August 2 - 8, 2020: Issue 460


Vote for success of NBC a betrayal of Pittwater

Photo by John Illingsworth, October 2015

Pittwater councillors who voted for a motion applauding the success of the Northern Beaches Council merger at its meeting last week have betrayed local residents, demerger campaigners say. 

The motion was passed following presentation of a report - by NBC CEO Ray Brownlee at Tuesday’s council meeting - that claimed to summarize the council’s performance rated against the state Coalition government’s merger aims. 

Protect Pittwater Association president Bob Grace said he welcomed Mr Brownlee’s  report on the council’s performance, given the size of the merged council and its $433 million budget.     

However, the report outlines the NBC’s current performance against the state Coalition government’s merger criteria rather than community expectations, Mr Grace said. 

“Councillors Ian White and Alex McTaggart failed to stand up and point out that this was a report card for a new council rather than a comparison of its performance with that of Pittwater,” Mr Grace said on Saturday. 

“I believe they have let Pittwater residents down by failing to set the standards of our former council as the yardstick by which the current one should be measured. 

“Why they would then vote for a politicised motion in support of the NSW Coalition government’s policy agenda, which undermined Pittwater’s local democracy, is hard to fathom. 

“Pittwater residents do not believe that this current council is a success and we want our old council back.” 

The motion, 8.2 included clauses that the council:  

“Write to the Premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian and the Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock, acknowledging the success of the Government’s local government reform policy and outlining the benefits to the Northern Beaches Community.  

Formally acknowledge the role of the CEO, the executive and all staff of Council in the successful amalgamation of the three former councils into one new Northern Beaches Council and the acceleration of expected benefits to the local community due largely to the newly implemented structure

The report lists measures accomplished by the council since it was formed in May 2016, such as spending more than $1.3 billion in community services and over $370 million in new and renewal works through the Capital Works program, and the completion of asset planning for the next 10-year.  

However, no comparison was carried out with Pittwater’s administration, and one of its highest priorities, management of the natural environment, does not rate a topic heading. 

Others, such as NBC’s response to COVID-19, a unique event never experienced in Pittwater, are impossible to compare, while others such as harmonisation of fees and charges across the Northern Beaches would have been unnecessary without the amalgamation – and don’t take into account aspects of services lost. 

Pittwater’s third councillor, Liberal Kylie Ferguson, joined other councillors representing the Liberals – Narrabeen Ward’s Rory Amon, Manly’s Pat Daley and Curl Curl’s David Walton – along with Narrabeen Ward Independent Councillor Vince De Luca – in opposing the motion. 

Mr Grace said votes by these Liberal councillors highlighted the failure of the state government’s amalgamation policy. 

“It is an indictment of state Liberal policy when four out of five of NBC’s Liberal councillors are not prepared to publicly praise the performance of the council on which they serve and the NSW Coalition for its establishment of the NBC,” Mr Grace said. 

Liberal Councillor Stuart Sprott, from Frenchs Forest Ward, voted for the motion. 

Protect Pittwater also notes that for the council to be truly democratic and fair, public consultation should have been carried out before the report was adopted, although councillors voted for it to be made available for public comment as a precursor to the NBC services review. 

The campaigners also believe many issues outside the aegis of the report count against the merger. These include: 

  • Destruction of democracy in Pittwater. We formerly had a stand-alone council of nine Pittwater residents. That is now reduced to three from Pittwater, who are outnumbered by the 12 other councillors making decisions for our area. 
  • While Pittwater councillors met twice per month, regular council meetings are now only once a month, with agendas that can be 2,000 pages long – that few residents or councillors could have time to read.
  • At a financial level, many of us resent the expensive bureaucracy that has been set up to run the new council, for example council logo and new garbage bins. 
  • At a planning level, Pittwater MP Rob Stokes promised that the council would carry out preparation for the Local Environment Plan at a ward based level – leading to the Local Strategic Planning Statement. But this council voted to do it for the whole council.
  • This council has also overseen, without protest, the closure of Mona Vale Hospital’s emergency ward and acute services - something Pittwater Council stood against with the Pittwater community.
  • Pittwater was an award-winning council and, since the merger, residents have noticed a decline in many services. Even before COVID-19, residents saw the lack of weeding in parks, on verges and in bushland; deterioration in other areas of maintenance such as roads; new work, out of keeping with Pittwater’s character – such as concrete paths rather than gravel.
  • Avalon library remained closed for weeks after the other NBC libraries re-opened post-lock down.
  • Many of us are unimpressed with the council’s new website. Particularly disappointing is the loss of local knowledge assembled over many years about our environmental and heritage that was available on the Pittwater Council website. 

by Protect Pittwater Association

Photo by A J Guesdon, 2013