May 2 - 8, 2021: Issue 492


We are Pittwater: Council demerger campaigners to launch new petition

Rally on the day Protect Pittwater submitted the petition - photo by Michael Mannington, OAM

Campaigners for the demerger of Pittwater will mark the fifth anniversary of its forced amalgamation with Warringah and Manly to form Northern Beaches Council by launching a new petition on May 12 at a Narrabeen rally.

The rally will take place on the northern end of the Narrabeen bridge on Pittwater Road, between 7am and 9am on that date – and organisers are calling on all locals who support a demerger to join them.

Pittwater Council was dissolved by the NSW government on May 12, 2016, against the wishes of 89 per cent of local residents and despite being financially sound.    

The government sat on an earlier petition for a demerger – officially known as a Proposal – with more than 3,000 signatures for well over a year, before responding that it did not have enough signatures, the Protect Pittwater Association said today. 

The group said NBC’s continued failure to follow the wishes of Pittwater residents on planning decisions, disregard for our unique environment, lack of support for retaining emergency and other acute services at Mona Vale Hospital, provision of local maintenance, and upcoming business rate rises have strengthened their resolve to persevere with moves for a demerger. 

Revelations of widespread crises in amalgamated councils  – with NBC fifth worst-performing amongst them - have also reinvigorated the campaign for the return of Pittwater. 

“We are determined to bring the local back into local government and continue the fight - even though it means we have to start a new petition,” Protect Pittwater said in a statement.

“The NSW government now says that we will need 10 per cent of the electors from across the Northern Beaches to sign up – meaning close to 18,500 signatures. 

“So be it. The longer the amalgamation continues, the more apparent its failure becomes – and it’s not just Pittwater residents who want out.

“We want our local democracy back and control of our own destiny. 

“We’re calling on all residents across the Northern Beaches to sign up, and if possible to join our rally on May 12, to show their dissatisfaction and support for de-amalgamation.” 

Community members set up Protect Pittwater in 2017 with the objective of securing a demerger either through legal action or by creating a proposal under the Local Government Act.

The group raised money through crowd funding to obtain legal advice as to whether or not a court challenge would be possible.

However, that advice indicated that the Proclamation of the new council by the NSW Governor made it extremely difficult to challenge the merger – no matter the circumstances leading up to it.

Pittwater Council had passed a resolution on April 18, 2016 to take immediate legal action over the forced amalgamation on the grounds of lack of procedural fairness, absence of a full public inquiry, denial of natural justice and failure to release the full contents of the state govts KPMG report recommending council mergers.

However, an extraordinary general meeting was called for April 21, with less than 24 hours notice, and two councillors away. The decision of three days earlier was overturned at this meeting – with only Councillors Sue Young and Bob Grace voting to support the original motion.    

The NSW government later abandoned mergers of councils that were already pursuing legal action.

Protect Pittwater submitted its petition to the office of then NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton on May 12, 2018, however, did not receive advice rejecting it until February 20, 2020.  

Proposals for demergers of the Snowy Valleys Council and Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council were submitted to the state government about the same time as Pittwater’s. They were also knocked back because of insufficient signatures, but within a much shorter time frame, enabling them to progress more quickly.  

Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock referred their proposals to the Boundaries Commission in February last year and those councils are now awaiting a response from the NSW government.

The Rally details are:  

Where: Northern end of the Narrabeen bridge, Pittwater Road, North Narrabeen
When: May 12, 7am - 9am
What to bring: We’ll have banners to share but you might like to make your own
Petitions: Will be available there on the day and will also be posted to Facebook – in the Protect Pittwater group and on the Splittwater page 

Protect Pittwater: Why demerge Pittwater?

  • Undemocratic dismissal of Pittwater Council against the wishes of 89 per cent of Pittwater residents (as shown in a survey by the former council).
  • Amalgamation and creation of Northern Beaches Council without a vote by the community and separation of Pittwater residents into different wards.
  • Lack of self-determination for Pittwater residents – only three out of 15 councillors come from Pittwater, and they can be outvoted on any decision affecting our ward.
  • NBC in top 10 worst performing councils. LSI Consulting, October 2020, states NBC’s  accumulated losses were more than $103m since the merger. An analysis by Save Our Councils Coalition found a shortfall of $7.4m on the government’s proposed Operating Results before capital grants for 2018-19. This was even before Covid.
  • Pittwater business rate rises expected of around 24 per cent.
  • Partial responsibility for Manly car park debt and building Collaroy seawall.
  • Pittwater budget approach different to NBC’s – we borrowed money under low interest rates to invest in community facilities to be paid off over time.
  • Unnecessary spending – eg council logo, garbage bins, too much cement.
  • Lack of spending on essential maintenance– eg potholes in roads, uneven footpaths. 
  • Loss of environmental focus at local level which was at the core of Pittwater Council: eg concrete being laid in parks and sensitive environmental zones; loss of trees; weed infestation in suburban streets, parks and bushland reserves. 
  • Lack of planning for sea level rise. 
  • Council-wide planning for Local Strategic Planning Statement and Local Environment Plan rather than ward by ward to highlight special features of each area - as Pittwater MP and Planning Minister Rob Stokes had indicated would be possible.
  • Council area and population too large – councillors making decisions about sites and issues in wards they aren’t familiar with; too big to represent discrete communities with vast differences in needs for housing, transport, environment, community facilities and culture from end to end.
  • Dysfunctional council – 2021 extraordinary meeting walkout; disrespectful behaviour in meetings and on social media. 
  • Lack of transparency – too many decisions made behind closed doors and infrequent meetings; staff making decisions and publishing them before council voting occurs. 
  • Enormous agendas for council meetings – often totalling 2,000 pages including appendices – impossible for most councillors, especially those with fulltime jobs, to read in allotted timeframe.
  • Long meetings, late at night, voting by exception and in political blocks likely to contribute to poor decision making.
  • Distance to council meetings at Dee Why.
  • Parking fiasco – demerger promise of one parking sticker but Manly and Palm Beach have new restrictions anyway.
  • Lack of support from NBC on state issues relevant to Pittwater – eg retaining emergency and acute services at Mona Vale Hospital; problems at Northern Beaches Hospital, including with Covid lockdown and crowded emergency room, show that having just one hospital was misguided; push back on state government housing targets; transport.
  • COVID lockdown revealed community cohesion and cooperation in Pittwater - not the “Northern Northern Beaches”!

Rally on the day Protect Pittwater submitted the petition - photo by Michael Mannington, OAM