Council Committees and protecting our Heritage

Hawkesbury City Council has no less than 17 different Committees.

They’re a mess – some have been around since Noah. Some have forgotten the reason for their creation. Some took it upon themselves to re-write their own terms of reference. Some are chaired by Councillors, some are not. Some take in members of the broader community as voting members, some not.

Some of the committees do good work, and enrich the decision making processes of Council. Some… not so much. Each committee requires staff resources to prepare agendas, minutes, and convene meetings.

A proposal was advanced at tonight’s Council meeting to restructure our committees for the first time in decades. It was a great idea – it streamlines the number and remit of committees, taking on detailed feedback received by a Council review over the last year.

It ensured that our committee meetings were public and open to public address (they aren’t now). That agendas are pre-published, and that documentation was available in a timely way to Councillors and the public alike.

It promotes the importance of existential threats like floods and bushfires to become the concern of the whole Chamber – not just a subcommittee.

I agreed. Many times I’ve been in a committee meeting and thought ‘I wish all my colleagues were hearing this‘.

I disagreed on one critical point – the proposal, as it was moved, sought to abolish our Heritage Committee.

Our Heritage Committee, which I’ve been a member of for four years, carries a disproportionate weight for Council. HCC doesn’t employ a full-time Heritage Officer. The members of this committee are a rare and special fraternity of heritage wisdom, including scientists, heritage architects, historians, and planning experts. We’re very fortunate to have them give their knowledge to us around the year, completely gratis. Put it this way – if we had to pay for their advice, we couldn’t afford it. The work this committee does fills a huge gap that would be impossible to fill if the committee was dissolved – and the motion before me sought to do just that. It sought to amalgamate its function into a committee with no community representatives and which shared billing with Waste and Environmental Sustainability – fairly poor bedfellows.

So, when the vote came, and despite my support for committee reform generally, I voted for a deferral so we could talk as a group of 12 about a better outcome that both permits reform, and protects our unique Heritage (and this committee). I expect the matter will come back to Council before Christmas.

Picture: Summer Noon, Hawkesbury River; Arthur Streeton, 1896.

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The NSW 2020 State Redistribution

Every two elections (~8 years), the NSW Electoral Commission re-draws the boundaries of seats in our State.

This is done so that each seat in the NSW Parliament has a roughly equal number of voters (generally within 10% of the average of 57,193). Demographic change and urban growth cause population distortions in some seats (like Riverstone and Camden, which are oversubscribed by about a third).

It is important to note these are changes to the NSW State seats, not Federal seats relevant to a Federal election.

The process is undertaken by the Commission, which is a statutory authority and forbids gerrymandering, which is a very stark contrast to the broken and corrupt systems used abroad.

This process can be painful for elected MPs, as suburbs they represent are transferred to neighbouring seats (or, heaven forbid, weaken their margins or necessitate the reallocation of party branches into or out of their seats.)

But it affects voters as well, as the MP they are used to may no longer represent them, or it may change the complexion of an electorate, so it’s worth paying attention to it.

The Commission has just released the draft boundaries they want to employ for the next State Election due in 2023, and they are now on public exhibition. You’re welcome to give feedback until the 23rd of December 2020.

Many people find this process confusing, so I thought I would offer an guide, and provide some resources for people who like to play with Google Earth.

The above link will take you to a ZIP file which decompresses to a Google Earth .KMZ file that can be double clicked if you have the free Google Earth program for MAC or PC.

My visualisation allows you to toggle the old and new seat boundaries, the strength of the two-party-preferred vote in individual polling places, and suburb names, allowing you to explore the changes across NSW.

I’m offering this video and downloadable map layers in an effort to help people understand this process. I’ve confined my more detailed analysis to a few seats in north and western Sydney.

I have drawn this data from places such as:

https://www.elections.nsw.gov.au/redistribution/Proposed-boundaries-and-names

https://datasets.seed.nsw.gov.au/dataset/nsw-administrative-boundaries

https://pastvtr.elections.nsw.gov.au/sg1901/la/home

This analysis is like other ones I have done in the past like:

and

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Helping Bushland Regeneration in Bilpin

I was pleased to launch the Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest Project at Bilpin today, as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council

The Shale forests stretching across Berambing, Bilpin and Mountain Lagoon are State listed endangered ecological communities, even more threatened in the aftermath of the fires. They are typified by an unusually rich diversity of plant, insect, and vertebrate species.

People forget that the Hawkesbury has more of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area within its boundaries than the Blue Mountains LGA.

My first paid job as a teenager was at Dutch’s farm at Mountain Lagoon. I still remember being captivated by the size of the huge Angophoras fringing the property. It’s satisfying to now lead an organisation working for their preservation.

This initiative is funded over a multiple years to identify and map the ecology, educate and incentivise landowners, provide on the ground help to assist in bush regeneration, conduct weed control, and track progress.

The project will aim to found a dedicated Bilpin Landcare group to carry the work forward, and the locals who attended today were curious and positive about it.

This grant (over $100K) is the first-time a private property engagement that focuses on conservation and land management has been done on this scale. Over 400 private properties have been contacted covering over 2,835 hectares in the Hawkesbury.

It’s also great to see this is a team effort between Blue Mountains City CouncilHawkesbury River County CouncilHawkesbury City Council, the Hawkesbury Landcare NetworkGreater Sydney Local Land Services, and the NSW Environmental Trust.


If you want to get on board, contact HRCC.

Informationsheet_final

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Re-elected as Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

I was honoured this week to be re-elected as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council for a second, one year term.

This is a great honour. I am the first Hawkesbury Liberal Councillor ever to be elected to this role, let alone re-elected. It’s been a challenging year, with most of our meetings still occurring via Zoom. Balancing the welfare of staff with maintaining on-the-ground operational capacity has not been easy.

The HRCC covers 3,823sq.km over four municipalities (Hills, Blacktown, Penrith and Hawkesbury). It has responsibility for waterway health through the control of weeds, and increasingly takes a role in terrestrial weed control as well under the Biosecurity Act.

In this last year alone it conducted 3,949 property inspections. With its specialised assets like weed harvesters, and using new and innovative techniques like biological control (Salvinia eating Weevils, anyone?), it plays a major role in caring for our local environment.

I thank outgoing Deputy Chair, Robyn Preston MP – Member for Hawkesbury for her work with the Board, and congratulate Hills Shire Councillor Samuel Uno for his election as the new Deputy Chair.

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Being cavalier about community safety — elected representatives should support Warragamba flood mitigation works

Recently, the Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman MP has made remarks opposing the raising of Warragamba Dam for flood mitigation purposes. I am disappointed that any elected representative of a floodplain like ours would oppose such a crucial safety initiative.

This has been reported in the local media:

My own statement relating to this issue is below:

Media-release-Councillor-Zamprogno-on-Warragamba-Dam

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Defeated in the effort to ensure fairer Hawkesbury Council Rates

Last night the Mayor moved a Mayoral Minute to try to make our rating system fairer. We failed. The vote was defeated 8:4.

Some suburbs in the Hawkesbury are suffering under Council rates that are anywhere between 50% higher to 300% higher or more than other suburbs.

This is despite those families having similar incomes and similar access to Council services.

The point I made was that the guidelines laid down for fairness in rates requires us to be mindful of both the ‘Benefit Principle’ and the ‘Ability to Pay’ principle. Rates should be proportionate to both.

Unfortunately, our area is suffering from a good deal of land speculation caused by our adjacency to the North West Growth Sector, something I’ve written about and made videos many times before.

Let me encourage you to listen to the Mayor Patrick Conolly and myself as we make our case.

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Straight talk about Development

I was with Garry Cotter being interviewed at Hawkesbury Radio and the subject turned to development in Sydney generally, and the Hawkesbury in particular. How can we balance the destruction of urban sprawl with Sydney’s need for housing?

On reflection, I thought this two-minute segment sums up where I’m coming from.

Where do your other Hawkesbury Councillors stand on this and other issues?

Do they ever publish? Make videos? Do interviews? Speak publicly?

You’re entitled to know where your elected representatives stand on issues. If you want my view on an issue that isn’t already written about on this site, just ask.

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What are the facts about raising Warragamba Dam?

In any given year, what are the risks of your house burning down, you getting sick, or you crashing your car?

Low, I hope. These events have a low probability, but serious consequences. So we weigh the risk, and take out insurance.

So it is with our floodplain. There have been 124 floods in the Hawkesbury-Nepean since the 1790s. We had one this year (a baby — between 1:5 and 1:10 probability), and worse ones are a statistical inevitability.

The NSW Government 2017 report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities says that the damage of a bad flood could be between $5 billion and $7 billion dollars, considering that 134,000 people live and trade on the floodplain.

In a bad flood, 90,000 of those people would need to be evacuated. 12,000 homes would be inundated.

The report also says that this risk could be reduced by 75% if Warragamba Dam is raised by 15 meters, saving lives and slashing $5 billion from the damage bill. A wise investment, I think.

The cost would be that, in those rare rainfall events, a fringe of land around the current high waterline of Lake Burragorang would be subjected to temporary inundation, amounting to 0.04-0.05% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Crucially, preliminary modelling suggests the most sensitive areas of the catchment, like the Kowmung River and its tributaries, would not be affected at all.

There is a lot of misinformation put about concerning the Warragamba Dam raising project. That it’s a stalking horse for development on the floodplain. That it will ruin a world heritage site. That it’s about increasing Sydney’s water supply.

These claims are not true — even though these issues are important. The project is about protecting life and property. I observe that most people who are opposed to the project don’t live on the floodplain. They live elsewhere, high and dry. They endure no risk to themselves, their families, or property. They are entitled to their views, but have no stake in the outcome.

The attached video is an interview I did recently when I was approached by someone doing some academic research from my alma mater, the University of Sydney. I summarise many of the points I frequently make about the project, and Hawkesbury Council’s attitude towards it.

I’ve written about this subject many times before:

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A Masterplan for Colbee Park at Mcgraths Hill

Colbee Park in McGraths Hill is one of our most used, and most neglected sports fields. I should know, as a Soccer Dad whose child’s club was based at the park for a decade.

Despite near constant use from the Oakville United Soccer Club, the Oakville Raiders Baseball Club, the Hawkesbury Hornets BMX Club, frequented by dog-walkers and near the pleasant wetlands of Killarney creek, the park also suffers from limited parking that turns into a quagmire with a breath of rain, insufficient seating, has little shade, an open drain that cuts the park in two, and buildings so inadequate that sports clubs have had to use shipping containers to stow their club’s gear. The baseball club lost all their uniforms and gear when it flooded earlier this year.

Hopefully, this can begin to change. Council will consider the exhibition of a new masterplan for Colbee Park at our next meeting.

The plan includes upgraded fields, new play equipment, better parking, proper amenities and storage for clubs (including a female change room), seating and shade structures, a Pump BMX Track, and a footbridge over the Creek for nearby Arndell school.

The only thing missing is funding to make it happen within ten years. I’ll keep advocating on that front.

The draft Masterplan can be seen as attachments to our Business Paper for our Council meeting of 8/9/20 (Item 170), at this link.

I’ll let you know when the plan is open for public comment. If you’re a user of Colbee Park, I encourage you to have your say.

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Speaking to Ray Hadley about Planning Panels

This morning I was invited to speak to Ray Hadley on Sydney Radio station 2GB about two issues.

If the streaming link above for the audio does not work, try this direct .mp3 sound file link.

The first issue is the prospects for two Development Applications that have been lodged for a concrete recycling plant at Ebenezer.

Both DA’s are problematic for a number of reasons, including the loss of tree cover, noise and dust within 700m of a local primary school, the excessive fill proposed, some land use conflicts, and the increased burden on road maintenances from truck movements. Many Ebenezer locals have contacted me with their concerns.

However, this particular application draws our attention to a much broader issue, and that’s the role of planning panels.

Prior to 2017, most DA’s were voted on by elected Councillors. Less contentious ones were processed by Council staff under delegated authority, and only state significant developments were sent to external panels.

In 2017, the news was full of rare bad apples in local government, like Salim Mehajer, whose corrupt behaviour tainted the reputation of Councils as fair judges of development proposals. So the State Government revoked the ability for all Sydney Councils to vote on DA’s and mandated that all DA’s are to be assessed by independent panels of unelected bureaucrats.

There are five Sydney Planning Panels and four Regional Panels. Matters go to a Local Planning Panel if there are more than 10 public submissions, if it’s Council’s own DA, or if a matter requires advice. Matters go to a Regional Planning Panel if the value of the proposal is over $20 million, if it is State Significant Development, or “Designated Development‘.

Unfortunately, I think the pendulum has swung too far, and democracy has been eroded, even though the impulse — to reduce corruption, reduce red tape, and stimulate the economy, is a worthy one.

The key here is to strike balance. Programs like “Yes Minister” incisively reveal a productive tension between the public service and elected representatives. Public servants are a professional class, and may have institutional memory and significant subject expertise in an area.

However, appointed delegates to Planning Panels may also be people who do not live in the area in which their decisions affect people, are less connected with local sentiments, and are not truly accountable — they ‘have no skin in the game’, and if they make an unpopular or incorrect decision there is little democratic remedy.

When I make a decision on your behalf, I have a vested interest in listening carefully to your concerns. If I get it wrong, you get to vote me out, and that’s as it should be. This balance between the mechanistic letter of the law and the democratic prerogative of elected representatives usually works well.

People approach me and your other Hawkesbury Councillors regularly expecting that we will represent their concerns on development applications, which is a fairly core function of Council. We have to disabuse them of our ability to influence or vote on matters of public interest, because of this change, even though most Councils are run well and can be fair judges of the merits of an application.

Some among my colleagues argue that Council’s role is to set the frameworks for development, such as our Local Environment Plan (LEP), Developer Control Plan (DCP), Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS), Residential Land Strategy, Rural Land Strategy, and so on. But Council’s process for updating these documents, which is ongoing, has been interminably slow, and has us relying on outdated documents that are sometimes years old. Our DCP, for example, dates to 2002!

I feel I’m in good company in seeking a review of the extent of planning panels, joining Liberal Councillors in other Councils in branding this an over-reach.

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