From the Council Chamber: September 2022
With everything from a new deputy mayor to flood prevention at Narrabeen Lagoon and World Pride celebrations on the agenda, it was the usual mixed bag at the Northern Beaches Council September meeting this week.
New Deputy Mayor elected
Congratulations to our new Deputy Mayor Sue Heins! Ms Heins was elected at Tuesday night's Northern Beaches Council meeting and I'm sure she'll do a great job. I have great respect for her integrity and experience - and she's also a lovely, caring person. She's lived on the Northern Beaches for 25 years and was a councillor first with Warringah Council and then elected for Your Northern Beaches to NBC at its formation. She also chairs the domestic violence group, Women & Children First, is involved in a number of charities, and is a former Warringah Chamber of Commerce president.
Ms Heins was elected to the position for 12 months, following Manly Independent Councillor Candy Bingham’s tenure in the role this year. Ms Bingham has stepped down, after serving four terms as deputy; Ms Heins served one term on the previous council. Many thanks to Ms Bingham, who frequently chaired councillor briefings in a business-like fashion and represented the council, in place of the mayor, particularly at arts events.
Narrabeen Liberal Councillor Bianca Crvelin and I both also stood for deputy, in my case particularly because we have not had a Pittwater councillor as mayor or deputy since the council’s amalgamation. Given that Mayor Michael Regan is from the same party as Ms Heins, and Your Northern Beaches holds a majority on council, I hoped we could also achieve greater political diversity in the two positions. However, I was first to be eliminated, finding support only from Curl Curl Greens councillor Kristyn Glanville, followed by Ms Crvelin, whose Liberal colleagues and Independent Vince De Luca voted for her. Ms Glanville and I supported Ms Heins on the second round of voting.
Council cuts number of meetings - but is that good governance?
The number of council meetings next year will fall by one, following a proposal by Mayor Michael Regan, and supported by a majority, to drop the July meeting. The first of next year’s meetings will not be held until February 28, with one on the fourth Tuesday of the month until June, a break in July, then continuing from August to December. That makes a total of 10 meetings - the minimum required by the Local Government Act.
I moved an amendment to add another meeting on January 31, to keep the July meeting, and for staff to investigate the possibility of limiting meeting times to three and a half hours as well as increase meetings to twice per month. Underlying my reasons for this motion is the fact that we have already had three meetings this year that ran from 6pm to 11.30pm (or beyond) and another that ended at 11pm without completing the agenda. Meetings running until 11.30pm were also common in the previous council term.
In these long meetings, I believe councillors’ concentration tends to wain, some become impatient, others flippant and some are prone to making inappropriate comments. Governance would be improved, I think, with more frequent and shorter meetings, as well as shorter business papers (which sometimes run to more than 2,000 pages). Further, I believe councillors should be able to deal with business in a timely manner and present motions on behalf of residents when needed - an important aspect of local democracy.
My research showed that Parramatta, another large council, moved to meetings twice per month because of the amount of business dealt with at each meeting. Woollahra as well as North Sydney Councils also meet fortnightly. Finally, Pittwater council also followed this pattern, squeezing in two briefings per month.
Whilst councillors do not get paid a substantial amount for their work (about $30,000 per year plus superannuation) and some of us treat it as a fulltime job, it takes the average worker many months to earn that much. Therefore, I don’t believe we can justify having a break from meetings for two months between Christmas and the end of February - not to mention another in July.
The amendment generated plenty of discussion, with most opposed. Pittwater Liberal Councillor Rory Amon, who has now announced he will stand for pre-selection in the state seat of Pittwater, said: “We are always working, we are always on call… The idea that democracy stops when we’re not in this room is ridiculous.”
My amendment was supported by Pittwater Your Northern Beaches Councillor Michael Gencher, Curl Curl Liberal David Walton, Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince de Luca and Curl Curl Greens Councillor Kristyn Glanville. However, it was voted down by the majority of councillors.
On the original motion, Mayor Michael Regan said one less meeting would make the council more efficient and create better governance. “It doesn’t reduce our workload, it just gives us more flexibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, CEO Ray Brownlee suggested that if a meeting was needed in July, council could request an extraordinary one, while Mr Amon added that if an extraordinary meeting was called and only seven councillors were in the country (meaning there was no quorum), then they could attend electronically.
Although Manly councillor Candy Bingham was opposed to increasing the number of meetings, she believed the July meeting should stay, saying: “I think it’s important to retain the meeting in July, and think people will tend to book an overseas trip if there’s no meeting .”
Curl Curl Liberal David Walton noted that some company boards were moving to less frequent meetings and proposed another amendment, that staff undertake research regarding other options that could reduce meeting durations and then brief councillors.
A majority passed the motion, with only Ms Glanville, Ms Bingham, Mr De Luca and I opposed.
Small grants policy updated - so remember council can help!
Residents and in some cases now, small businesses, can apply for grants up to $1,000 under a policy revised at Tuesday’s council meeting. The council’s Discretionary Fund considers requests for financial help for local residents or projects benefiting the community. Between June 23 this year and September 21, eight grants were made totalling $7,050 including to: the Manly Warringah Pipe Band for its performance at the Basel Tattoo in Switzerland; a local resident towards attendance at the National Leadership Forum in Canberra; Sunnyfield Disability Services, to help buy T-shirts for an event; surf clubs and schools.
The revised Discretionary Fund Policy went on public exhibition in July, with transparency, accountability and waste of public funds amongst concerns expressed by the seven residents who responded. This feedback resulted in some minor changes, including the addition of small businesses to the list of those eligible to apply. Entry fees for any sporting (eg golf days) event councillors now attend on behalf of the council, will now be deducted from their individual general expenses allowance - and reported annually.
Councillors lodge requests on behalf of residents - so please get in touch if you have a dream that needs a little extra funding!
Mona Vale Alcohol Free Zone to extend to Seabeach Gardens
The Mona Vale Alcohol Free Zone (AFZ) will be extended along Barrenjoey Rd from Darley St to Seabeach Ave to combat alcohol-related antisocial behaviour, which residents and carers report is currently having a significant impact on Seabeach Gardens Retirement Village.
Pittwater YNB councillor Michael Gencher proposed a motion earlier this year for staff to investigate the proposal for the extension. A report was then placed on public exhibition, garnering 52 responses with 34 in favour and 18 opposed. Reporting back to Tuesday’s meeting, staff said:
“Comments indicated that this behaviour is disruptive and impacts the perceived safety of residents and carers of the Village, and also causes concern for persons using the footpath at this location to access a bus stop. Submissions not in support of the proposal include the perception that AFZs are over-regulation and infringe on the rights of the general community in order to address the behaviour of a small number of people.”
Mr Gencher said that the council would use the available legislation for the benefit of the residents of Seabeach Gardens. Staff had also consulted with Superintendent Patrick Sharkey of the Northern Beaches Police Area Command, who wrote that: “I have no objection to the extension as requested”.
I believe the residents of Seabeach Gardens should not have to put up with this behaviour. However, I opposed the motion because police can already act on drunk and disorderly behaviour - it’s just a matter of adequate patrols and timely responses to complaints. I recognise however, Supt Sharkey’s comments reported in papers for the council meeting from the Community Safety Advisory Committee, that:
“Police involvement in emergency operations during the last 6 months has been time intensive and has impacted Police service levels for non-urgent matters. The NSW Police Force continues to be impacted by staff shortages due to COVID19.”
Without more police stationed and patrolling in Pittwater, or the motion proposing extra funding for rangers in the council’s tight budgetary situation, it is therefore not likely to achieve any real improvement for residents, whilst increasing the level of regulation faced by them.
However, on a positive note, CEO Ray Brownlee told the meeting that the foreshadowed closure of Mona Vale Police Station “won’t be happening.”
Narrabeen Lagoon Entrance to be opened more frequently to prevent flooding
Management of Narrabeen Lagoon entrance has been a serious issue this year, with prolonged and heavy rain causing extensive flooding and large-scale evacuations. Against this background, councillors voted on Tuesday night to increase the frequency of openings to the lagoon, after staff presented us with research commissioned by them into the issue.
They noted in council papers that “a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of entrance management, including sand transport, flood benefits, entrance efficiency and dynamics and the long-term costs and sustainability of entrance-specific options” had been carried out.
In brief, consultants, Royal Haskoning DHV, recommended that in the short term, the strategy should be to continue with mechanical openings of the lagoon entrance to prevent flooding. However, “a flexible set of trigger conditions to allow for a wider range of conditions”, should be developed.
In the medium term, the strategy recommended continuing clearing the entrance, but trial doing so more frequently - aiming for once every two years - with a reduced volume, and management of Birdwood Park Dune. The consultants said in the report that a clearance of 15,000 cubic metres every two years would have a similar financial cost as a clearance of 40,000 cubic metres every four years. That sand would be transported by truck to replenish Collaroy and Narrabeen beaches.
This was an implicit endorsement of council operations over the last 40 years, which staff say has involved removing 30,000 to 50,000 cubic metres of sand approximately every three to five years on average.
The consultants considered a range of long term options, including a rock training wall, an ebb-tide channel, low flow pipes as well as mobile sand pumping as an alternative to trucking - which would involve 6,000 movements. All except the last of these were dismissed because of the negative impact they would have on the lagoon entrance and surf break, or even potential danger.
Sand pumping, with pipes buried along the beach to Collaroy, was regarded as too expensive on current prices - at $5.1 million once every four years or $4.2 million every two years. That compared to the cost of mechanical excavation and trucking at $2.2 million every four years or $1.2 million every two years. Staff also told the meeting that the noise of pumps at either end of the beach would also need to be assessed.
Given community pressure for a permanent solution that would involve sand pumping I asked staff if they could commit to investigating sand pumping and the possibility of installing permanent pipes. The response: that they would “continue to explore other options”, including sand pumping, which they expect to become cheaper in the future.
Narrabeen Liberal Councillor Bianca Crvelin said she was disappointed that only 53 submissions had been made to the public exhibition of the strategy in May and June, however she was impressed by the quality of those that were submitted. However, she observed that 11,000 views of the accompanying online video had been made. She also called for a live feed at the lagoon entrance for the benefit of the public - along with data collection.
Speaking against the motion, Narrabeen Independent Councillor Vince De Luca said he thought it was a “very very small band aid”. “Council has been promising substantive fixes for two decades,” he told the meeting. Since amalgamation, it had spent $1.7 million on clearing the entrance, while residents’ insurance payments had gone up and “we need a long term solution”.
New Deputy Mayor Sue Heins, speaking in support of the motion, said: “There isn’t a solution that will stop the floods but we need to keep the community safe”.
I appreciate that staff took on board surfers’ suggestions that alignment of the proposed channel excavation, through the beach to open the lagoon, had been revised to consider potential effects on the surf break. Also that the Birdwood Dune would be reduced in size, to improve sightlines from North Narrabeen Surf Club to the lagoon entrance, and revegetated.
The motion was passed with support of all councillors except Ms Crvelin and Mr De Luca.
How transparent is council’s Have Your Say?
Pittwater’s Your Northern Beaches Councillor Michael Gencher raised a series of questions about the council’s “Have Your Say” community consultation process in a motion passed unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting. The questions for staff included issues such as:
- How is Council assured that online submissions are rightful and legal?
- By what system are IP address locations confirmed and recorded?
- Confirm the number of submissions from a single IP address permitted/allowed?
- Does Northern Beaches Council include submissions from outside the LGA?
- Is there a difference in consideration of an online submission between an individual, organisation or community group?
- What weighting is considered in the decision-making process from online submissions?
- Has Northern Beaches Council considered or examined the possibility for corruption, fraudulent behaviour, or exploitation from online submissions?
- Does Northern Beaches Council include submissions from outside the local government area?
Some of these have been answered in the council’s Communications Working Group. Staff have been consulting with the working group about consultation and communications processes, so these answers should further inform these discussions. At Tuesday's meeting it was stated that any changes to processing submissions might involve financial considerations. The Chief Executive Officer will provide a briefing to Councillors regarding Online Submissions (ie. ‘Your Say’ platform and digital submissions).
Let us know before you sell off public land: council request to NSW government
Residents have been distressed by the sale of land at Church Point owned by Transport for NSW to private owners - and the approval of Development Applications involving removal of large numbers of mature trees from those blocks. This land is on a steeply sloping hillside, covered in forest, and not far from Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Nearby, a landslide has occurred recently on at least one similarly steep block that has been cleared.
It was therefore timely that Pittwater Liberal Councillor Rory Amon initiated a motion, that Mr Gencher and I were keen to support (with a little fine tuning), calling for council staff to write to all local MPs calling for the NSW government to consult all local residents within a 250 metre radius before the sale of any NSW government owned land.
The motion also called for the government to report on any of its land sold to third parties since January last year, and for land it owns which is being considered for sale in the next three years.
The motion was passed unanimously.
The Northern Beaches will celebrate World Pride when the festival comes to Sydney next year, the first time a city in the southern hemisphere has been chosen to host the event. Extending from February 17 to March 5, it will coincide with the Mardi Gras parade on February 25. Next year will be significant for several reasons, including that it will mark 45 years of Mardi Gras and five years of Marriage Equality in Australia.
Councillors and staff expect the event will bring an influx of visitors to the Northern Beaches, bolstering local businesses as well as promoting inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community.
Councillors voted for:
- flags and banners to be flown across five key Northern Beaches locations, choosing one from each ward (estimated cost of $4,000);
- support to local businesses and organisations with a small grants program totalling $20,000 and;
- a temporary art installation in Manly with a budget of $10,000.
Funding for these will be sourced by reallocated money from other events in village centres.
Other ideas include: encouraging the NSW government and local public transport operators, to decorate B-Line buses and Manly Ferries; rainbow story time in local libraries; and if funding can be found, rainbow pavements or crossings across five key locations.
Staff reported that they have begun talks with community leaders to develop support for the event, amongst them the newly established Fusion Pride Northern Beaches, members of local surf clubs’ Rainbow Beaches program, and local chambers of commerce.
I’m particularly pleased that councillors took on board my addition to an amendment put up by Ms Glanville, for the council to call for volunteers to support the celebrations on the Northern Beaches - in the same spirit as the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Under Ms Glanville’s amendment, council will also set up a working group to explore other opportunities for World Pride 2023. I hope all residents will join the event in supporting, validating and celebrating the LGBTQI+ community - something especially important to young people amongst us.