From the Council Chamber June 2022
Dogs on beaches took centre stage at the June Northern Beaches Council meeting, despite an agenda packed with budget papers, proposals for women’s shelters and a toy library amongst other issues. The marathon meeting at the Dee Why council chambers ran from 6pm to 11.37pm last Tuesday night, with councillors becoming both giggly and fractious as the hours progressed.
Councillors agreed to revise the agenda at the start of the meeting to bring forward an item about off leash dog beaches. This was to satisfy the dozen or so unleashed dog lobbyists in the gallery who cheered, booed and interjected while the motion was discussed. Most vacated the gallery seats once the item had concluded.
Report finds no significant impact from dogs on beaches
In the end, the majority of councillors voted to place an environmental report into the proposed trial of off-leash dog areas at North Palm Beach and Mona Vale South on public exhibition.
I was not one of the 13 (from 15) councillors who voted for it at the meeting.
The motion was proposed by Pittwater Liberal Councillor Rory Amon and seconded by the ward’s other councillor, Michael Gencher, a member of the Your Northern Beaches group.
The assessment, commissioned by council and carried out by Niche Environment and Heritage, concluded that the trials would not be likely to have a “significant environmental impact” if the council followed its proposed mitigation measures. These include: new signs, bins for dog faeces and council monitoring.
It was a problem for me that the motion also granted power to council staff to carry on with preparations for the trials before the exhibition and community consultation were finished. I moved an amendment calling for no further work to be carried out by the staff until the completion of the trial - however, this was voted down by all except Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville.
I am a great believer in transparency and would have voted for the exhibition if my amendment had passed - although the assessment was already publicly available in the papers for the council meeting. However, given that staff revealed at the meeting that the council has already spent more than $800,000 on the quest towards off-leash dog beaches in Pittwater, I believe we should follow the process step by step to avoid any further legal action. Further, Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville moved an amendment that would have ameliorated the impact of the dog trial but that was also voted down - by all councillors other than the pair of us.
We also know from the Niche report that starting a dog beach trial won’t be as simple as putting up a few signs, installing some bins and employing more rangers. The council will have to weave between legal requirements under three acts (Companion Animals Act, Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and Local Government Act) amending multiple plans of management and the Pittwater dog policy. And despite all that work, insurance and civil claims could still be brought against the council.
However, I also believe the recommendations to ameliorate the impact of dogs have not worked elsewhere. For example, I noticed in papers for another motion at the meeting - for the council’s delivery program - that rangers had already carried out 75 dog patrols, registering 300 observations over 60 hours at the North Curl Curl Beach off-leash dog area this year. They had also issued 30 fines for dogs not under control and dogs in prohibited places. That averages one fine every two hours of patrol time. You can do the arithmetic to work out the level of non-compliance even when a ranger is present.
And for anyone concerned about plastic pollution at the beach, Councillor Amon noted that the council dispenses 4 million poo bags per year to deal with the poo problem. He also noted that the “human impact on beaches is much greater but we don’t ban people from beaches”.
We do know, however, that our local environment is under enormous pressure and we should be looking for ways to relieve rather than increase it. Adjacent to the proposed dog beach at Palm Beach is a national park, and a marine reserve extends from Station Beach around Barrenjoey Headland to North Palm Beach. Just a week or so ago, a resident contacted me about an off leash dog they saw attacking a seal pup at Avalon Beach. I have also spoken to a local ecologist who says that they would the oppose dog beach proposal outright.
We know there is a vocal lobby group that has whipped up support for off leash dog beaches over the years. So I hope the many residents who want to retain these two in their relatively peaceful and unspoilt state will let the council know what they think during the exhibition period - I’ll let you know when it begins.
Funding for bush regeneration increased
For many years, some of Pittwater’s bushland, dunes and riparian zones have been infested with weeds, such as thickets of Asparagus Fern on the Palm Beach dunes. Covid lockdowns have only increased the problem because volunteer bush carers have been unable to help control the problems. This year’s heavy rains have allowed the invaders to multiply.
Protection of the environment is the number one concern of residents across the Northern Beaches. So I’m delighted that council staff have listened to the community and taken my representations on board, allocating significant funding for bush regeneration in the council budget passed on Tuesday night. It includes:
- $68,000 in additional dune funding at Avalon Beach, Governor Phillip Park in Palm Beach, Griffith Park at Long Reef.
- $250,000 in additional bushland funding at Bangalley Headland, Allenby Park, Hillside Rd Newport, Jamieson Park and Lake Park at Narrabeen, Warriewood Wetland, Irrawong Reserve and Beeby Park at Mona Vale.
- $160,000 in additional riparian funding for Dee Why Lagoon, South Creek, Narrabeen Creek and Curl Curl Lagoon.
Call for action on urban tree canopy plan
Also on environmental issues, Leigh McGaghey, a member of Canopy Keepers, a local not-for-profit group raising awareness of the importance of our tree canopy, addressed the meeting during the public forum, asking council: what is being done to progress its Urban Tree Canopy Plan?
Ms McGahey, who was a Tree Preservation Officer at Warringah Council before the Pittwater succession and since then has been a consultant Landscape Architect, said the plan was first drafted in 2018 with a five year life. At the time, NBC Mayor Michael Regan (Your Northern Beaches, Frenchs Forest) had said he was: “very excited to have the plan fast-tracked”. “The identified key actions will be implemented over the next five years”.
In the hiatus since the exhibition of the plan, canopy and greenspace across the Northern Beaches had been negatively impacted by range of factors, Ms McGaghey said. These included: environmentally damaging development; opportunistic application of the Rural Fire Service’s 10/50 clearing rules; and lack of compliance with tree preservation orders as well as environmentally sustainable design principles on development sites.
One of the strategic directions of the tree canopy plan was to: “maintain the existing tree canopy cover”, Ms McGahey said. However, given that the current plan covered only trees on public land and would have little impact on losses on private land, there was an urgent need to redress that loss.
She pointed out to council staff that the NSW government had recently released its Framework for Valuing Green Infrastructure in Public Spaces, providing an opportunity to progress the canopy plan.
After the meeting Ms McGaghey said the draft canopy plan provided great opportunities to engage the community in initiatives such as developing an Iconic Tree Register and an “Adopt a Tree” program. “These opportunities are escaping us as more trees get felled under the aegis of the NSW Rural Fire Service’s 10/50 vegetation clearing concessions and the excessive and destructive nature of many DAs,” she told me.
Ms McGaghey said Canopy Keepers wanted to work with the council to optimise its and volunteer efforts. “Please let’s make this happen urgently - action the TCP, keep us informed, let us share the considerable ground data we have relating to private properties,” she said.
Environment and community assets feature in Covid recovery budget
Turning to the council’s financial plans generally, Manly Your Northern Beaches Councillor Sarah Grattan introduced the 2022-23 budget at the meeting, saying it invested in the environment, community assets and the workforce, with “a modest 2.4 per cent increase in rates.”
“This budget puts us back in terms of financial sustainability and building resilience for the shocks coming our way,” she said. “Not one resident made representations to IPART about our rates and very few have been critical to council.”
The budget papers forecast a balanced budget, with total expenditure of $462 million, including a capital works program of $100 million. The operating surplus is projected to be $8.8 (before capital grants and other contributions), with a further $5 million paid off in loans.
Council estimates that the net cost to Council of the COVID-19 pandemic was $45 million at the end of June. Ms Grattan noted the pressures on council staff during the pandemic and said it was now time to start building working capital.
“We have learnt over the last couple of years from Covid that we can cope with shocks,” she said.
Major capital works promised for Pittwater (and the former Pittwater) LGA as part of the $100 million program include:
- $4.7m to progress Warriewood Valley community centre
- $1.6m for a new playground at Lynne Czinner Park, Warriewood
- $1.2m on wharves at Mackerel and Currawong beaches and repairs to Taylors Point wharf, Clareville
- $1.2m upgrade to Duffys Forest Rural Fire Station and Marine Rescue Broken Bay, Bayview
- $1m completion of pedestrian and cycle bridge works at Narrabeen
- $1.15m Currawong Cottages new cottages, games room and amenities
- $77,000 Avalon Place Plan Implementation
- Tidal pool renewal at Paradise Beach, Avalon (amount not listed)
- Foreshore upgrades at Mona Vale and Warriewood Beaches (amount not listed)
- New seawall and footpath along Pittwater Road at Bayview (amount not listed)
Whilst $9.6m is allocated for resurfacing 10.7km of roads and improving kerb and guttering, and $5.9m upgrading footpaths, none of this is set aside to fix the uneven footpaths in Avalon, Mona Vale, Newport or Palm Beach. No substantial amount was listed for the Avalon Place Plan and nothing at all for Mona Vale - all of which I noted at the meeting.
Rates to rise
IPART (the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal), which sets rate pegs for councils throughout NSW, this year initially allowed for an increase of 0.7 per cent - significantly below inflation. The Office of Local Government recognised the problems this low rate peg could cause councils in meeting their obligations, so announced a one off process for the 2022/23 financial year to increase the peg in an “Additional Special Variation”. Thus council voted in April to apply to IPART for a rate increase of 2.4 per cent, which has been approved and was factored into the budget.
I believe important work and services might have been cut without the rate peg, due to inflation currently sitting at 5.1 per cent and Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe’s expectation that it could peak at 7 percent in December.
However, some councillors opposed the rate rise. Narrabeen Councillor Vince De Luca told the meeting that Mr Regan had told residents before the 2016 council mergers, rates would be forced up and councils would have to sell-off assets unless Pittwater, Manly and Warringah councils were amalgamated.
“I feel that amalgamation was meant to cut the bureaucracy and reduce rates,” he said. “... So it does concern me that despite the mayor’s promises, rates have gone up.”
The budget papers passed with support from me, Councillors Glanville, Sue Heins (Curl Curl YNB), Michael Gencher (YNB Pittwater), Michael Regan (YNB Frenchs Forest), Candy Bingham (Indep Manly), Stuart Sprott (Liberal, Frenchs Forest), Ruth Robins (YNB, Narrabeen), Jose Menano-Pires (YNB, Frenchs Forest) and Sarah Grattan.
Those opposed were: Councillors Walton (Liberal, Curl Curl), Amon, De Luca, Bianca Crvelin (Liberal, Narrabeen and Georgia Ryburn (Liberal, Manly).
Support for restaurants and cafes has been extended once more in the budget, with the inclusion of a 50 per cent discount on outdoor dining fees to operate from July 1 to September 30 this year.
This issue was voted on separately from other budget items at the request of Pittwater Councillor Rory Amon. The budget papers show this subsidy will be funded through the 2.4 per cent rate increase. Unfortunately, this has come at a cost to the library books replacement program for council libraries (not community libraries like Avalon), reduced from $900,000 to $700,000 - but with additional funding for operations.
I supported the extension of the subsidy because winter is often challenging for these types of businesses. With the council having supported them with this subsidy for a couple of years, I also think it would be very sad and a waste of the council money they’re received for them to collapse now. I believe the short notice period would also have been unreasonable and we are still in the middle of a pandemic - where outdoor eating is less likely to transmit Covid or any of the other nasties floating around!
This item was supported by: me and Councillors Walton, Amon, Bingham, De Luca, Menano-Pires and Ryburn. Those opposed were: Councillors Glanville, Heins, Gencher, Regan, Crvelin, Robins and Grattan. Councillor Sprott was absent for the vote.
For the complete budget papers see: files.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/council-meeting-28-june-2022/attachment5-item93-deliveryprogram2022-2026_0.pdf
More Women’s Shelters planned for the Northern Beaches
Access to women’s shelters on the Northern Beaches should increase following the passage of two motions at the meeting. I’ve joined a number of councillors, including Curl Curl Greens’ Kristyn Glanville, in a cross-party, multi-ward group investigating possibilities for refuges and affordable housing in the area. Mayor Michael Regan, who established the group, called in a “Mayoral Minute” for staff to investigate the feasibility of redeveloping a facility already owned by the council to increase capacity. The mayor noted that this work could be carried out within the existing operational budget.
“Domestic violence hit staggering levels during Covid-19 and the support services continue to struggle to meet with the increasing demand on their existing facilities and programs,” Mr Regan said in the minute. “As a Council, we want to increase service provision for members of our community who are experiencing family and domestic violence.”
Between the Northern Beaches two shelters, one that takes only single women and one that takes women and children, more than 300 people per year are turned away, according to a refuge source.
Across Australia, police respond to more than 140,000 domestic violence incidents annually, and on average, one woman is killed every nine days by a current or former partner, Mr Regan said in a second Mayoral Minute.
In that minute, he called for the council to support the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter in its application for a grant to the NSW government for funding to buy another property to provide accommodation for those in need.
To protect potential users, Mr Regan was not able to provide details of either property.
Both motions received unanimous support from councillors.
If you need a safe haven from domestic violence, please call the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service:
1800 737 732 (1800 RESPECT)
Pittwater residents could benefit from a toy collection set up at Mona Vale Library, after councillors voted to enter a trial partnership with the not-for-profit Cubby House Toy Library based at Forestville.
A council-run toy library was proposed during the previous council term by then Curl Curl Greens Councillor Natalie Warren and staff took a proposal for it to the May council meeting to establish branches at Manly and Mona Vale Libraries for a trial period of one year.
However, a spokesperson for the Cubby House Toy Library at Forestville addressed that meeting, saying the service would like to work with council. The 40-year-old toy library had an emphasis on educational toys for early childhood, including for special needs kids and resources for parents. With some 2,000 toys, it also limited waste from those discarded. Run by not-for-profit EarlyEd, it’s sustained by NSW government grants, although it does charge a membership fee of $100 (open to waiver for concession or pension card holders).
As a result, councillors deferred the toy library proposal to hold discussions with EarlyEd until Tuesday’s meeting.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the decision to set up a partnership was approved by all councillors but me. Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn noted that a trial conducted with EarlyEd would provide the council with data and evidence to “move forward”. “The nuts and bolts of this is that it’s a trial,” she told the meeting.
Curl Curl Councillor Sue Heins said the trial would be really important and that EarlyEd had set up its toy library to help children with learning difficulties and might also have material in languages other than English.
As much as I admire the Cubby House Toy Library and its operators, I opposed the motion because I believe public libraries should be open to all comers irrespective of income. Charging a joining fee is likely to act as a deterrent to some families who could gain great benefit from it. I asked council staff earlier if we could negotiate for the fee to be dropped altogether - rather than users having to ask for a waiver - but was informed that could not be included in the agreement. Manly Library used to run a toy library with no membership fee and I believe that’s the model we should follow.
Hop, Skip and Jump bus review
Manly’s free community bus, known as Hop, Skip and Jump, will be reviewed as a result of a motion at council on Tuesday.
The service, which runs two routes around the Manly area, will cost about $800,000 to run this year and has been targeted by some councillors as an unreasonable expense. Rival motions had been submitted by councillors but the one adopted, in a unanimous vote, was proposed by Frenchs Forest Your Northern Beaches Councillor Jose Menano-Peres and amended by Manly Independent Candy Bingham.
As a result, staff will examine the operation, financial sustainability and benefits of the service, to see if it could become more cost neutral. The CEO has been authorised to negotiate with an outside provider on a cheaper service and report back to council, with the aim of resolving the issue by the end of the year.
Mr Manano-Peres described the community bus service as “a budget anomaly”, saying it would cost an estimated $1 million to run next year but served only a small part of the community in Manly. It competed unfairly with other services - including those operated by clubs, retirement villages and Transport for NSW - because it did not charge a compulsory fee, he said.
Ms Bingham agreed that the service was due for a review due to its cost and suggested a new model could be developed that could be introduced elsewhere on the Northern Beaches. However, she had carried out a survey of 1,000 Manly residents over the past month and had been overwhelmed by responses in support of the bus. Describing it as “a community on wheels”, she said the bus travelled to locations that residents couldn’t reach by any other means and 17 per cent of passengers caught it to keep their cars off the road.
Along with other councillors, I’ve received hundreds of emails from Hop, Skip and Jump supporters over the past month, many of them elderly people or those with disabilities as well as parents who describe how their children use it to go to school or other activities.
I hope the review will be able to find a way to retain the Hop, Skip and Jump bus because it's clearly an important community asset and the NSW government promised residents in amalgamated councils that they would not lose any services as a result of the mergers.
However, I also believe Pittwater has a number of potential routes that could benefit from a shuttle bus, especially where parking is in short supply - such as from Mona Vale to Church Point and to Palm Beach. A circuit between Newport, Bilgola Plateau and Avalon would also help remove cars from the road and take senior high school students to school for early starts. Frenchs Forest residents also tell me there is a dearth of public transport in that area.
I believe one of the problems with outsourcing council work is discussions concerning fees paid to and by council become opaque because anything dealing with contracts must be taken to confidential sessions. Councillors are only allowed to report on the outcomes of those agenda items. Three items concerning contracts were discussed in closed session on Tuesday. Read about these below.
Avalon Golf Course
Councillors voted unanimously to decline any of the tender submissions it had received for operation and management of Avalon Golf Course - see RFT 2020/167.
Markets at North Narrabeen
The council voted to accept the tender of Choulartons Australia Pty Ltd to operate the markets at North Narrabeen Reserve for the annual amount of $183,796.36 ex GST for the period August 5, 2022 to August 5, 2024. Two (2) one (1) year options to extend were also authorised, subject to satisfactory performance and subject to cost adjustment by CPI each year - see RFT 2022/001. I was the only councillor to vote against this motion.
Training Room at South Narrabeen surf club
Accept the tender of Murphy’s Remedial Builders Pty Ltd for work on the training room at South Narrabeen Surf Lifesaving Club for the sum of $409,055.31 excluding GST - see for RFT 2022/053.
By Pittwater Councillor Miranda Korzy