May 26 - June 15, 2024: Issue 627


Restoring Pittwater Council poll update: Desktop Analysis By Northern Beaches Council States There Is 'High Customer Satisfaction' - Recommends 'Take No Further Action' Re; A Poll At September Council Elections

We consider the only future for this area and for the preservation of those ideals and policies for which we stand is to become an independent Shire … the need for this electoral reform has been clearly and sufficiently demonstrated to enable the Government to come to a decision and no longer forestall the issue. Put simply we call upon the Government to put the matter now to the people of A Riding to determine.

Warringah Shire Councillors Robert Dunn and Eric Green, representing A Riding 1990

Photo: 'Welcome to Pittwater signage at North Narrabeen, where the Pittwater Council LGA commences, in 2013

At the upcoming 28 May 2024 Council Meeting a preliminary desktop analysis by the Northern Beaches Council - Reporting team: Workforce & Technology - states that holding a poll at the September would cost an estimated $348,000.00 although the cost of the poll itself would be under half this at $170,000. 

This is in regards to a Motion tabled by Cr. Korzy at the Ordinary Council Meeting held on 30 April 2024, 'considered Notice of Motion No 17/2024 - Holding a poll at the September 2024 Local Government Elections regarding community support for a Council de-amalgamation.'

The rest of the document stating it would cost $348,000.00 consists of hosting a webpage; $19 thousand, another $7 thousand for putting up a post/s on Facebook and sending out an EDMs via the Council's Newsletter and publishing a Media Release on the council website, then Analysis and reporting is costed at $21 thousand.

The report then states this would require a 'Proposed Stage 2 – Engagement and awareness campaign', which is costed at $170,00 and again consists of Promotion (EDMs, Media Release, Facebook, flyers, letterbox drop, posters) and adds in, for an extra $8,000.00, Community information sessions (online and face to face).

Listed under 'Identifiable Risks' are a number of 'against' points, but none for. The 'against' points include this sample:

'Efficiencies and/or economies of scale generated by Northern Beaches Council may not be delivered by the new councils'

'Service levels have risen across the merged council and community dissatisfaction may occur if services are returned to the original lower levels e.g. the Northern Beaches parking sticker.'

'Little to no capacity to increase services in demerged council areas where they may no longer be available.

'The financial performance of the demerged councils is less than that modelled, resulting in the need to either reduce services, find efficiency gains and/or increase rates to address the operating deficit.'

However, Pittwater residents have found service levels have decreased under the current council - 2023 report ' Sediment Running Off Into Creeks And Beaches From Work Sites - Public Parks Not Maintained – Bilgola Plateau Park Still Not Fixed: Residents NOT Happy

The approval or recommendation of approval of non-compliant DA's has also been an ongoing point of difference causing Pittwater residents to call for the return of Pittwater Council, as has any 'Have Your Say' webpage hosted by the NBC (at, apparently, $19 thousand per preliminary round) which residents have said are actually Statements of Intent, not consultations:

Jamieson Park, Avalon in February and March 2023  – a resident kindly mowed a strip for access through here – and what it looked like after the area was finally mowed by Council contractors, with grass clippings left and haphazard mowing - images supplied:

The Agenda states the 'Estimated one off costs associated with a demerger [would be]: $42,819,431'.

In 2016 ipart stated it would cost $15.6 million to amalgamate Pittwater, Manly and Warringah Councils - this was provided via a grant from the Coalition State Government which decreed the forced mergers. 

The report records at its base acknowledging using data that has widely been claimed to be flawed or skewed towards stopping any regain of former councils in those forcibly amalgamated areas:

It is acknowledged that in the preparation of this report data has been obtained from the publicly available demerger reports of both Inner West Council and Canterbury-Bankstown Council for background information or to make assumptions. It is further acknowledged that, as a part of these publicly available demerger reports, data from industry consultants Morrison Low was also used for background information or to make assumptions.  However, as Morrison Low, Inner West Council and Canterbury Bankstown Council were not consulted or involved in the preparation of this report, any errors or omissions in this report are solely the responsibility of Northern Beaches Council.''

In citing this 'acknowledgement' one of the points derived from the same states: 
''Demerged councils would need to procure and deploy the requisite hardware, screens, laptops, remote communications, associated data, cyber security systems and supporting management protocols.''

It's worth noting that at the April 2023 Council Meeting 'A proposal to fund a new council computer system with money from the Mona Vale Cemetery Reserve is one of the measures proposed within the council’s 2023/24 budget' and was not just proposed, was formalised - to the tune of $4.6million

The report recommends; - 
'That Council:
1. Note the preliminary desktop analysis of the financial implications of a demerger.
2. Note the community’s current high customer satisfaction scores regarding Northern Beaches Council’s delivery of a diverse range of core services.
3. Take no further action with respect to Council resolution 85/2024 (including in relation to gathering community feedback on the analysis, a report to the Council meeting in June 2024 and facilitating a poll at the September 2024 local government elections) as:
a. The estimated financial implications of a demerger would most likely result in the new councils being financially unsustainable.
b. The process of undertaking a poll at the September 2024 local government election would be costly, is time pressured and does not meet the legislative requirements contained in the Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamations) Act 2024 recently assented to.
c.Taking further action would likely lead to unnecessary disruption and uncertainty for residents, businesses and customers.

Thousands of Pittwater residents have signed a Second Petition calling for Pittwater Council to be returned to Pittwater residents. Members of the community group working on this have already spoken of putting a Business Case together to support this being presented to the Minister for Local Government, and have within their cohort people with the professional experience and capacity to draft the same.

The First Petition, also signed by thousands, was 'safely stored' for over a year before the then Minister for Local Government rejected it despite the requirement within the Act that a poll be conducted if residents presented just 250 signatures for the same.

Minister for Local Government, The Hon. Ron Hoenig stated during the Second reading debate in the lower house for the recent changes to the Act:

‘I have heard from people from Pittwater and other people who want to demerge, that they have submitted previously in 2016, 2017 or 2008, or they have submitted proposals under section 215 to the Government and have been told that they need 10 per cent of an entire area, and that is how section 215 is being interpreted. If they were told that, it is wrong. If it is an approach to the Office of Local Government while I am the Minister, I will proceed in accordance with the Act. I have a sneaking suspicion why they might have been told that and why they think it is accurate, but it is wrong.

I thought I was clear at budget estimates that there is an opportunity to proceed under section 215. I do not need to read the words to the House a third time for it to be clearly understood. I say clearly to all those who think that they do not have an opportunity that they can proceed under section 215. If 250 people in Pittwater signed a request under section 215, I am not sure on what basis they would persuade a Minister for Local Government to refer that to the boundaries commission, but the opportunity is there to have the Minister at least consider it, as a Minister is required to do.’

Pittwater residents in their thousands signed that First Petition, which was supposed to be given to then Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton in May 2018. The original petition – legally a proposal under the NSW Local Government Act - did not need to be presented to Parliament but should have been passed on to the Office of Local Government for consideration. 

However, despite numerous phone calls and emails asking for an urgent response, the Protect Pittwater group did not receive a written answer until January 2020 and the proposal was then knocked back by the NSW Office of Local Government, who informed the residents they now had to get 10% of the whole newly created LGA to sign - not just from those within the former boundaries of their former council area.

A report run the week before the group finally heard back stated that the 20 amalgamated councils around the state had lost $1.03 billion in three years and Northern Beaches Council was the fifth worst performing amongst them. The current NBC Budget reveals this has not improved.

And this leads back to where the original Motion pointed to - ''the problem with Labor’s demerger changes is that they require amalgamated councils to vote for a poll that threatens their own demise.'' Ms Korzy stated earlier this month 

“As one resident said later, ‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’.

Anna Maria Monticelli, Secretary of Protect Pittwater, stated; 
''Once again Northern Beaches Council has failed us. What is being presented to the May Council Meeting is a mismatch of misinformation freely plagiarised  from other councils using figures which do not apply to Pittwater, nor our specific needs. 

Our intention is to present an honest and sound financial case for restoring  Pittwater Council.

In the meantime, why can’t we have the poll that was denied us years ago when we were forced into the Northern Beaches Council. What about all the ‘have your say’ PR piffle that swamps council’s website? Where is it now when real issues need to be discussed?
Councillors vote for a Poll, let’s ‘Have Our Say’.''

As communities continue to seek a way out of the failed amalgamations, demerger campaigners have also condemned the desktop business analysis prepared by Northern Beaches Council that will go to its Tuesday meeting, for a poll on a potential de-amalgamation.

Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) spokesman Brian Halstead said the way forward is not through a rushed desktop study. The desktop business analysis - prepared by NBC staff in response to a notice of motion at last month’s council meeting - is based on fundamentally flawed proposals from Inner West and Canterbury Bankstown Councils.

“The one month time frame provided for this study regarding such an important issue and its public exhibition - allowing for the community to have its say - is ridiculous,” Mr. Halstead said on behalf of DNA.
“The Inner West proposal has already been rejected by the NSW Boundaries Commission and the Minister as inadequate.

“The figures produced are outrageous as they are based on reinventing the council structures and systems of eight years ago.

“The Inner West  proposal was produced by consultants and council officers with little input from the community. 

“Suggestions from the community of shared systems, services and policies, moving from the current situation with a documented implementation plan, were ignored. This is especially important  with IT Systems which are often  quoted as 60 % of the costs. Many organisations have their systems shared, in the cloud or outsourced today. Bayside Council have also completed a study again based on flawed methodology ignoring the possibility of shared services and of course came out with the same order of figures.

“Even the Minister said in Budget Estimates that there was no need for every Council to have its own computer system. An Inner West councilor is moving to have a new proposal prepared based  on the community and expert suggestions.

“The Northern Beaches Council could have used the Cootamundra Gundagai Council’s proposal and transition plan which, with input from the Office of Local Government, is now under Boundaries Commission examination and I expect to be approved in the next two months.

“It is a smaller council and had a one off cost of $3 million.

“Or they could have used estimates based on much bigger councils in Queensland that had costs of about $10 million in today’s figures, rather than the outrageous $31 to $53 million based on the two proposals..

“If any more work was to be done, the community should ignore this study and demand a proper analysis with input from residents and other stakeholders.”

Below are listed some of the points put forward 'for' regaining Pittwater Council by the local community group, Protect Pittwater, in May 2021 when it was announced a second petition would be initiated.

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”!

Prior May 2024 updates:
Protect Pittwater and Demerge NSW members at Avalon on Saturday March 4, 2023. Photo: supplied