat - terracing the hill
I did not, however, support the proposal to cut away and terrace the hill behind Avalon Beach. This is the main natural feature on arrival in the village, a survivor from the extensive sand mining that ravaged Avalon’s dunes further north, and which I suspect shields the beach from traffic noise. Residents repeatedly said in their submissions that we want to protect Avalon’s natural environment and maintain the area’s informality.
I note that the hill is not an embankment - as the place plan and some councillors have been describing it. An embankment is an artificial slope. The hill, by contrast, is part of the natural rise of the land towards the cliffs south of the beach. To terrace it and carry out other work on the “Beach Gateway”, the council estimates would cost at least $5 million. How much cheaper and more in keeping with the spirit of Avalon would it be to plant banksia trees and some other endemic plants in the area to soften the landscape, provide shade and prevent erosion?
When reading submissions, I tallied all those that explicitly mentioned the terracing. Of the 94 submissions that did so, 81 opposed it. The following comment is representative of those contributions:
“Who thought it would be a good idea to build sandstone terraces so that people can sit and look at the road junction and petrol station?”
“The community does not want unnecessary concrete or stone terracing in place of the grassed areas.”
Given the community’s desire to keep Avalon natural, and the overwhelming opposition of those who mentioned the hill, I did not support this section of the plan.
Photos: Simon Wild
As a result, I put up an amendment at the meeting to scrap the terracing but to otherwise pass the plan.
However, Your Northern Beaches Councillor Mike Gencher moved an alternative amendment, seconded by Liberal Councillor Rory Amon, calling for further consultation on cycleways within the next year and on the terracing for the “Beach Gateway” when the council comes to implement it.
My motion was supported by three other councillors: YNB Curl Curl Councillor Sue Heins - who encouraged other councillors to accept what Avalon residents had so clearly said they wanted; Narrabeen Councillor Vince De Luca; and Greens Curl Curl Councillor Kristyn Glanville.
Councillors’ Gencher and Amon’s amended motion was then passed by the council unanimously. I supported it so that we can get on with the footpaths, lighting and tree planting - which residents have repeatedly said are their top priorities - as well as the shared roadway trial ASAP.
I’m very disappointed and frustrated with this episode. The public consultation was not just some Mickey Mouse talkfest controlled by a coterie of baby boomer residents’ groups. Over four years, everyone had an opportunity to have their say - and they did so in large numbers, from primary school kids to seniors.
I note also that until Monday, I had not received any emails from residents about the bike path. Since then I’ve had two from a resident in Duffys Forest who read about the issue in The Sydney Morning Herald, and during the council meeting received one from a cycling group.
Furthermore, we do not need bike paths to encourage or create safe cycling. Amsterdam when I lived there, did not have cycleways in the centre of the city, yet bike riding was safe. I’m keen to have a discussion about how we can make that the case here - but it’s an issue that warrants attention not only for Avalon, but for Pittwater more generally, if not the whole of the Northern Beaches.
Council sets new climate goals
Council has pledged to encourage local businesses to take up solar power and battery storage with incentives and by removing barriers, with a motion that was passed by exception* at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The motion will update NBC’s goals set under the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership program, which it joined in early 2018 following a motion the previous year by former Greens Councillor Natalie Warren.
The partnership is made up of 165 councils from all over Australia, representing 65 per cent of the population. Council must commit to five pledges to tackle climate change when they join.
A second new pledge was also agreed at the meeting: “To revise procurement documents, policies and procedures to ensure that suppliers align with Council's sustainability goals.”
These two pledges replace earlier ones the council has completed. They were to:
Work Together and Influence: Set city-level renewable energy or emissions reduction targets and sustainable energy policies to provide a common goal and shared expectations for local residents and businesses.
Renewable Energy: Provide council resources to educate and support the uptake of renewable energy, such as by hiring an internal renewable energy support officer or establishing an independent body (such as the Moreland and Yarra Energy Foundations).
In February last year, NBC announced it had switched to 100 per cent renewably-sourced electricity, saying it would cut an estimated $1.9 million from its bills over following seven years.
*Motions passed by exception are carried in a block supported unanimously at the beginning of each council meeting. It means there is no discussion of these items.
Tree tally for the Northern Beaches
The number of trees planted on the Northern Beaches is failing to keep up with the tally for those being lost - a shocking situation as we celebrate National Tree Day today.
The numbers show that while 27,771 trees have been planted in the LGA since 2018, we lost a recorded total of 28,802 trees during that time.
In a speech to council last month, Leigh McGaghey, a Canopy Keepers member and former Warringah council tree protection officer, called on the council to complete work on its tree canopy plan and implement it.
Following the speech, Councillor Sprott and I asked questions on notice of council staff: how many trees had been planted and how many trees lost from the Northern Beaches since 2018?
Those figures were included in the agenda of this week’s council meeting, leading to a speech by another Canopy Keepers’ member Deb Collins at Tuesday’s council meeting. (Al: could you please link to her speech.) In it she said the greatest loss, totalling 19,650 trees, was caused by tree removals approved through DAs on private land.
The council noted in its response that number was offset by conditions for replanting of 17,097 trees. However, they are small recompense for the loss of older specimens.
As Deb said: “How can we compare the loss of a 140-year-old tree providing habitat for Powerful Owls with a 10cm sapling? You simply cannot. Nor can we be confident that tube stock planted in the hundreds will have a 100 per cent survival rate.”
The massive loss of mature trees illustrates the urgent need for the canopy plan, with a strategy for protecting trees. A draft plan went on public exhibition in 2018 and was meant to last only five years. It includes a target of 5,000 trees to be planted each year for 20 years.
Canopy Keepers is an independent group raising awareness of the importance of trees on the Northern Beaches.
Apprenticeship strategy and targets
With the Australia-wide shortage of apprenticeships, council voted unanimously on Tuesday to investigate its strategy on employing apprentices and how barriers to hiring more could be overcome.
Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville moved the motion, seconded by Frenchs Forest Liberal, Stuart Sprott.
In background to the motion, the two councillors said that although the state and federal governments offered a range of incentives and financial support for employers and apprentices, we still have a shortage of qualified and skilled workers in trades relevant to council’s operations, such as arborists, electricians, landscape gardeners and plumbers.
“Council does currently offer a limited number of traineeships, which operate similarly to apprenticeships, but for non-trade careers,” they said.
“There is a reasonable community expectation that, as a significant local employer or approximately 1,800 staff, Council should also offer apprenticeships for trade skills to our young people.”
Curl Curl YNB Councillor Sue Heins noted that industries are changing so that a lot of work is now contracted out, however, apprentices were also hard to find, she said.
Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn said that with the closure of borders during Covid and associated fall in numbers of migrants, NBC should be encouraging young people into training, with TAFE courses and work at council.
Staff will report back to council on the issue within three months.
Council supports Fusion Pride
Following this week’s controversy over the Manly Sea Eagles management decision to wear a pride jersey with rainbow trim celebrating diversity in rugby league, councillors unanimously passed a motion in support of the garment.
A media furore broke out earlier in the week after seven players announced that they would not wear the jersey at Thursday night’s game.
In response to the controversy, Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca moved an urgent motion commending the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL team and those players who chose to wear the pride jersey “on their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion”.
Recognising that this week’s rounds were meant to celebrate players who are women, the motion also acknowledged the NRL and Women in League group for “their service to rugby league and its promotion of diversity and inclusion in this sport”.
Curl Curl Liberal Councillor Dave Walton and Councillor Ryburn both told the meeting that they also wanted to express their support for the right of the seven players who did not want to wear the jersey to make that choice.
The motion, which also requested that staff forward the resolution to the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the Northern Beaches World Pride Movement, was passed unanimously.
Catherine Kerr, President of CABPRA: Address to Council
On behalf of the Avalon Preservation Association, Clareville and Bilgola Plateau Residents Association, and the Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association
After four years of robust discussion with various interest groups, a lot of hard work by Anne Marie Newberry, Andrew Piggott and staff with a solid community consultation Council received over 700 submissions from a broad cross section of the community.
With the limited post covid budget set APA, PBWBRA and CABPRA fully endorse a speedy execution of the affordable elements of the place plan which as a priority are lighting, footpath repair and tree planting. This will demonstrate to the community that after so long the place plan is being implemented.
A vast majority who commented on the headland overwhelmingly were not if favour of terracing Avalon Beach reserve. This has been loud and clear for some time with a lot of submissions affirming they wanted generally to keep the landscaping natural. Of course, we support the strategy of making the intersection of Avalon Parade and Pittwater Rd safer and leave that in Phil Devon's capable hands to consult with us further with his strategy with the bus stop etc.
We understand the safety issues re the intersection and support the trial one-way shared zone of Old Barrenjoey Road in front of Woolworths and trust the modelling presented is an accurate picture.
Many of us in the community ride bikes and support this mode of transport but in terms of the bike path through Avalon we had 615 comments in total where approx. 66% opposed and 23% were for it.
Community consultation was thorough taking 5 months. This was the time for considered input not this last-minute campaign with press articles quoting people like myself out of context and rude emails to associations. Its not constructive or inclusive and overturns or hijacks the council’s own due process.
The community has spoken and if council truly stands by their own timeline and organised practice, we need to move forward with what the majority of the community have feedback with and begin to implement the place plan after 4 years with no more delays.
Deborah Collins from Canopy Keepers: address to council
I refer to items 17.1 and 17.2 of the Agenda regarding trees planted and trees removed since 2018.
These figures reinforce the need for Council’s Tree Canopy Strategy to be finalised and implemented as soon as possible. This Strategy, which we trust all Councillors have read and will support, has been in draft form since 2018 - with some weaknesses - such as failing to deal with the massive tree loss on private land However, it should be completed and implemented to become a foundational document in creating the new Environmental Zonings and the LEP and DCP currently under development.
Looking at the totals, the council has planted 27,771 trees since 2018. However, we have lost a recorded total of 28,802 trees during that time.
Unfortunately, there are no figures listed or possibly even available for trees removed under the 10/50 legislation for private land. This legislation has allowed for extensive tree loss without permits. These felled mature trees provided vital habitat and pathways for wildlife to water and food sources. Once broken, these links cannot be replaced in our lifetime.
Could Council map these canopy pathways connecting our public reserves? And can Council lobby for amendments to the 10/50 legislation to better protect our tree canopy?
Council’s figures present a net gain of trees, yet is this the case ? Would Council please explain the offset planting of 17,097 trees in item 17.2. and why this figure isn't also subject to the replanting rate of only 40%?
From the information provided, we can see that in less than 4 years, council has granted over 2,678 private tree removal permits and 19,650 tree removals through DAs. Council requires replacement trees to be planted and yet estimates that only 40% are. Canopy Keepers understands that Council does not have a dedicated ranger who oversees replantings, and issues fines for non-compliance. Surely, compliance is a key feature of effective policy.
And, how can we compare the loss of a 140 year old tree providing habitat for Powerful Owls with a 10cm sapling. You simply cannot. Nor can we be confident that tube stock planted in the hundreds will have a 100% survival rate.
YES- planting and regenerating trees is critically important for future canopy, but it won’t fulfil THIS role for 70+ years. Meanwhile we are in danger of losing the canopy and our wildlife - if we do not plan and legislate now to preserve it.
We appreciate the work of council staff in providing this information, and the opportunity to speak tonight at Council’s meeting. We look forward to further dialogue and positive action.
Address to Council forum provided to Pittwater Online.