June 30 - July 20, 2024: Issue 630

From the Council Chamber June 25, 2024

By Pittwater Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy

Residents attended the NBC Meeting of June 25 2024 to defend Pittwater's trees and two slated for destruction in Ruskin Rowe, Avalon Beach. Photo: Supplied

Northern Beaches Council’s controversial budget passed on Tuesday night on the Mayor’s casting vote, at a meeting wracked by controversy. With a gallery packed with tree blockaders from Avalon’s Ruskin “Row” bringing their plight to council, climate activists and community advocates, the meeting was a lively affair. However, a report from staff pouring cold water on the proposed Mona Vale Community and Cultural Centre disappointed local residents and members. Once again, debate stretched past 11pm and ended with nine Notices of Motion deferred to the July meeting. 

Controversial budget passed with Mayor’s casting vote
The debate

The council’s budget for the 2024/25 financial year allows for expenditure of $524 million, including a capital works component of $99.3 million. A $10.45 million loan will part-fund the construction of the new Warriewood Community Centre, whilst council repays $2.1 million in existing loans. 

The draft budget had posited an operating deficit of $5.8 million, however, due mainly to the state government bill for its Emergency Services Levy coming in at $8.9 million, $700,000 less than expected, the deficit will now be $5.1 million. Rates will increase by 4.9 per cent and the Domestic Waste Charge will rise $31 to $586.

However, the papers show that continuing on the current budgetary pathway means we are already unable to adequately maintain assets - including buildings, other infrastructure and environmental features - to keep up with deterioration and depreciation.

Given my own dissatisfaction with elements of the budget and other councillors concerns, at the outset of the budget debate, I asked the CEO Scott Phillips what would happen if it did not receive majority support. He responded that adoption of the budget was a “core responsibility” for the council.

“The question of not adopting the budget for the following year is without precedent,” Mr Phillips told the meeting.

“… In the event that council does not meet its obligations, the only pathway is for the minister to put council into administration.”

If the budget failed to pass, the council would have to call an extraordinary meeting within three days, which would have to be on Saturday, June 29. However bills would fall due before the end of the financial year and have to be paid the previous day.

“You don’t have time to reconsider the budget without implications,” he said. 

Curl Curl Councillor David Walton and a number of other councillors sought avenues for budget cuts at the meeting. 

Mr Walton proposed an alternative budget motion, which he said was designed in consultation with the CEO, that included a call for a report with “recommendations on options to improve the 2024/25 operating results as part of the September 2024 quarterly budget review”. It also called for a report with options for improving the Long Term Financial Plan so that a Special Rate Variation could be avoided in the following year. This amendment provided an avenue for those who wanted cuts but did not want to vote against the budget. It was accepted by a majority of councillors as the budget motion.

In debate, Mr Walton challenged staff calculations for inflation and said the majority of residents who participated in public consultation on the budget were opposed to the 4.9 per cent rate rise and a proposed Special Rate Variation in the 2025/26 financial year.

“That’s why I brought up this item for this amendment - to make council financially sustainable,” he told the chamber.

However, the amendment did not go far enough for Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca. He moved his own that noted the greatest number of comments on any topic, in the 31 submissions on the budget, were on ways of balancing it. These included via Council reducing “its own expenditure by cutting projects, looking at the organisation structure and focusing on core business”.

The motion then picked out a selection of budget items for note, including Events at $1,658,000; Arts and Culture at $1.16 million; and Community Grants at $1.9 million. Mr De Luca also targeted the 110 fulltime management positions on council, totalling $25.2 million in wages, and noted nearly 40 per cent of the Operating Expenditure of the budget was allocated to employee benefits and costs.

It also asked for council to investigate how it could ensure rates were not increased on an annual basis and what council land and other assets could be repurposed or sold, to enable new infrastructure or services to be provided.  

“I think it’s very important to have specificity on such an important issue and have it outlined for the community what ratepayers are paying for,” Mr De Luca told the meeting.

“Also opportunities for spending to be reviewed.”

Your Northern Beaches Frenchs Forest Councillor Michael Regan, who is also the Wakehurst MP, looked elsewhere for the source of our budgetary problems. He asked staff the size of the debt the newly amalgamated Northern beaches Council assumed from Pittwater and Manly. The answer: $90 million, which has now been reduced to $9 million, staff said. Mr Regan then commented that “we” have been repaying those debts.  

(I later noted that Pittwater and Manly residents have been paying those debts - along with former Warringah Council residents - and that this attitude reinforces the perception that Northern Beaches Council resulted from a takeover by Warringah.) 

Pittwater Liberal Councillor Karina Page pointed to cost shifting from the NSW government, for example with regards to the Emergency Services Levy and the role of community expectations of council. Ms Page also said staff needed to point out to the public, when consulting on new services, that they would have to pay more in rates if they went ahead with new provisions.

Mr De Luca’s amendment was voted down, with only Frenchs Forest Liberal Stuart Sprott, Ms Page, her Pittwater Liberal colleague Michael Gencher, Manly Liberal Georgia Ryburn and himself in support. (Narrabeen Liberal Bianca Crvelin was on a leave of absence for this meeting and the next, while Mr Gencher joined the meeting via Zoom from overseas.) 

Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville and I then moved an amendment for the $700,000 saved on the expected cost of the Emergency Services Levy to be allocated to Environmental Compliance and the Long Term Financial Plan to be altered accordingly.

“What this amendment is intended to achieve is to uplift compliance,” Ms Glanville told the meeting.

“... The reason for this is we know that compliance is part of the organisation that we know is underfunded.”

Ms Glanville observed that its impact could be seen in a number of areas, but especially the environment, where, for example, it led to illegal clearing. It also placed staff under unacceptable amounts of pressure.     

In support of the motion, I said compliance was the area in which I’d had most complaints since I joined the council.

“We need to send a strong message to the community that we care about builders meeting their obligations, that trees are protected, food premises are clean, drivers abide by parking rules,” I told the meeting.

“More staff are needed to inspect and enforce the rules and I believe we also need an LGA-wide campaign to educate the community about the standards we all expect.”

I also observed that staff had indicated the council needed to find an extra $1.1 million to bring compliance up to an acceptable standard - $400,000 more than the ESL savings would provide. That funding could be found in savings in areas such as events and subsidies, I said.

Whilst Ms Page opposed the amendment, she said she agreed with the need for more spending on compliance, but suggested $1.1 million might not be enough.

“The intent of this motion is good  … but we need a proper process,” Ms Page said. 

“Under this motion (Mr Walton’s amended version) this option can be discussed.” 

Similarly, Frenchs Forest Councillor Jose Menano-Peres said he would like to see an increase in compliance funding, but he was opposed to spending the $700,000 which would have increased the deficit to $5.8 million.

The amendment failed with only Ms Glanville, Mr Regan, Mr Sprott and myself voting for it. 

Manly Your Northern Beaches Councillor Sarah Grattan thanked Mr Walton for his amendment, saying it would provide an opportunity to review the Community Strategic Plan, that guides council priorities.

“Those voting against this budget are voting against the wishes of the community (expressed) in the Community Strategic Plan, Ms Grattan told the meeting.

She listed a series of services and events that council supported, including the Manly Jazz Festival, childcare, libraries and local businesses, that she believed councillors would be voting against if they voted “no” to the budget.

“So I’m voting yes,” she said.

By contrast, Manly Liberal Councillor Georgia Ryburn decried “rates and fees going up year on year”, at a time when cost of living pressures were also increasing.

Mortgage rates were rising and some parents even struggled to pay for nappies, Ms Ryburn said.. 

“Personally, I have had residents in tears over childcare fees,” she said in the chamber.

“... We haven’t listened to the community.” 

Whilst I accepted staff’s explanations of the pressures on the council’s budget, I added that council amalgamations were meant to fortify our financial position.

I deplored the budget’s borrowing of another $2.4 million from the internally restricted Mona Vale Cemetery Reserve to pay for our new online business management system.

“I think it’s unethical to be raiding the cemetery reserve, established from fees for funerals, to build a new computer system (which because the supplier can simply switch it off at any time, cannot even be classed as an asset),” I said at the meeting. 

“Pittwater residents are frustrated and angry they’ve missed out on so many requests for spending. These include rock pools in need of repair, footpaths beside dangerous roads, potholed street surfaces, and replacement of a temporary wharf at Church Point, built across the local beach 20 years ago. 

“Pittwater is remarkable for its bushland, assets that should be valued for their economic contribution but suffering from a lack of care. Staff estimate to rid the LGA’s reserves of their weed overload, we need an extra $1.5 million. For tree management, we need $1.2 million more for tree planting and maintenance.”

I was also disappointed that councillors were prepared to delay identifying a source of funding for compliance officers and rangers.

The final vote was very tight, with Manly Independent Councillor Candy Bingham, Ms Grattan, Mr Walton, Mr Menano-Pires, Narrabeen YNB Councillor Ruth Robins, Ms Ryburn and the Mayor, YNB councillor Sue Heins voting for. Against were Ms Glanville, Mr Regan, Mr Sprott, Mr De Luca, Ms Page, Mr Gencher and myself. With the vote evenly split, the Mayor used her casting vote for the motion - which was carried.

The funding gap 
CEO Scott Phillips described the problem the council faces in maintaining working capital into the future in the budget papers as follows:

“Like many councils in NSW, Northern Beaches Council is facing growing pressure to its financial stability as increases in rates income, under the NSW rate peg system, have not reflected the rising costs of labour, materials, contracts and construction.” 

Acknowledging this, staff provided two scenarios in the Long Term Financial Plan, the first showing: “income levels are no longer sufficient, a scenario which is not sustainable and without intervention will continue to reduce services to the community”. Contributing to this has been inflation increasing by 16.8 per cent over the last three years - double the 7.2 per cent increase in rates over the same period - resulting in a gap of $18 million. Staff also noted that the rate peg until now had been calculated on previous inflation rates, so that in a situation where inflation is rising, the rate peg trailed inflation.       

The Covid pandemic, with council measures to support the community and loss of fee income during this period, cost the budget $41, seven natural disasters claimed another $14 million (of which only $7 million has been recovered so far from the federal government’s Disaster recovery Fund), and increased Emergency Services Levy have all contributed to a decrease in the council’s working capital.

As a result, staff forewarned in the papers, for a second year running, of the need to address a funding gap for maintenance and renewal, amounting to $15.1 million per year as at the end of the 2023/24 financial year. To fill this gap, staff proposed increasing total rates income by $20 million in the 2025/26 financial year. The papers explained this would require a 10.6 per cent special rate variation (an increase approved by IPART above the normal rate peg for councils)  on top of the rate peg for that year of 3.4 per cent.

Winners and losers
The papers showed the impact of this funding shortfall on, for example, its rockpool repair and renewal program, where the gap over 10 years is projected to be $8.9 million. Inclusions in that estimate were a new floor for Palm Beach rockpool, relocation of the pump well at Whale Beach, as well as relocation of the valve at Avalon and Bilgola pools. The papers also noted that Avalon rockpool does not have a pump, which helps empty and refill the pool.

For roads, footpaths and other transport infrastructure, the 10-year gap is $38.9 million, for reserve mowing $3.8 million, tree maintenance $5 million, and tree planting $6.8 million. Meanwhile, the Avalon Place Plan is projected to require an unfunded $15 million over the next 10 years for its implementation. 

The Long Term Financial Plan also points to a number of emerging issues, amongst them climate change adaption. For example, the documents state:

“Adaption to climate change will require open space assets to be more resilient to increased frequency of heat waves, storm surges, high tide levels and bushfires. Implementing climate change adaption measures and solutions across our open space and recreational assets portfolio will require increased funding.” 

Heading the list of capital works approved for the next financial year was the Warriewood Community Centre, costed at $15.9 million. (What would have happened to this project if the budget wasn’t approved is hard to know, given its predecessor, the Nelson Heather Centre, has already been demolished.) Also in Pittwater, $2.4 million was budgeted for remediation of Taylors Point Wharf and design work for Great Mackerel Beach and Currawong Wharves.

Across the Local Government Area, roadworks will receive $17 million, footpaths $4.3 million, and priority stormwater management - to reduce flooding and pollution - has secured $10.1 million. Continuing the Collaroy-Narrabeen coastal protection works gets $3.8 million, sports fields and other new recreation facilities $3.8 million, and town centre/village upgrades $1 million.

Also at the heart of spending is replacement of the council’s computer business management system (known as an Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP system) at a cost of $12.9 million in the next financial year. 

For the Avalon Place Plan, $500,000 is budgeted for 2024/25; $50,000 wil go towards the Bridle Trail at Terrey Hills - Duffys Forest. Mona Vale cemetery gets $30,000 and the Church Point Commuter Wharf Expansion, $50,000. Newport Oval amenities upgrade will receive $150,000, Terrey Hills Emergency Services HQ $124,000. The Glen Street Theatre has also secured $425,000 towards renewal work.

The Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre, of which the council is a major shareholder, has budgeted for renewal works worth $694,000 and is expected to return the council a dividend of $3 million. 

I found it surprising, however, that the remaining $140,000 of the Pittwater Environmental Levy (collected from 2011 to 2014) would be spent on Mona Vale Library - rather than explicitly environmental projects.

Nothing was allocated for the 2024/25 financial year towards: implementation of the Governor Phillip Park or North Narrabeen Reserve masterplans; Catherine Park on Scotland Island; replacement of the temporary ferry wharf at Church Point; or Warriewood Valley Creekline Works (delayed until 2028/29).

The Great Ruskin “Row” (rhyming with “how”)
The Great Ruskin “Row” came to council last week, with a local arborist, an ecologist and a resident who lives close by two Flooded Gum trees marked for removal by the council, speaking up in their defence.

Displaying banners with messages including: “Question Those Chainsaws” and “Where’s the Tree Canopy Plan”, the speakers were backed in the gallery by environmentalists from Canopy Keepers, Pittwater Natural Heritage Association and other residents.

The agenda contained no item related to the trees’ plight, however, with the blockade of the two Flooded Gums in Avalon’s Ruskin Rowe then nearing the end of its second week without council staff having approached residents to resolve the stand off, the groups decided to alert councillors to the situation.

The blockade, also known as a vigil for the trees, was a reaction to council staff’s decision to remove four Flooded Gums from Ruskin Rowe on safety grounds. Two have been felled but another two, that three arborists consulted by residents have said are low risk, survive so far due to the blockade. 

Local consulting arborist Paul Shearer, who has recently retired after 30 years of experience in the industry, began by telling the council he was a specialist in tree risk assessment and had been heavily involved in the NSW Department of Education's tree risk assessment program, “the largest scale project of its kind in Australian history”.

Mr Shearer, who has provided the council with his own assessment of the Spotted Gums, T1 and T2, said he had identified several discrepancies in the original council report.

“These include the erroneous identification of dwellings as potential targets (no dwellings are near the subject trees), the recommendation for the removal of T1 and T2 despite the threshold for risk mitigation not being met, and the suggestion to remove the trees when the risk could be mitigated by removing potential targets,” he said.

“These recommendations contradict industry standards…

“My report concludes that the level of risk associated with these trees is low, with no immediate observable financial costs to Council for their management. The trees are in good health, fair condition, and have a useful life expectancy of up to 40 years, as a conservative estimate.” 

Also bringing her expertise to bear was Avalon resident and ecologist of 30 years experience, Elaway Dalby-Ball.  Having worked closely with council, Ms Dalby-Ball said her first response on hearing about the removal plans was: “That’s not the council I know.” 

The council had failed to address a number of tree management questions, beginning with: “Is this tree a hazard?’ and “ What actions are required to bring this tree into an acceptable level of risk?” she said. It should have applied the standard five part biodiversity test. 

Ruskin Rowe was very close to Powerful Owl habitat in Angophora Reserve and with breeding underway in May and June, it was most important not to disturb them, she said.

Resident Paul Johnson called on the council to uphold its environmental commitments.

“We’re here today because we stand for our environment and we implore Council to stand by their own policy: ‘to protect, retain, maintain and improve tree canopy on public and private land’ (from the Tree Canopy Plan, of September 2023),” Mr Johnson told the meeting.

“If removed, the green canopy corridor will be broken, wildlife habitat greatly impacted, and aesthetic amenity deeply affected.

“In April this year, Council deemed all four trees substantially dangerous. If Council accepted this prognosis why were we not warned of this danger?'

“Surely, for a major environmental intervention as this, its prudent to communicate with the residents and call for a more thorough analysis for the Ruskin Rowe Conservation Area, which policy states, and I quote, ‘Trees and vegetation should continue to dominate over the built environment to maintain a wildlife corridor and the special character of the Street’.”

Mr De Luca had shown an interest in the vigil by submitting four Questions on Notice, regarding the “Costs associated with tree removal Ruskin Rowe, Avalon, and blockade”. The CEO said during the meeting that these questions would be answered at its end - in a departure from normal practice. However, with the meeting running out of time to address all motions, the questions remain live.

The speakers presence also illustrated the importance of the Public Forum at Council meetings, in which community members can air topics of concern to them.

Local climate activist Sarah Baker and environment group 350.org spokesman James Conlan, also addressed the meeting in support of my motion, Towards Net Zero. Unfortunately, the council ran out of time to debate all motions on the agenda and this one will be deferred until the July 30 council meeting.  

However, the motion calls for electrification of all new developments across the Northern Beaches -  banning gas installation. With state legislation preventing the ban on climate change grounds, the motion calls for staff to develop all electric provisions, on health and cost of living grounds, for the Council’s Development Control Plan. It also calls for the council to lobby local MPs and governments, asking them to mandate Net Zero in BASIX and the National Construction Code.

Mr Conlan, who is based in Melbourne, told the meeting that all electric homes and businesses are far cheaper to run than homes connected to gas for two reasons.

“The first is that it’s cheaper to supply one fuel source to a building instead of two, since energy companies charge a daily connection fee which accounts for at least 30 per cent of household and business energy bills,” he told the chamber.

“The second reason is that modern electric appliances, like induction cooktops, reverse cycle heaters/coolers, and ovens, use at least 75 per cent less energy than their outdated, inefficient gas counterparts. Less energy means cheaper energy bills.”

Mr Conlan said those savings could be anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 per year for households or businesses, based on at least 20 studies from the last five years, depending on the combination of appliances, energy efficiency upgrades, and whether solar and batteries are in the mix.

Ms Baker, who told the meeting she served on the Council’s Environment Strategic Reference Group and had spent more than 28 years in the healthcare industry, said she strongly supported the motion.

“While the NSW government’s Sustainable Building SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) sets the regulatory framework and prevents councils from banning gas connections solely for emissions reduction, it allows bans for health and economic reasons,” Ms Baker said.

“... Health risks associated with gas are well-documented. 

“Gas stoves significantly increase childhood asthma risk, with gas heating posing similar dangers. Carbon monoxide, an odourless and tasteless gas, can cause severe health issues, including headaches, dizziness, and even death, particularly affecting vulnerable populations like those with heart disease, infants, and the elderly. Nitrogen dioxide, which has a strong odour, irritates the respiratory tract and is especially harmful to children with asthma.”

Mona Vale Community and Cultural Precinct put on ice
While the budget allocated $100,000 towards design work for the Mona Vale Creative Art Space, it failed to identify long term funding to create a Community and Cultural precinct in the town centre. A report to Tuesday’s council meeting outlined the outcome of a June 2017 motion, that provided $1 million from the council merger fund for a creative space in “the northern part of the Local Government Area”. 

The Mona Vale Civic Centre was not amongst the original sites reviewed by the community, however, in February 2019, the council resolved to set up artists’ studios on the ground floor of the Avalon Golf Club Basement and to repurpose the Mona Vale Civic Centre “into a creative arts space, including exhibition, artists’ studios and teaching space”.   

At Tuesday’s meeting, former Mona Vale Residents Association president Marcia Rackham spoke in favour of the project, saying that Mona Vale met the criteria for a creative arts space in the northern part of the LGA and in 2018, the council had allocated $2 million towards it.   

Ms Rackham said the community was acutely aware of the benefits of the arts, which could create a sense of belonging for those involved. 

“Two very good concept plans with merit have been developed for this site,” she told the chamber.

“They should be allowed to be developed further.”

Ms Rackham asked that the two options be referred to the Mona Vale Place Plan project for consideration, and advocated for the studio space and gallery to be retained.  

This month’s council papers reported on the outcome of consultants investigations into the proposed precinct, which was to include Mona Vale Library, Mona Vale Memorial Hall, the former Early Childhood health Centre - currently used as Mona Vale Creative Studios, the Village Park cafe and Village Park. 

The first option envisaged providing extra program space, studios and exhibition space - but these remaining disconnected from the library - costed at $13.4 million. The second provided for a “fully integrated community and cultural precinct”. To the first option it added a connection from the Civic Centre, with its creative spaces and cafe, to the library and a refurbishment of the Memorial Hall, with two new mid-sized meeting rooms, a stage and storage. This project was costed at $19.6 million. 

However, the papers reported that whilst large parts of the Civic Centre had been empty since the amalgamation, during the Covid pandemic some staff were moved there to allow for social distancing at work. Then as a result of displacement of community groups from the Nelson Heather Centre to the council’s Warriewood offices at Vuko Place, whilst the new Warriewood Community Centre is built, staff from Warriewood have also been temporarily moved to the Mona Vale Civic centre. 

Staff also reported that the NSW Electoral Commission intends using space in the Civic Centre for the upcoming local government elections in September. 

Whilst the report identified that the project would have “positive social outcomes for the community though improved access to learning, creativity and social interaction”, it said the current occupation of the building and the council’s financial position, prevented a recommendation to proceed with the project.

A number of councillors, including Narrabeen YNB Councillor Ruth Robins, Ms Page and myself  were keen that the project be considered as part of the Mona Vale Place Plan. However, staff said that at present, the project had not been included in the plan, “so it would be a change of the scope of works if it was to be included”.

However, the council papers state that: “The draft Mona Vale Place Plan has identified this site as the subject of future investigation”.  

Staff also observed that the place plan had been put on hold last year initially to obtain traffic modelling. They were now awaiting the outcome of the NSW government’s Low and Mid-Rise Housing density proposals - to determine what housing capacity would be required in the centre.

The motion, noting the report on the Mona Vale Community and Cultural precinct and current operational needs of the Mona Vale Civic Centre site, was passed unanimously.

Eco Schools Funding
Six local schools have secured funding under the 2024 Eco Schools Grants Program for projects that will “make a measurable difference” to their carbon footprint, native flora and fauna or other environmental issues.

The program dates back to 2017, with the council committing $10,000 each year to support sustainability activities at local schools. 

With a decline in applications last year, staff worked with schools to make the program’s timing better fit the school year and to support teachers. This year eight applications were received, with all of them meeting the selection criteria. Four were awarded the amount requested and two received part funding, with the whole $10,000 bucket of funds allocated.

Councillors therefore unanimously voted to approve the following grants:  

  1. Belrose Public School – Water reuse and reduction - $2,000
  2.  The Beach School - Bush regeneration - $2,000
  3. John Colet School - Sustainability education - $1,985
  4. Kamaroi Rudolf Steiner School - Sustainability education - $1,760
  5. Kambora Public School - Sustainability education - $1,470
  6. St Kevin's Primary School Dee Why - Waste reduction - $785

New plan for developer levies to go on public exhibition
A draft plan for developer contributions, known as the council’s Section 7.12 Contribution Plan 2024, will go on public exhibition for 28 days following a unanimous vote at the June council meeting. The motion was voted on by exception - meaning it was passed as part of a block of motions without debate.

Background to the motion in the meeting papers explains that Section 7.12 of the NSW  Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 allows councils to impose a levy on developments, to fund public infrastructure and service to meet increased demand in the surrounding area.

The current plan, which came into effect in June 2022, imposes a levy of up to 1 per cent of development costs, to fund infrastructure identified in the plan’s works schedule. Plans are reviewed every three or four years.

Review of Affordable Housing 
A flat rate for developers’ contributions toward affordable housing will be the focus of a review of the council’s affordable housing policy, passed at Tuesday’s meeting.

The proposal was initiated by a councillor briefing on affordable housing in November 2023 provided by SGS Economics.    

The council is currently aiming to provide 1,884 new homes qualifying as social and affordable housing by 2036 - under its Local Housing Strategy adopted in December 2021. However, the council papers note the “rate of creation of new affordable housing is slow and will not meet Council’s target”.

Ethan Hrnjak, Greens candidate for Frenchs Forest at the upcoming council election, told the meeting during the public address session, that a broad-based contribution scheme is crucial for the local community.

“... We are currently seeing an exodus of young people due to insufficient housing diversity, compounded by a housing and rental market that young people are largely priced out of. If swift action is not taken, the Northern Beaches will become a Peninsula-sized retirement village,” Mr Hrnjak said.

“This proposed flat-rate affordable housing contribution scheme is a strategic tool that ensures inclusive growth. It’s not just about housing provision; it’s about fostering a community where diversity thrives, and everyone has a place to call home.”

The council papers say the feasibility study would undertake research to establish the types of development applications to which it would apply and the most appropriate contribution rate to be applied.

Examples of flat rate contributions from other council areas, cited by the papers included: 

  • Willoughby - with the dedication of complete dwellings or the cash rate equivalent equalling 4 per dent of Gross Floor Area of new unit blocks in identified zones, and 
  • City of Sydney -with a 3 per cent affordable housing contribution rate applied to all residential floor space in Greens Square; 1 per cent to non-residential. In Ultimo/Pyrmont, a 0.8 per cent rate for all residential floorspace and 1.1 per cent for non-resi floor space.

Due to the state govt's proposed Low and Mid-rise housing density increases, the council believes these would necessitate increased "flat rate" contributions", for example, a 3 per cent to 5 per cent levy for infrastructure and affordable housing.

During debate, Ms Glanville introduced an amendment to review other aspects of the council’s affordable housing policy, in line with suggestions from the SCG Economics report. It had provided five suggestions for consideration by council, namely: 

  1. Explore the merits of an area or precinct-specific AHCS (Affordable Housing Contribution Scheme), as applied to an area designated for rezoning and an LGA-wide inclusionary zoning-style contribution rate, as applied to all sites regardless of rezoning.
  2. Explore principles guiding the use of Council-owned land.
  3. Explore strategies and alternatives for disposition of suitable Council-owned land.
  4. Examine short-term rental accommodation regulation alternatives.
  5. Examine recent developments in the enactment of NSW’s Short Term Rental Accommodation 180-day cap and the process and requirements that may be available for Northern Beaches to establish an alternative day cap.

The original motion as based on point 1 only and Ms Glanville’s amendment called for staff to brief Councillors on options for progressing points 2 to 5.

“It’s the only way that the council can use it’s policy levers to increase affordable housing ,” Ms Glanville said. 

“I think it’s about equity .. so that we aren’t an exclusive enclave and have homes for essential workers.”

Ms Robins said she concurred with everything Mr Hrnjak has said in his address.

“For the last few years I feel like I’ve been chipping away at this issue,” she said. 

She called for the council to contact others like Waverley and Willoughby to see what they were doing on the issue.

Councillors voted unanimously for the amended proposal.

Ticketless parking supported by councillors
The council’s new ticketless parking system has increased revenue from fines by 67 per cent, a report to council on the system introduced in March has found.

The report, accepted in a vote by exclusion, found the new Revenue NSW “Print and Post” service had also “significantly increased the safety of parking enforcement staff, ensuring Work Heath and Safety obligations are met”.

Rangers faced very high risks of sustaining both physical and mental injuries whilst at work issuing fines, and over the past three years, they had reported 92 Work Health and Safety incidents as a result. Ticketless parking reduced that risk for staff, the report said.

Revenue NSW was progressively moving all Sydney councils to the system with 78 per cent already on board. NBC had issued 11,835 parking fines via the system, with only two official complaints so far.

And so to the next meeting …

With debate continuing until 11.15pm and no motion from the floor for an extension of time, councillors will face nine Notices of Motion left over from Tuesday at the July 30 meeting. 

The list includes:

14.1 Notice Of Motion No 20/2024 - Northern Beaches Surfing Heritage Interpretation Plan

14.2 Notice Of Motion No 21/2024 - Urgent Freshwater Village Safety, Traffic, Maintenance and Operational Issues

14.3 Notice Of Motion No 22/2024 - Towards Net Zero

14.4 Notice Of Motion No 23/2024 - Boat and Trailer Parking in Residential And Industrial Streets

14.5 Notice Of Motion No 24/2024 - Cats and Dogs

14.6 Notice Of Motion No 25/2024 - Truck Exhaust Brake Restrictions at Frenchs Forest

14.7 Notice Of Motion No 26/2024 - Youth Mental Health Facilities and Services on the Northern Beaches

14.8 Notice Of Motion No 28/2024 - Vale Kay Van Norton Poche OA

14.9 Notice Of Motion No 27/2024 - Sportsground Allocations and Audit.

Residents Addresses to Council

James Conlan, 350.org spokesman

Good evening Mayor, councillors and council officers, 

I’m James Conlan from 350 Australia, an environment not-for-profit organisation. I’m managing our Electrify Your Council campaign which is working with NSW councils to electrify new buildings by changing their planning laws. 

I have a masters in urban planning and extensive experience in the local government sector.

I’m here to urge you to support item 14.3 (Towards Net Zero) on the council agenda. 

Supporting this would allow officers to explore options to require new homes and businesses be fully powered electricity instead of gas. And to be clear, this motion is about newly built homes and businesses, not existing ones. 

I’d like to discuss the significant financial savings that this motion would generate for new residents of Willoughby.

All electric homes and businesses are far cheaper to run than homes connected to gas. This is due to two main reasons:

The first is that it’s cheaper to supply one fuel source to a building instead of two, since energy companies charge a daily connection fee which accounts for at least 30% of household and business energy bills. Eliminating the need for gas connections in new homes and businesses would cut energy bills for those buildings by at least 30%.    

The second reason is that modern electric appliances, like induction cooktops, reverse cycle heaters/coolers, and ovens, use at least 75% less energy than their outdated, inefficient gas counterparts. Less energy means cheaper energy bills.

This is backed up by at least 20 studies from the last 5 years which all emphatically prove that all-electric buildings save households and businesses anywhere between $1,000-5,000 per year on their energy bills, depending on the combination of appliances, energy efficiency upgrades, and whether solar and batteries are in the mix. These studies are from a range of civil society organisations like Renew, Australian Council for Social Services, St Vincent De Paul Society, Rewiring Australia, tenants unions and housing advocates.

By supporting this motion tonight, you will join 13 other NSW councils that have, or are in the process of changing their planning laws (specially DCPs) to electrify new homes and businesses to cut the energy bills of future residents and small businesses residents during this cost of living crisis. 

Sarah Baker

Good evening, Councillors,

My name is Sarah Baker. I serve on the Northern Beaches Council’s Environment Strategic Reference Group and have spent over 28 years in the healthcare industry. I am here to strongly support motion 14.3.

This motion explores banning gas connections for new developments in our Development Control Plan (DCP) and advocates for net zero standards in BASIX and the National Construction Code.

While the NSW government’s Sustainable Building SEPP sets the regulatory framework and prevents councils from banning gas connections solely for emissions reduction, it allows bans for health and economic reasons. Many councils, including City of Sydney, Parramatta, Waverley, and Lane Cove, have already taken this step.

Health risks associated with gas are well-documented. Gas stoves significantly increase childhood asthma risk, with gas heating posing similar dangers. Carbon monoxide, an odourless and tasteless gas, can cause severe health issues, including headaches, dizziness, and even death, particularly affecting vulnerable populations like those with heart disease, infants, and the elderly. Nitrogen dioxide, which has a strong odour, irritates the respiratory tract and is especially harmful to children with asthma.

In addition to health benefits, switching to all-electric homes can save Sydney households up to $924 annually on energy bills, according to the Climate Council. This change benefits not just homeowners but also renters, who often have no control over their energy sources and will continue to be burdened by rising gas prices.

Incorporating all-electric new developments into the Northern Beaches DCP aligns with our Climate Change Action Plan, which commits us to “advocate to State government for improvements to the BASIX targets for new buildings” under the section “Planning our future net zero community.” This 4 year action plan was adopted 4 years ago. I’d like to know what advocacy has occurred in that time?

As of June 2023, renewables contributed 38% to NSW’s electricity generation, with gas at 11%. For those concerned that electrification will increase reliance on high-emissions coal, the International Energy Agency confirms that even when powered by high-emissions electricity, heat pumps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared to gas boilers. Therefore, we don’t need to wait for more renewables in the grid to achieve emissions reduction benefits from electrification.

In summary, electrifying the Northern Beaches offers health and economic benefits, aligns with our council’s commitments, and supports state and federal emissions targets.

I leave you with words from former Pittwater MP Rob Stokes: “It is past time to ensure new subdivisions do not include extensions to the gas network. Health, safety, and sustainability make it abundantly clear that residential gas connections should be phased out, not ramped up.”

Thank you.

Marcia Rackham

Agenda item no. 10.1 Mona Vale Community and Cultural Precinct

In 2018 the Mona Vale Civic centre site met the desired criteria by council and the community for a creative arts space. 1 million dollars was set aside from merger savings to establish a creative arts space in the north of the combined LGA, funds which predominately were used towards the refurbishment of the Avalon Golf Club Arts Centre.

The Mona Vale site had little money spent on it with the renovations upstairs never progressing to its full potential. The minor changes made to the building downstairs lacked connectivity to the surrounds making it all quite awkward, hence the lack of uptake by the arts community and community at large.

We are acutely aware of the positive impact that the arts have on communities and the importance of cultural precincts and the benefits that these spaces help create, giving us a sense of belonging and benefitting our mental health. With the population in Mona Vale set to increase markedly, spaces of this nature are more important than ever.

Two very good concept plans both of which have considerable merit have been developed for the site. A lot of thought by both council staff, external consultants and earlier community input has gone into developing a creative outcome for this revered site in Mona Vale, and these plans should be allowed to be developed further.

The concept of a community and cultural hub is in line with councils’ strategies and what the community at large is advocating for.

We request that the two project options be referred to the project working group for the Mona Vale Place Plan for their consideration and response, and when ready presented to the community for exhibition.

In terms of movement of council staff into the existing premises, it is unclear from the report whether this is a temporary, semi-permanent or permanent arrangement. This needs clarification by council staff. And what facilities would be made available to the community in the meantime? We would advocate for the studio space on Park st and the exhibition space adjoining the service desk upstairs to be retained for community use.

Please do not park the Mona Vale community and Cultural precinct Plan it is a much-needed space in the ever-changing environs of Mona Vale.

Paul Shearer - arborist

My name is Paul Shearer, and I am a retired Consulting Arborist with over 30 years of experience in the amenity tree industry. For the past decade, I was heavily involved in the NSW Department of Education's tree risk assessment program, the largest scale project of its kind in Australian history. My particular field of expertise is tree risk assessment.

Given its publicity, I assume you are aware of the recent public protests surrounding the removal of four Council-owned gum trees located in Ruskin Rowe, Avalon. While two of these trees (T3 & T4) have been removed, the remaining trees (T1 & T2) are still standing, thanks to the efforts of passionate residents and the local environmental advocacy group Canopy Keepers, of which I am a member.

Council engaged Arbor***** Tree Services to produce Tree Risk Assessment Reports on all four subject trees. After reviewing the reports for trees T1 and T2, I identified several  discrepancies. These include the erroneous identification of dwellings as potential targets (no dwellings are near the subject trees), the recommendation for the removal of T1 and T2  despite the threshold for risk mitigation not being met, and the suggestion to remove the trees when the risk could be mitigated by removing potential targets. These recommendations contradict industry standards.

I have completed a risk assessment on trees T1 and T2, and produced an Arbor***** Tree Risk Assessment Report dated June 14, 2024. The International Society of Arboriculture Tree Risk Assessment methodology (2017) was used as the benchmark for the preparation of the report. My report concludes that the level of risk associated with these trees is low, with no immediate observable financial costs to Council for their management. The trees are in good health, fair condition, and have a useful life expectancy of up to 40 years, as a  conservative estimate. 

Therefore, I respectfully request that Council consider retaining these two significant trees so they may continue to enhance local amenity, provide habitat for wildlife, and be enjoyed  by the community. Additionally, we wish for Council to adopt a more consultative approach, actively and openly engaging with the local community regarding the management of our  urban forest. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Paul Johnson - Ruskin Rowe resident

A letterbox drop from P***** Trees five days before the allotted ‘time-frame’ to remove these four flooded-gums was the extent of public communication.

Nothing came directly from Council.

I had found out about it before and wrote to council and published it via social media. I received a written response and in a later phone conversation I was told that the operation must take place within this particular “time-frame”. When suggesting that Council a provide tree management solution rather than remove it or at the very least retain the stags for habitat, I was told all those options are all “too expensive”.

My concerns were heightened from recent experience. A street tree was removed last year, the stump still remains and the re-planted 6” angophora shoved in the core of its trunk is dead.

We continue to suffer such a great loss of trees throughout Pittwater area. I’ve heard estimates of 30,000 trees gone since the merger. The virtual silence of this current operation alarmed us all sufficiently to demand further questions and to take the action we have.

We’re here today because we stand for our environment and we implore Council to stand by their own policy - “to protect, retain, maintain & improve tree canopy in public and private land.” - Tree Canopy Plan, September 2023.

If removed, the green canopy corridor will be broken, wildlife habitat greatly impacted, and aesthetic amenity deeply affected. 

In April this year, Council deemed all four trees substantially dangerous. If Council accepted this prognosis why were we not warned of this danger?

Surely, for a major environmental intervention as this, its prudent to communicate with the residents and call for a more thorough analysis for the Ruskin Rowe Conservation Area, which policy states and I quote, “Trees and vegetation should continue to dominate over the built environment to maintain a wildlife corridor and the special character of the street”

Policy continues…. “Council should remove the minimum amount necessary to make the tree safe while still retaining habitat value.”

We have garnered support from arborists who refute Council’s position on these two remaining trees. A Level 8 arborist, Alex Austin and Level 5 Arborist, Paul Shearer, whose report has been submitted.

For the two remaining trees we ask of Council the following:-

  1. Full and transparent communication with us, the public.
  2. The acceptance of further expert advice before a final decision is made.
  3. The engagement of a project ecologist
  4. If science argues for their removal, stags be left for habitat and a detailed tree replacement and maintenance plan provided.

We ask Council to uphold their own environmental commitments.

We ask Council to retain these two magnificent flooded-gums - barely of middle-age - and allow them to live for the term of their natural life.

Thank you

Tree Canopy Plan, September 2023.

  •  “protect, retain, maintain and improve tree canopy in public and private land.”

Policy regarding Removing or Pruning trees on public land

  • “Council should remove the minimum amount necessary to make the tree safe while still retaining habitat value.”
  • “Council will not remove trees with no obvious defects or signs of ill health.”

The exposed stumps of the two felled trees showed nothing but good health.

Ruskin Rowe Conservation Area

  • “Trees and vegetation should continue to dominate over the built environment to maintain a wildlife corridor and the special character of the street”