Hawkesbury Council rejects critical flood safety measure – Again!

Our community has known we have to 'Live with the River' since the time of settlement. Our relationship with the river and the inevitability of floods mean we're forever torn between the blessings of rich soils and the river's deadlier moods. My own ancestor was killed in Windsor in the flood of 1809.

But human ingenuity has given us the ability to dam rivers, and we're now told that raising Warragamba Dam by 14 meters will reduce the frequency and severity of flooding here by 75%. That it would reduce the number of homes flooded by 5000. That the damage bill would reduce by $3,000,000,000. We need that. If only we had it in March – it would have spared 500 homes and reduced the flood height by 3.5m.

The new EIS is open for public comment until the end of November. Here are all the EIS documents, and I strongly suggest you start with the Executive Summary, given that the whole EIS is 8092 pages long. Council would be completely negligent on behalf of our community, who endure the highest risk of flooding in Australia, if we didn't make a submission. Submissions run until the end of November. You should consider making a submission (look for the link in the top right corner)

I'm appalled that a majority of Councillors are so wedded to their ideology that, at last night's meeting, they voted even that down. The video above summarises what happened at the meeting.

That's right - they voted down even putting forward our own community's concerns in a document to the State Government.

I know not everyone agrees on this issue, but this is reckless and treats the 600 families whose homes were flooded out in March with contempt.

And yes, this absolutely should be an election issue.

I have of course been very, very active on the subject of flooding over this five-year term of Council: Here's a list of all my videos and motions before Council on this subject.


How much land clearing should people be able to do for fire safety? The Rural Boundary Clearing Code

At last night's Hawkesbury City Council meeting we considered a thorny question: How much should landowners be allowed to clear their land to protect themselves from bushfires?

There 's a lot to consider. In NSW there's already a mechanism for hazard reduction, called the 10-50 rule. But the government inquiry held after the terrible Gospers Mountain fire in 2019-2020 recommended that new rules be considered.
What came from that process is the 'Rural Boundary Clearing Code', and the on-line tool people are supposed to use to work out if they're eligible to clear under those rules.
Balancing community safety with protecting the environment is challenging. It takes leadership, and nuancing the various issues and views, not ramming something through because you want to make an election issue out of it.
I am glad that my alternative motion gained support and was seen as a better way forward.

Granny Flats: You deserve more choice | Hawkesbury City Council

I want to talk about granny flats and dual occupancies, because the way that Hawkesbury Council currently treats them is insane.

A dual occupancy is just a fancy way of saying there are two houses on the same block of land, but under one title, one owner.

It’s not like a subdivision because there’s no rezoning, no sale, or separation of the ownership of the land.

There are two kinds of dual occupancies: Detached, where there’s two, separated full-size houses on the same block, and attached where two dwellings are connected in some way, like a Duplex.

Detached and Attached dual occupancies

I live in an attached dual occupancy here at Oakville with my family, where we have two houses which are connected by a covered walkway.

And here’s the crazy thing: At Hawkesbury Council, detached dual occupancies are forbidden because of, wait for it, flood evacuation risks. And that's regardless of whether you’re in Bilpin or Oakville, well out of harms way of a flood. But put that covered walkway in, and everything’s peachy. Totally fine. Permitted.

Detached dual occupancies are already permitted (with constraints) in many other Councils, like PenrithHills, Cumberland, Parramatta, Northern Beaches.

But it gets worse: People often get confused between Dual Occupancies and “secondary dwellings”.

Secondary dwellings are much smaller, only up to 60 square meters- which is little more than 1 or 2 rooms, and must be close to the primary dwelling. We call them “Granny flats”.

Example floor layout possible with a 60m^2 limit

Now if you want to build a granny flat in, say Bligh Park, or Hobartville, in any of these residential zonings, on a block that’s under 800 square meters, apparently that’s fine.

A Google Earth image of an average residential block in Bligh Park, which is zoned R2/R3. Block Size ~700m^2. Granny flats: permitted.

But if you live in one of these zonings in a rural area, like a five acre block, 25 times the size of a house block in Bligh Park, the answer is no. You can’t. It’s not allowed.

A Google Earth image of an average residential block in Maraylya, which is zoned RU4. Block Size ~24,457m^2 (~6acres). Granny flats: NOT permitted.

This makes no sense at all.

During this this term of Council I have been the strongest advocate for reform of these rules, but I’ve been stymied by a lack of support among the other Councillors.

I’m seeking your support to continue this work through your vote in the upcoming election.

Let me explain why this is important:

For a balanced community, the Hawkesbury needs a mix of housing types. I’ve argued that dual occupancies confer a range of social benefits.

Your ability to put another dwelling on the land that you own could allow you as parents to give a leg-up to your kids to build a home, or get equity in the market, or to continue to live in the communities that they grew up in, or to enable grandparents to care for their grandkids.

On the flipside, it might allow you to look after your parents in their senior years with a degree of independence, but still close to those they love, sharing the burdens of property maintenance or the costs of living.

The way that my family lives exemplifies this: I live in a multigenerational household, with toddlers, teens, adults, seniors, spaniels and cats living together in a joyous chaos.

This 2020 article from the Sydney Morning Herald on multigenerational households really resonated with me.

I’ve heard this described as a very European way of living. It’s not for everyone, but for many families it makes a lot of sense. For some, it’s an economic necessity.

But ultimately it’s about choice. Your choice.

Studies show that one in five households are multi-generational, and that figure is growing (Source: City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Dept of Built Environment). And 40% of people in their twenties are still living at home (Source: Australian Institute for Family Studies).

To me, it’s an example of how something obscure – good planning laws, can strengthen our communities by empowering Council to plan for diversified housing choices with far less impact on existing services and infrastructure than full blown subdivision.

Others support secondary dwellings because it represents a form of affordable housing, which we badly need more of.

Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that many acreage areas are and will continue to be subjected to development pressure. Iam.no.fan.of.overdevelopment.

But dual occupancies may represent a kind of happy compromise between the status quo, and the wholesale rezoning and carve-up that developers want to inflict on us.

Many people I speak to want a sensible solution like this, but I challenge you to find another Councillor that can point to a public statement they’ve made in support of it.

And you and I probably know someone in the area with a clandestine granny flat that’s offending nobody but against the rules.

In February this year, Hills Shire Council next door took advantage of a change in State rules, something called the ‘LEP Standard Instrument’ to apply for, and get, a more generous definition of Granny flats.

As a result, Hills landowners can now build granny flats that are still modest, but larger than before: whichever is the larger of 110 square meters or 20% the size of the main dwelling, up from 60 square meters.

Examples of granny-flat floor layouts possible under a more generous 110m^2 limit.

I’d like Council consult and consider doing the same, using a place-based approach that’s sensitive to all the factors and constraints, like land fragmentation, loss of agricultural capacity, emergency evacuation, local roads & infrastructure and the protection of the environment.

As I said, I’ve tried to drive reform in this area and so far I’ve failed.

Our best hope is the detailed work Council has done this year in revamping our LEP and DCP – our two fundamental planning codes, but progress has been been painful and slow.

I’ve pushed for these proposals to be put into the new codes for public comment, but it’s the next Council that will sign them off.

I’d love to hear your views. What do you think?


Hawkesbury Council's position concerning the new Hawkesbury River bridge

Last night Council considered the submission we would make to the consultation process on the route of the new Hawkesbury River crossing at North Richmond.

My position is guided by an awareness that this is not Council’s project. Like the Windsor Bridge project before, we neither decide nor craft its appearance, budget or timeline.

However, Council does have a role to listen to residents and then represent their concerns clearly. And other tiers of government, if they are wise, should listen. I’ve been contacted by dozens of residents and had long conversations both for and against the preferred ‘green route’.

I’m persuaded that the briefings conducted by Transport for NSW make a good case for the preferred ‘green route’. The modelling clearly shows it saves the greatest amount of travel time, is subject to fewer ‘major’ constraints, has a superior cost-benefit ratio compared to the purple route, will draw more traffic away from the already-congested current crossing, and will have a lower impact on the landscape in terms of earthworks, heritage and ecology.

That said, there are still substantial unanswered questions before us, and many ways in which the proposed route could be improved. If we don’t ‘hustle’, the community won’t get what we deserve.

I remain concerned about the impacts on the residents of Hobartville, and especially on Southee Road and Inalls Lane.

I think the intersection of Kurrajong Road, Old Kurrajong Road and Yarramundi Lane should be an elevated flyover – not just to reduce traffic congestion, but to provide better flood resilience as well.

I’m happy for Council to acknowledge the strengths of the green route, but continue to press for investigations to continue into a hybrid green/yellow route – especially if that benefits the users of the playing fields on Yarramundi Lane.

The 'Hybrid' yellow/green option that's worth exploring

Lastly, the community needs to know whether the status of the Grose River crossing – contractually bound on the Redbank developers, but much delayed and still no certainty, affects the modelling.

I am pleased that Councillors understood the need for a bipartisan approach on this, and with the exception of Councillor Ross (who votes against everything in what I regard as a very unconsidered attitude), we will be making something close to this submission.

 

 


Make no mistake - raising Warragamba Dam will make our community safer

This morning, the opponents of flood safety in the Hawkesbury were falling upon a 'leaked' State Government report that stated something so obvious it's banal – that in the event of a major flood, the water has to go somewhere.
 
Their tortured argument says if Warragamba Dam is raised, providing a buffer against future floodwaters, then that water will need to be released progressively after the peak. This means river levels will remain elevated for a number of weeks as that release occurs - affecting water filtration and sewerage treatment plants downstream.
Scarcely surprising. Any major flood is a catastrophe with effects lasting weeks or months. There is no scenario where a major flood would not disrupt in this way.
 
Those confecting outrage even suggest that raising the dam would *worsen* the effects of flooding in the Hawkesbury – a staggeringly misleading and contemptible statement.
Such a statement is as brazen as telling people that vaccination will give them COVID. It is geared to provoke outrage. It counts on people not knowing the facts.
 
What they don't concede is that in the event of a major flood, if the dam has not been raised, those same floodwaters would hit the floodplain all at once, catastrophically. It would cause flooding to a far higher height than would otherwise be the case.
The 'Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities' document laid all this out in 2017:
In the event of a 1:100 year flood, 1000 houses would be inundated with a raised dam, instead of 5000 without. In an 1867-level flood, that's 5000 houses instead of 12,000. The severity or frequency of flooding will be reduced overall by 75%, the damage bill reduced tenfold. The flood height would be lowered by many meters.
Flood damage reduction from raising Warragamba Dam, from the 'Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities' report (2017)
 
Imagine if the floods we endured in March this year were 3-5m lower – on the order of the February 2020 floods. Many houses would have been saved. Now imagine if that flood was another 3-5m higher. Those are the margins we are talking about in choosing not to implement flood mitigation.
 
Stating that the backlog of floodwaters would be released progressively from the dam in a responsible way is so obvious as to be no admission at all. Not focusing on what *would* have happened if that buffer had not been there is irresponsible.
Opposing flood mitigation condemns thousands of houses on the floodplain to inundation when the next big flood comes, and you should remember that when you vote.

When will the NSW Local Government Elections be?

https://youtu.be/o2ELM-_ZGP4

Council elections were supposed to happen in NSW in September 2020.
Then COVID put them off to September 2021.
Recently, the Minister delayed them a second time to December 4th, 2021.
Now there's a rumour going round that they will be delayed to next year.
This should concern all of us.
Accountability to the voting public is the cornerstone of our democracy.
Worse, there may be restrictions in place that make it almost impossible for candidates to put forward their views and policies for your scrutiny.
A recent bulletin to Councillors and candidates from the NSW Electoral Commission included the following statement:

Participants should be aware of new arrangements that have been made for posters and electoral material distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic, contained in recent changes to the Local Government election legislation.

To comply with public health orders at the time of the elections, or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, the Electoral Commissioner may direct that no posters are to be displayed and that noelectoral material is to be handed out to voters for the December 4 elections at:

  • a polling place or a pre-polling venue, or
  • premises occupied, used by, or under the control of the NSW Electoral Commission, other NSW government agencies or a council within 100 metres of a polling place or a pre-polling venue.

Premises include buildings of any description, other structures and land (such as the street).

Given the evolving Delta strain outbreak, candidates and parties should be prepared that directions limiting posters and how-to-votes may be made by the Electoral Commissioner across NSW.

This will heavily distort the vote as worthy ideas or candidates are unable to reach you for your consideration.
I have found that a diversity of ideas and skills makes our Council better, and I believe this is what the community wants and deserves.
 
The answer: Sit up. Tune in. Ask questions.
 
In 1864, Abraham Lincoln held an election in the middle of a civil war.
In 1944, Roosevelt did the same during WW2.
Australia held two wartime elections in 1940 and 1943.
In the UK, there were 141 by-elections held during WW2.
If they could hold elections in emergencies like that, so can we.
 
Demand your right to vote.

The Tragedy of Afghanistan

I rarely venture into geopolitics, but what’s unfolding in Afghanistan now is a tragedy. The Taliban are resurgent, and will shortly repossess all the territory won from them after 2001. So much of our own blood and coin spilled for no gain after a twenty year war.

How must the 26,000 men and women of our own defence forces who served there think. Or the families of the 41 soliders who died. Or the many more wounded or traumatised.

And we've let down the innocent of Afghanistan - the interpreters and guides who assisted our troops, and for the children and women who are now living in fear.

Ultimately, I believe our presence in Afghanistan was just. I don't believe that any accusation of aberration from our values invalidated the rectitude of our overall mission. We were there to uphold human rights, not to abuse them. I don’t agree with the complaint that the West had no business being there. The Taliban are brutes. They banned schools, music and even kite-flying in the service of their murderous creed, even as they institutionalised child rape and a hateful, fundamentalist, medieval social order.

Under the Taliban's twisted Sharia, a woman can be publicly flogged merely for appearing on their balcony, or for wearing embroidery on their sleeve, or for drawing water from the wrong well; a man, for trimming his beard, or owning a phone.

I ask: what does cynicism gain us? If one nation can do anything to bring the rule of law, adherence to international norms, or human dignity to another, surely we should try? Imagine if Australia had taken the view that the struggle against Nazism in Europe was too distant or irrelevant for us to bother with. Opposing evil is a generational moral duty.

Worse, the West's withdrawal makes the world a more dangerous place. Afghanistan will again become an incubator for Islamic fundamentalism. The bitter fruit of that may lay years in our future. The next Osama Bin Laden sleeps safer now than he did last year.

I think of Nobel Peace Prise winner Malala Yousafzai, raised in the Afghan borderlands. She was shot on a bus for daring merely to attend school. I weep when I think that there are a million Malala’s in Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan whose voices will now be brutally silenced.

The fact that the war became intractable did not mean that the cause was not just. I think too much commentary fails to make that distinction.

It’s not that I don’t accept the finality or necessity of our withdrawal – we couldn’t stay in an open-ended engagement forever. Just that our failure should grieve us all. Our failure to maintain the political will to get the job done. Our failure to the people of Afghanistan.

I'm reminded of Thomas Friedman's argument in The Lexus and the Olive Tree that likens nations to computers. You can't boot "DosCapital 6.0" as he put it (modern democratic institutions, independent judiciary, universal franchise, free press) on medieval hardware (a social system based on tribalism and superstition). This explains why Germany and Japan in defeat after WW2 became model international citizens, and Afghanistan, after 20 years and $2 trillion of war and nation building, has not.

Being a reader of history also reminds me that this intractability was foretold a century before the West, or the Soviets got mired there.

A Young Winston Churchill didn’t hold back when he served in Afghanistan in the Malakand campaign in 1897. In the same deployment that had him famously quip “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”, he also formed a pointed view of the complexities of the region. He wrote a famous, and lengthy account:

“...Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man's hand is against the other, and all against the stranger… the weapons of the nineteenth century in the hands of savages of the Stone Age.”

“Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence... That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword—the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men—stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism.”

“The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display.”

“And all are held in the grip of miserable superstition, which exposes them to the rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood— the Mullahs, who live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of ‘droit du seigneur’ [right to rape a woman on their wedding night] and no man's wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write.”

Like most people fortunate to be born into an age of peace, I am appalled by war, and repulsed by those who glorify it.

But if the might of our armies cannot be employed to lift the faces of people so downtrodden, then what is all our power for?

People are hard on the idea of “Empire” these days. But I remember what Lord Curzon, Governor General and viceroy of India said when he was asked what the noblesse oblige of the West was. He said in a 1905 speech:

“To fight for the right, to abhor the imperfect, the unjust or the mean, to swerve neither to the right nor to the left, to care nothing for flattery or applause or odium or abuse… but to remember that the Almighty has placed your hand on the greatest of his ploughs… to drive the blade a little forward in your time, and to feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist. That is enough. That is the Englishman’s justification.”

Both we, and the people of Afghanistan will suffer the consequences of our failure to eliminate the Taliban.

 

 


Further delays to the Grose River Bridge should make you cranky

https://youtu.be/FuF-kUkjoSY

The Redbank project, and associated wrangling over the promised Grose River Bridge crossing goes all the way back to 2008.

So if you're angry or confused about why it seems that this infrastructure keeps receding to the horizon, then I'm with you.

Why is it taking so long? And why, after this week’s Council meeting, is it going to be delayed even more?

Here's what you need to know. This video lays out the timeline of this issue.

I have been on about this issue for this entire term of Council.

From 2016:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2016/10/15/about-the-redbank-development-at-north-richmond/

And 2017:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/04/10/about-the-grose-river-bridge-and-the-redbank-development/

 

 


A Win For Colbee Park Users – A Masterplan... And $573K in Funding!

With members of the Oakville Raiders Baseball club and Hawkesbury Sports Council President Les Sheather

 

Overwhelmingly, the biggest problem Council has with developing masterplans for our parks is there is no money allocated to execute the plans once they're made. In this term I have lamented that community consultation and masterplanning processes raise community expectations, only to dash them with no follow-through.

Take Colbee Park in McGraths Hill as an example. It 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.

I've been engaged in a long campaign of engagement and advocacy to get some funding for improvements to the park.

The process for developing a Masterplan for the park has taken two years. Community consultation began in August 2019, and received a surprisingly strong response, with 152 online survey responses.

In September 2020, Council exhibited a Draft Masterplan, and I engaged with various stakeholder groups such as the Oakville United Soccer Club, the Oakville Raiders Baseball Club, and the Hawkesbury Hornets BMX Club to ask if the plan met their current and future needs. The response was mixed, with feedback mentioning limited vehicular access to the BMX track, a lack of lighting (making Colbee the only competitive BMX track in Sydney without lights), noting the susceptibility of the park to low-level flooding, and suggesting storage be moved to higher ground.

Crucially, and as was observed by the media at the time (in September 2020), no money was in prospect to build the improvements to the park.

 

Hopefully, this will change now. I moved for Council to adopt the new masterplan for Colbee Park at our meeting tonight. It was passed unanimously, and after my advocacy last year, I'm pleased to say that $573,000 has been allocated in the 2021-2022 Budget. This is not enough to complete all the improvements, but it's an excellent start. These funds will allow core or 'enabling works' that facilitate future improvements, and will benefit the whole park (not just any one user-group).

I am convinced that only by having a local Councillor continue to advocate for future budgetary commitments, will this program continue to advance. I didn't hear any other Councillor advocating for Colbee Park. No other Councillor lives in the area. I do.

Many of the earlier issues raised by stakeholders have been addressed, and I've contacted each of them to verify they are satisfied with the final plan.

The masterplan documents are available at Council's website (meeting of 27 July 2021, item 140).

Helping to clean up Colbee Park at a May 2021 Council post-flood cleanup day, with Federal MP Susan Templeman (we were the only two volunteers who turned up!)

 

Colbee Park Soccer Dad!

We should look after Jenolan Caves better

Today's post isn't about the Hawkesbury, but of a dearly loved tourist destination nearby in the Blue Mountains I am sure many of you have visited.

In January I took a few days' holiday and visited Katoomba, Bilpin and Jenolan Caves. The Caves have been a special place for me over my entire life. I did my work experience there as a cave guide in year 10. I spelunked there with the Sydney University Speleological Society in my Uni days. I hiked the Six Foot Track. I led school science excursions there for many years.

I was immediately saddened by the catastrophic damage wrought by the 2020 bushfires, and an earlier flood. But apart from the damage caused by disaster, I observed a precinct looking rather run down and worn. Essential maintenance has not occurred. Some caves are no longer shown because the paths and wiring have not been upgraded. The on-site staff quarters have been condemned, meaning people have to commute in. The small but historic on-site Caves community is dying. The caver's cottage, beloved in my memory and used as a springboard by speleological societies for research into the karst area, burned to the ground. The Devil's Coachhouse and Blue Lake walk both closed because damaged railings have not been replaced and of a perceived risk of rockfalls.

I immediately wrote to the local MP, Paul Toole and the relevant Minister, Matt Kean to seek urgent intervention.

 

I'm pleased that my call for funding and remediation works for this internationally recognised environmental treasure and tourism gem has been heeded. Today, an additional $7.9M of funding has been announced to repair damage, and takes the Government's total commitment to the precinct to over $20M.

I thank MP Toole and the Minister for recognising the value of Jenolan Caves.