Oakville Oval needs an upgrade

Oakville Oval is one of 23 different playing fields, and one of the 215 parks and reserves around the Hawkesbury.

I’ve been a user of the oval all my life. I remember attending Oakville Public School sports carnivals there as a boy, kicking about kerosene-soaked fireballs when I was in Oakville Scouts (probably an OH&S nightmare now), and now witness my nephews play there as a soccer uncle.

Given the amount of use by the community, I feel Oakville Oval is looking a little tired and needs some care and investment.

Upkeep and development of our sporting fields is managed by the Hawkesbury Sports Council, who maintain two and five year plans for all local Ovals. In preparing those plans the Sports Council seeks submissions from sporting clubs and users of specific ovals. I was surprised to learn that, at the time the last plan was drawn up, no responses were received from the clubs that use Oakville Oval. I strongly encourage them to make a submission for the next round that will be called for the 2021/2022 financial year, and will be reaching out directly to make that appeal.

Council is aware of the increased use of the oval particularly during winter sports and the increases in parking and traffic. We’ve all seen the cars spilling on to the road, and the ‘car park’ is really just an abandoned gravel depot that turns to mud in poor weather.

The Sports Council advise that other suitable ovals in the area are used in conjunction with Oakville Oval wherever possible to spread the sporting community’s needs across the city.

Shipping containers used as storage at Oakville Oval

I’ve always thought that using shipping containers to store equipment like rollers, goal posts and nets is ugly and less optimal than lock-up colourbond sheds on slabs with roller doors. However, I am informed shipping containers are considered a better alternative due to their sturdiness and they deter vandalism due to their locks and wall thickness. If you have a different view, please let me know.

Currently there is one shelter area at the Oval and some seating available around the canteen building. Due to the high level of use for various sports there isn’t much room to install further shade areas without impacting on the current uses. There is also damage from the shade trees occurring to the on-field area in front of the containers as this area gets no sun. I am told that planting of additional trees might only compound this problem.

Hawkesbury Sports Council have planned to upgrade the irrigation system this year due to the field having to be returfed each year due to increasing use by the soccer club. Following the recent floods and damage to other grounds, the Sports Council has voted to place on hold all capital works until such time as the financial effects of the flood is clearer.

The Sports Council assigns its works program across all sports grounds and prioritises these as required. Where grant or other funding opportunities become available Council and the Sports Council will seek funding for upgrades, including the car park area. In addition, Council is currently planning for the development of Fernadell Park in Pitt Town. This development is subject to funding however, once developed, it will provide additional fields that can be used by the local sporting clubs and reduce demand on Oakville Oval.

Council will ultimately prepare a full masterplan for this and other reserves. I will be continuing to call for a long term plan, and sustained funding for improvements, on behalf of the residents and users who gain enjoyment and use of Oakville Oval.

Canteen and amenities at Oakville Oval

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The Hawkesbury Floods, March 2021

Some times it must feel like our community can’t cop a trick. Devastating fires, pandemic and two floods, all within a 16 month period.

Yet again, out of the distress and destruction of property has arisen the real spirit of our local community, which has rallied magnificently. The response of our SES, Police and RFS have been truly heroic, and they deserve our respect, as do those who just help because it’s the right thing to do. Neighbours help neighbours. It’s the Hawkesbury way.

I tried to document the effects of and responses to flooding by visiting as many places and people as I could. These videos have apparently reached over 111,000 people on social media.

Since the waters have receded, I’ve been honoured to be present variously at the visits of the Governor General David Hurley, The Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister for Roads Andrew Constance.

It has also brought the need to raise Warragamba Dam back into focus.

The plan to raise the dam is about the safety of the community – the 134,000 people who live and trade on the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. It isn’t about development, or Sydney’s drinking water supply. Nor should the debate be unduly focused on the temporary inundation of uninhabited bushland around lake Burragorang, for a week or two, once or twice a century.

The Resilient Valley, Resilient Community flood risk study released in 2017 explains 75% of our flood risk comes from the Warragamba catchment. It also points out that raising the dam would reduce the severity or frequency of bad floods by the same proportion – 75%.

Floods have already been averted or reduced by Warragamba, under certain circumstances. Severe rain events that began at the time of the early 1990s flood, when the dam was depleted to about 46% capacity, lowered the subsequent level of waters of on the floodplain by over three meters. This is the kind of ‘accidental’ mitigation that needs to be built into the dam permanently.

It really disappoints me that some of the commentary from people opposed to the project is so dishonest. This recent article in the Blue Mountains Gazette, and the comments of ex-Minister Bob Debus should anger everyone at risk of flooding, especially because he, like other opponents of the dam raising are usually high and dry and out of harms way. Our community in the Hawkesbury bears the brunt of this risk. I’ve pointed this out on many occasions.

Over the last fortnight I have stood with many people who have lost their homes and possessions because of Mr Debus’ inaction in the 1990s, when there was a plan to raise the dam by 23m. The Labor government’s decision not to treat this as a bipartisan issue and scotch those plans, which were shovel ready when Bob Carr was elected in 1995, is partly responsible for the damage this flood has caused.

The Canberra Times, 15-9-1995 announcing the Labor government abandoning plans to raise the dam.

Mr Debus says raising the dam won’t prevent all floods. But wearing a seatbelt won’t prevent all car accident fatalities. Backburning won’t save every house in a bushfire. But only an idiot would argue against doing what we can.

Imagine if the present floods had been 3 meters lower as a result of being able to hold back 1000 gigalitres of that water for long enough to allow them to drain away.

When Mr Debus only notes the quarter of floods that result from rain in other tributaries, he’s misleading you. And he’s wrong to state that permanently lowering the dam levels by 10m is the same as raising them by 10m, because of the tapered shape of the dam. The bottom 2cm of a wine glass holds much less than the top 2cm.

And pre-emptively reducing water levels in the dam, which every armchair expert has advocated over the last fortnight would (literally) be a drop in the ocean.

The topical unit is the ‘SydHarb’ – A Sydney Harbour’s worth of water, or about 500 gigalitres. Warragamba can hold 4 Sydharbs, and the dam raising project will add another 2. I was talking about this a decade ago. Lowering the dam to levels that would imperil Sydney’s drinking water supply to create a buffer would have taken weeks, and would account for maybe 0.2-0.5 Sydharbs.

In comparison, the inflow of water resulted in a Sydharb *per day* topping the dam for 2-3 days. If we could have absorbed two days of that inflow and let it out over a week or fortnight, many of the grieving people who have lost their homes, goods or livelihoods would have been spared.

Lastly, Bob raises the debunked-a-thousand-times canard of development on the floodplain. The 1:100 flood height buildong controls will not change. Not a single square meter of land which is presently sterilised by these controls would be opened up for building in the event of raising Warragamba. And the only time any flood has exceeded the 1:100 level in the last 222 years was in 1867, showing this is a reasonable safety measure. The sad fact is that the 5,500 houses built below the 1:100 level were built before those flood height controls were implemented.

Damn you, Bob Debus, for your reckless conduct as a Minister – when you actually had a chance to do something about this, you sat on your hands.

I spoke to the media on several occasions to represent our at-risk community

Print stories: Central News (18-11-2020), ABC (27-3-2021), AAP (23-3-2021), and TV as below:

It concerns me that in each of these cases, the voice of the community at most risk is not emphasised in balancing the costs and benefits of flood mitigation.

An excellent book I have at home on the history of the construction of Warragamba Dam in the 1950s is subtitled “Thank God there were no greenies.” I worry that an inability to soberly judge the necessity of flood mitigation will eventually cost lives, when a flood bigger than this one finally comes.

Nature has given us a warning. Are we wise enough to heed it?

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Is your energy retailer denying you a smart meter?

In October 2014, the then NSW Minister for Energy Anthony Roberts announced a rollout of Smart Meters for all NSW homes and businesses. He said:


“The market-led rollout of smart meters is the NSW Government’s next step in putting the power firmly into the hands of electricity customers.”

The 2014 announcement.

Seven years on, this market-based approach has resulted some of our larger electricity retailers dropping the ball badly. I’m singling out Origin Energy, who have annual revenues of $15 billion and over 4 million customers.

This is embarassing. In Victoria, they completed their rollout of Smart Meters by 2004.

Overseas, the UK is well along in a rollout of 3 million smart meters. The EU’s goal is to provide smart meters to 80 per cent of consumers. France has committed to install 35 million meters as part of a $A19.7 billion spend, and the the Chinese government are deploying up to 380 million of them.

This isn’t good enough. With a Smart Meter, you can monitor your energy consumption using a smart phone app on a much more granular level.

I badgered Origin to give me the Smart Meter the scheme promised 7 years ago, and they grudgingly did so as a one off.

The precedent neatly set, watch this video to see how you can demand the same. Yes, they probably will be annoyed, but it’s time they did the right thing.

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A big win for Oakville residents

After nearly five years of banging on about the shocking state of our local roads, I was very pleased at Councils meeting of 30/3 to be able to negotiate additional funding to FINALLY SEAL Old Stock Route Road and Brennans Dam Road at Vineyard.

Most of this is new money, and was absolutely not on the table before.

Some additional commentary:

• Unfortunately this does not yet seal the Commercial Road approach.

• The culvert will have some drainage and scour works done, but will remain a single-lane crossing for now.

• I couldn’t get the whole package of works through tonight, both because of our inability to complete the whole project within the deadline of the Commonwealth grant (31 Dec 2021), but also because I could not get more than this through the Chamber (for now).

• Further stages to fix Commercial + widen the culvert have been costed (~$450K) and I pledge to return to these ASAP.

• Yes, this road floods. Regularly. However, when natural disasters strike we get 100% coverage from the State Government to restore these roads but only on the basis of a ‘no betterment clause’, meaning we can’t use disaster relief funds to improve a road beyond it’s previous state. If however we improve it now, future damage will be covered to this new better standard. Some of the drainage works will help prevent road erosion against future flooding.

THANK YOU to my Hawkesbury Liberal Team Council colleagues and other Councillors who voted for this, especially those who reversed their previous opposition. Not everyone did…

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Sending a strong message about inappropriate development at Kurrajong and Kurmond

At Council’s meeting this week, I supported a motion to end the ‘Kurrajong-Kurmond investigation area’ process.

I believe the proposed rezoning and adoption of the ‘Structure Plan’ would have encouraged the lodgement of further subdivision proposals. I felt it would have sent a message to landowners or developers that we were encouraging subdivision west of the river.

The motion Council passed abandons either rezoning or the Structure Plan, adding that Council ‘Not encourage the lodgement of additional individual Planning Proposals within the Kurmond- Kurrajong Investigation Area for rural residential development.’

The motion ensures already-lodged planning proposals will be granted due-process, and continue to be assessed against relevant criteria.

A 2017 survey of Kurrajong and Kurmond residents showed that only 32% of residents supported developing the whole investigation area.

Although it is true that anyone can submit an unsolicited proposal at any time to subdivide their property, they will still be assessed against increasingly strict criteria of both our LEP and the Greater Sydney Commission’s residential strategy.

Two Councillors recused themselves because they or their families, live or own property in the subject area, including Liberal Sarah Richards.

Extraordinarily, the Greens and Independent Councillors voted not only to adopt the structure plan, but to have Council prepare a planning proposal to rezone the land identified in the plan.

We encourage those with an interest in the debate to listen to the Council webcast.

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Facebook and the survival of rational democracy

So after two days of Facebook gaol, my Councillor Facebook page, the Hawkesbury Liberal Team page, and the Hawkesbury District Independent Magazine page are back up, after Facebook purged thousands of Australian pages including charities, public health sites and not-for-profit groups.

However, at time of writing, the worthy Hawkesbury Post, The Hawkesbury Gazette, and the Hawkesbury Visitor Information Centre, which is a Council page, were still off-line.

What utter stupidity. Facebook can’t even be consistent about what constitutes ‘news’. Business students will one day write essays about how a $745B multinational trashed their branding in a stroke by citing this episode. It was a stunningly dumb move.

Here’s what it boils down to. Many people choose to view their news through Facebook – for some it’s the main way they keep informed. Spain and Germany enacted similar copyright reforms in 2014 – seeking to charge aggregators for the value news sites conferred them.

In that case it was Google who removed news from their site. Immediately, there was an overall 20% reduction in news consumption. People were less informed – a poor outcome.

Now, ask yourself: With social platforms only making belated and cosmetic efforts to remove inflammatory and misleading content, if there’s suddenly no professional journalism or fact checking in people’s feeds, then what’s left?

That’s right. Facebook becomes even more of a sewer. Less fact, and more garbage.

I’m not convinced that the Federal Government’s proposed Media Bargaining Code is the right solution, but I am convinced that they have picked the right fight.

We have to recognise that in our system of open democracy, the role of a free and viable Press serves a critical role to hold the powerful to account. The fourth estate provides a shared sense-making dialogue to society that helps us parse truth from flim-flam, scare-mongering and misinformation.

The eyes of the world are on us to hold our nerve – not unlike Australia pioneering plain packaging for cigarettes against a barrage of spurious lawsuits from the tobacco industry. We won that fight, and other countries followed our lead.

I’ve provided further remarks to the Hawkesbury Post. The link is here. And if you feel strongly about supporting smaller news media outlets, who seem to be locked out of the benefits of the Federal scheme, then make a donation to one here.

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Hawkesbury-Nepean river suffers as HRCC endures cut to funding

HRCC-funding-Chairmans-media-release

With HRCC General Manager Chris Dewhurst next to our expensively repaired, but now defunded ‘Weedosaurus’

As the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I believe Hawkesbury residents get great value out of our association with it, which goes back to the HRCC’s founding in 1948. HRCC looks after the health of our waterways. Ratepayers from the four member Councils contribute around 50%, which is ~$190K per year towards its operations. The rest comes from a variety of State and Federal grants.

In November, Local Land Services, a mid-level bureaucracy installed by the NSW Government to dispense funding, abruptly cut the funding that we were using for operational works (such as weed clearing on the river using our ‘Weedasaurus’, pictured above), by $238,000. Before LLS, we dealt directly with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and had a wonderful working relationship with them.

This will result in us laying off skilled staff, and potentially even having to sell the Weedasaurus, which would be frustrating given we only had it repaired and refurbished with $130,000 of Federal money after it pulled its mooring and sank near Penrith weir in the flood of 2020.

We have Olympic and Paralympic rowers training on the river now for the Tokyo Olympics. They are counting on us to keep the river free of weeds. Taxpayers expect better co-operation between tiers of government. How ridiculous to have the Federal Government generously fund plant and equipment only to find that the State Government drops the ball with operational funding.

I am calling on the State Agriculture Minister, Adam Marshall, to intervene.

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Hawkesbury Radio interview, February 2021

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Garry Cotter at Hawkesbury Radio 899 to talk about my personal opinions on a wide range of issues.

The fate of a concrete recycling plant continues to be of concern to residents of Ebenezer, and I had an update concerning an upcoming planning panel meeting, along with remarks about the deficiencies of Planning Panels generally.

As a member of Council’s Civics committee, I congratulated our Australia Day award winners.I put on my hat as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council and raised a concern that key aquatic weed control activities are at threat because of a bad funding decision by the NSW Government.

I spoke about some very recent changes to a proposed 580 lot subdivision at the Jacaranda site (off Kurmond Road at Glossodia).

Finally, I spoke about the ongoing pressure for development in the Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya areas, and efforts I’ve made to consult with that community.

Timecodes:
0:00 Concrete Recycling Plant, Ebenezer, and Planning Panels
8:06 Australia Day award winners
10:01 Hawkesbury River County Council, State Government Funding fail
16:34 Council Committee Restructure and the Heritage Committee
21:24 Proposed Development at Glossodia -Jacaranda
28:00 The Pressure for Development in Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya

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Hawkesbury’s Local Housing Strategy and the pressure for development

On Tuesday, Hawkesbury City Council adopted our long-awaited Local Housing Strategy.

This document sets out how we will meet our housing targets over a timeframe of several decades.

Although this has implications for our whole city, the Liberal Councillors felt it was important to address a gap in the document.

The south eastern part of our City – the suburbs of Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya, sit adjacent to some very aggressive urban growth. The ‘North Western Growth Sector’  is breathing down our neck across the county line in the Hills District, and has spilled into our own patch as the release areas named ‘Vineyard Stage 1 and Stage 2’

This pressure is tearing our community apart. Some are in favour of development, many against.

The one thing we can’t do is… nothing. I was disappointed that the Housing Strategy document said little about either the necessity, desirability, inevitability or show-stopping constraints of future development, other than remarking that the not-yet-finally-gazetted Outer Sydney Orbital corridor will continue to hang over us until that matter is definitely resolved. 

I have strong opinions about this, but they matter less than seeking to understand what the majority view in those suburbs truly is. Some individuals or groups might claim to represent a clear majority, but I don’t think they do. I have a responsibility to represent all those views, and I take that seriously.

So, we moved a form of words that sought to survey and consult with the residents of Oakville and Maraylya to ask them what they wanted. Nothing more. Certainly not a decision to develop or not.

Your Liberal Councillors voted for that consultation. All the others, including Labor and the Greens, voted against it.

This video only contains my remarks, but I encourage you to listen to the whole meeting podcast (item 247, 8th December meeting) when it comes out to hear from my Liberal colleagues and the others.

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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.

Here are the remarks I made to Council when this came up:

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