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.

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.

Protecting the Cumberland Plain woodlands

This week the State Government placed the Draft Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan on exhibition for comment.

This is a significant document for a number of reasons, although it has some failings which my submission to the Minister will seek to remedy.

The Cumberland Plain is a generic term for the (mostly) flat geographical area laying between eastern Sydney and the Blue Mountains, encompassing Western Sydney from the south near Wilton to the north including the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. The forests and grasslands it used to host have been significantly fragmented by urban development, and previous attempts to create woodland corridors or “green lungs” for Sydney have been eroded over the decades, which I’ve written about before, and explained in a video.

The first thing to observe is updated maps relating to the location and extent of the M9/OSO road and infrastructure corridor are a part of the plan, and now formally exclude areas north of Richmond Road. This is heartening, but our community will not have certainty until the final extents are gazetted, which is in my opinion, signficantly overdue.

While we’re on the subject of corridors, the Draft EIS offered alongside the RMS proposal for the M9 included maps which purported to show the extent of Cumberland Plain Vegetation (of various types) along its path.

However, these maps were greatly at variance with other maps, such as NPWS maps, which showed significantly greater coverage.

I pointed this out at the time, both in an article and a video showing exactly how the extent of Cumberland woodland has been underestimated. I also created a Google Earth Overlay comparing the two.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor (as at 2018, not now) downplaying the extent of woodland in the vegetation study created by Transport for NSW.

The green areas above represent “Threatened ecological communities” and the hatched areas represent “Cumberland Plain Priority Conservation Lands”.

A vegetation study created by the National Parks and Wildlife service. This shows that TfNSW have vastly underplayed the significance of the remnant Cumberland woodland (specifically, endangered shale forest) in the corridor area.

Looking through the 3256 page Draft Assessment Report in the new plan that has been released, it would appear that few actions to update vegetation coverage maps have occurred in the Hawkesbury, in favour of study areas closer to the Aerotropolis closer to Badgerys Creek. I would have preferred that a Conservation Plan incorporating the Hawkesbury took at least some time to update the relevant studies to snapshot the state of the Cumberland vegetation in  the Hawkesbury. Instead, the focus is overwhelmingly on the southern areas subject to more intensive development.

Downy Wattle, Acacia pubescens

One representative example of this is the treatment of an iconic species prominent to the Hawkesbury, such as the Downy Wattle (Acacia Pubescens).

A 2003 NPWS study showed 116 known populations of the species, with just over half of those known populations containing fewer than 20 stems. There are sites in Windsor Downs, Mountain Lagoon, Pitt Town and Scheyville are the major sites in the Hawkesbury LGA, and yet the draft Assessment Report instead targeted study areas on Penrith, Badgerys Creek and Wilton.

Considering the State Government’s use of maps in their planning that are seriously out of date, or which disagree with other data, I hoped the Government would take the opportunity to do new work to establish current coverage and biodiversity threats to what’s left – especially in those areas of the Hawkesbury that will be likely subject to the greatest development pressure within the time horizon of the plan (out to 2056), like Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya.

Submissions will close on 25 September 2020. I encourage you to make your views known.

Mental health, psychological abuse and health regulation

I’m putting this post here to welcome those who are arriving at my site as a result of being quoted and linked in the August 2020 piece on VICE titled “I lost my wife to a cult”, which is, sadly, the story of what happened to my own family.

It’s a tragedy, and painful to recount, and something I’ve tended to be private about with respect to my role as an elected Councillor. I consented to participate in the story because of my desire to raise awareness of an important issue.

I believe most people expect government to have laws against the exploitation of the vulnerable. For myself, I am committed to that fight.

In recent years, Australia has conducted a debate on religious freedoms. We live in an open, pluralist society. It is fundamental to our national character that freedoms of belief, association and expression are respected.

But how do we deal with those who abuse the sense of purpose and hope that many find in faith, and use the cloak of religion to commit objectively evil acts?

It is not a rising tide of secularism that represents the worst threat to mainstream religions — believers that keep to social norms and who do genuinely charitable work in our communities. Rather, it’s a minority of “bad apples” that exploit the respected place of religion in our society.

Our laws discern a difference between belief and conduct. If you commit an assault, or perpetrate a fraud upon another, we accept these as clear breaches of a moral code and the law will bring you to book.

But if you lure someone into a cult, suppress their critical thinking faculties, change their name, poison them against the affections of their family, and rob them of years of their life, then the law, presently, is silent. It is an act equally as violent as a physical assault or a fraud — and indeed, often combines elements of each.

Back in 1998, the Australian Standing Committee of Attorney’s General formulated something called the Model Criminal Code. It was aimed at harmonising laws between the Commonwealth, the States and Territories. The Model Code contained a proposal to introduce an offence of Psychological Abuse, both to account for cult abuse and some aspects of domestic violence.

Despite the objective merit of the proposal, and my personal advocacy to the then NSW Attorney General in 2012, no Australian State ever saw fit to adopt it into their statutes.

This has been an area of advocacy for me for many years.

Further reading:

My other piece, Confronting Those Who Prey On The Vulnerable.

Older pieces on my other (personal) blog about cults.

My presentation to the national conference of the Australian False Memory Association. The first half of the video elaborates on the story appearing in the VICE piece linked at the top. The video from 26m00s on describes my political advocacy in this area.

On the opening of the new Windsor Bridge

I was privileged to have a sneak peak of the new bridge before it opened with Robyn Preston MP

The new Windsor bridge opened to traffic this weekend. This is a major milestone, and the project has dominated local politics for a decade.

After so much Ill-feeling and unnecessary delay, I think this is a project the whole community should be proud of, and I say this as a local representative who felt very much caught in the middle by those passionately advocating for and against.

I didn’t entirely agree with those who thought of this project as a rape of Windsor’s heritage. But I did agree that building a replacement bridge in the same location condemned a very historic square to another century of heavy traffic, when it offered a wonderful opportunity to build a bypass. I said then and still say that this was a missed opportunity.

“Slated for demolition”… except it never was.

I also disagreed strongly with those who put out misinformation — saying for example that heritage buildings around Thompson square were “scheduled for demolition” when they never were, and the protesters knew that. They also said that historic brick barrel drains that had been covered up over a century would be destroyed, when in fact the project afforded the chance to do some unique archeology and then cover them back up, just like they have been all this time. We now have a documentary record and a host of artefacts we never would have otherwise had. Piers for the new bridge were moved so that they didn’t disturb the drains. 

Some wonderful archeology was uncovered by the project, which never would have been investigated otherwise.

Nor did I see overwhelming merit in retaining a narrow, inadequate bridge whose visible structure was an ugly concrete deck added in 1924. The oldest part of the bridge, best able to be described as having heritage value, were the iron pillars driven into the river bedrock in 1874 — some of which will be retained in the construction of a viewing platform (which the protesters opposed!) 
These things inflamed passions and tested friendships needlessly.

Of course, any protest started by people who care deeply about heritage or local amenity also attract carpetbaggers — people who care less about the issue, but who beadily seized an opportunity to create political friction for their own ends.

For years, I saw protests in Thompson Square with unsavoury types loitering around the edges — leather clad union thugs, federal politicians who had nothing to do with the project, Greens activists, even the late Jack Mundey, former BLF tsar and Communist Party candidate (but otherwise the saviour of The Rocks — see, people aren’t all bad).

It became a circus. At the last election, at least three people gained election to Hawkesbury Council on the back of this tide of protest, only to spend the last four years sticking their heads in the sand, opposing reasonable collaboration between Council and the RMS, and almost guaranteeing that the community input they sought election on would rarely reach the right ears. It’s been very frustrating. 
I think many people who genuinely care about heritage have been used.

It’s worth noting that today’s opening of the new bridge isn’t the end of the project. I’m hopeful that the completed landscaping will reunite the sundered halves of Thompson Square caused by the cutting dug in 1934, greatly expanding the useful space to the public, and underlining that Thompson Square has been a changing and evolving space since the beginning.

The opening of the old bridge, 4th November, 1874. This bridge shares only certain elements with the present structure. The whole top deck was replaced in 1920.

I’m confident that once everyone sees the completed project, people will reconsider whether all the noise and hand-wringing were worth it.

Hawkesbury, enjoy your new bridge. Maybe your great-great grandchildren will fight to preserve it as a piece of the area’s heritage in 2166, the year in which it will be as old as the current bridge retired at. 

This video, courtesy of Robyn Preston MP – Member for Hawkesbury is a fascinating record of the bridge’s construction.

A brief meditation on human nature

LordOfTheFliesBookCover.jpg

I know this might not be about local government, but indulge me a little. If Government is about ordering society, and societies are made of individuals, then their innate temperament, good or bad, are worth meditating on. Imagine electing people to high office who never think or write about that, or who couldn’t articulate an opinion either way. Yes, imagine that

Many moons ago, I read Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ and felt glum afterwards. People at heart are nasty, Golding said. Either as a society or as a species we’re only a few missed meals away from barbarism. Isolate people and just watch them forget education, rationality and courtesy, and descend into animals.At that time, this view was consonant with my religious faith. I recalled Jeremiah’s lament that all human hearts are ‘desperately wicked’, and I nodded, regretfully concluding the novel backed the Bible’s assessment of human nature.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and ...

The first blow to that view came when I read of a 4th century Church heresy called Pelagianism. Poor Pelagius, an ascetic monk, didn’t believe in original sin, and felt human beings aren’t all that bad after all. They might even have some virtue, if they were allowed to exercise free will. Jesus, Pelagius said, came to set a better example, rather than acting as a propitiatory blood sacrifice to an angry god. Might people, he wondered, instinctively behave decently towards one another without needing a goad (or a god)? His inclination to that view makes more sense when you remember that Pelagius was British.

In praise of Pelagius

Of course, Pelagius didn’t prevail, because Augustine insisted that people were drenched in Original Sin and were innately horrible, only to be one-upped a millennia later by Calvin who said we inherited a “hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul… For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.”

John Calvin quote: Original sin, therefore, appears to be a ...

But because, perhaps like you, I knew many kind people whose kindness did not spring from religious faith (and worse, know many whose cruelty springs exclusively from it), this dismal view of human nature never quite gelled with the evidence of my own eyes. So I always thought of myself as a tiny bit Pelagian — a little heresiarch, and that streak of defiance never left me.

And now I read a real-life tale, which I’m astonished I’ve never heard before, about a group of adolescents marooned on an island for over a year, Lord-of-the-flies style. Except that they looked out for one another, and got along, and all came home safe and well as a result.

So why am I going on about this now?

Because we’re living in a peculiar and disturbing time. We could all do with a little affirmation about our ability to be good ; to look after one another especially while we’re going through a trial like a pandemic. I see a lot of human nature in my role as a leader in my community.

So listen to me: People are, with small exceptions, decent, and want to help one another. Be encouraged.

This story renews some of my faith in humankind, which three millennia of dogma has tried to tread down. Look around you. Our community is making a valiant effort and enduring enormous sacrifices to protect vulnerable people. Because it’s the right thing to do. Jeremiah was wrong. Calvin was wrong.

And Mr Golding? Shame on you.

New land valuations give little relief for rates in most Hawkesbury suburbs

Residents around the Hawkesbury should be receiving their latest land valuation letters from the Valuer General. I got mine this week.

I’ll be making a more detailed analysis when some details crystallise, but since it’s already been mentioned on social media, let me get some data out to you.

Every few years, the VG revalues your land. It has nothing to do with the improved value of your property (that is, with your house and other structures), but is used by Council to calculate your rates. This Council voted to turn the knob up on the formula which magnifies swings in land value on your rates. I and my fellow Liberal Councillors opposed that as unfair and this remains our view. I’ve made several videos and posts about this in the past, if you want a reminder.

For example, speculation caused by development near the NW growth sector caused land values in Oakville and Vineyard to soar in 2017, and the Council rubbed salt in the wound by applying for a staged 31% rate-hike (the SRV) which is still flowing through to you.

Here are three tables from Council’s new 2020 analysis of the effect of the new valuation on rates, by suburb.

Hawkesbury Council’s preliminary analysis of the effect of the new valuation on 2020 rates.

It shows that land values in Oakville have relaxed -7.26%, the biggest suburb drop in this round. However, given land values spiked 130% in the 2016 Valuation (206% in Vineyard, 66% in Maraylya, and 44% in McGraths Hill), this is little relief.

A slide from a 2016 briefing on the effect of the previous land valuation round from 2014 to 2016.

If this were the only factor, the average Residential rates in Oakville would drop $710p.a in the 2020-2021FY.


BUT, since the latest stage of the SRV is also going to be applied to your next rates bill, most of the gains are eroded.

So, the average rates in Oakville in 2020-21 will be $3598pa, down from $3905 this year, a saving of only $307.

These figures need to be taken with these caveats:
Average figures are only that, and your own situation may differ.
• I’ve asked Council staff for more granular data including median rates, and I’m still waiting for them.
• These per-suburb figures are not final, as the VG has indicated some variations may occur in areas affected by the fires. This will affect the balance between suburbs and therefore the proportion each of us will pay.

Some people’s rates in Oakville and elsewhere doubled (or worse) in 2017, and this new land valuation will give you very little relief. You’re right to be angry. The current Council delivered a quadruple-whammy to you by abolishing the Rural-Residential category, increasing land value as an input to the rating formula, spiking everyone’s rates by 31%, all at a time of rampant land value property speculation, which appears to be continuing.

I will continue to advocate for a fairer system.

Be Proud of Cook’s Discovery of Australia

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s landing at Botany Bay.

It was the crowning achievement of an astonishing feat of navigation, and the greatest historically consequential event in a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery. It was the prelude to the birth of our nation.

Today, I’m taking the time to reflect on this achievement. I think all Australians should be proud of what Cook did, and even given the astringent and surreal times we are presently living through, I am unhappy that the event is passing without the fanfare it deserves.

I was a schoolboy in 1988 and Australia marked the bicentenary of the landing of the First Fleet. It was a yearlong and open-hearted celebration of what Australia has become — a youthful, peaceful, democratic, pluralist, secular, lawful, compassionate, innovative and good-humoured country. These are things it is genuinely worth being proud of. I think that the quarter-millennial anniversary of Cook’s discovery is almost as important.

Celebrating Cook’s landing at Botany Bay does not imply that our nation is without faults. We recognise the deep and abiding connection of Australia’s first inhabitants to the land. But recognising significant anniversaries like this are about looking at how far we’ve come, and it’s worth remembering that one of the Australian virtues birthed with our nation is an aspiration to treat all people equally and with dignity. We shouldn’t wallow in recrimination, cast accusations, or judge our forebears by the different standards of today. This message, of tolerance and national pride, is one I have been sharing for many years.

If you feel less acquainted than you ought with this important event in our history, then permit me to invite you to read Joseph Bank’s own diary from the days around the landing in April 1770. It’s more vivid than Cook’s account, and is a captivating read.

The Hawkesbury’s Response to the Bushfires

I thanked RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons for his leadership during the crisis.

June 8th update:
The total value of the funds received from the Commonwealth and State Government in relation to bushfire assistance to date is $1,737,477.

The breakdown of funds is as follows:

• $1.3 million from two Commonwealth Grants of $1 million and $300,000
• $437,477 from the NSW State Government via the following grants:

Bushfire Community Resilience and Economic Recovery Grant: $250,000
• Bilpin Orchards Clean-up Grant: $187,500.

The Funding was provided to Council to “lead the local recovery efforts as it sees fit…”
Council has provided the Office of Local Government with a Program of Works detailing how the collective funding received will be utilised by Council. Further reports will be provided as required to the Office of Local Government and the Commonwealth.

• The $1.3 million from the Commonwealth Government is to be used for:
a) Infrastructure: $85,000 (e.g. clearing dangerous trees, replacing signage, communications towers, water infrastructure etc)
b) Waste, Environment and Planning: $420,000 (e.g. removal of fire damaged vegetation, trees on private property, illegally dumped rubbish and contaminated waste, expert planning advice etc.).
c) Health and Wellbeing: $560,000 from the Commonwealth and $100,200 from other known sources (e.g. recovery projects in Colo, Bilpin and St Albans, psychological support & counselling, supplementing Step by Step funding, funding additional outreach worker and community development worker etc. )
d) Business, Tourism and Industry: $85,000 from the Commonwealth Government (e.g. utilising local businesses for goods and services, 1-1 support for tourism, promoting local businesses, business recovery coordination etc.)
e) Disaster Recovery Officer: $150,000

• The $437,477 from the NSW State Government is to be used for:
a) Infrastructure:$125,000, ((e.g. clearing dangerous trees, replacing signage, communications towers, water infrastructure etc.)

b) Waste, Environment and Planning:$187,477 ((e.g. removal of fire damaged vegetation, trees on private property, illegally dumped rubbish and contaminated waste, expert planning advice etc.)
c) Health and Wellbeing: $50,000 (recovery projects in Colo, Bilpin and St Albans, psychological support & counselling, supplementing Step by Step funding, funding additional outreach worker and community development worker etc.)
d) Business, Tourism and Industry: $200,000 (utilising local businesses for goods and services, 1-1 support for tourism, promoting local businesses, business recovery coordination etc.)

My original post continues:

Our Hawkesbury Shire was one of the more severely affected areas in the recent bushfires.

Over 160 days of continuous fire operations, at the peak of the campaign there were 2500 to 3000 personnel on the fireground daily, together with multiple air tankers, helicopters and other aircraft.

The Gospers Mtn fire now holds the record as the largest fire in the world from a single ignition point. Adding the fires that merged into it, it consumed over 1 million hectares — about 7% of the whole State. It had a perimeter 1380km long and was larger than 31 countries.

Statewide there were 2,400 houses lost (but, it bears remembering, over 15,000 houses valiantly saved).

Here in the Hawkesbury, 540 rural property holders were impacted, with 65 homes destroyed, 30 homes damaged, plus 55 outbuildings.

Little did we realise, as the smoke (literally) cleared, that within a month we would face a flood, and then a pandemic.

These events may have felt at times that they would overwhelm us. It is important for leaders to remind everyone that the victims of the fires have not been forgotten, and that a range of initiatives are underway to respond to their needs.

Hawkesbury Council’s submission to the Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements submitted this week has highlighted both the praiseworthy and the “could improve” of our response.

It praises the local knowledge of brigade personnel in the Hawkesbury RFS, the coordination of out of area resources including resources offered from other states, international help, and from the Australian Defence Force. It acknowledged the success of our Community Engagement Protocols; reinforcing State and Local level combat agency information over multiple communication channels.

On the “could improve” list was a focus on telecommunications. Black spots in signal coverage and the loss of landlines from fire and tree damage to overhead cabling affected our emergency response capacity and has been a longstanding issue. Work needs to be done to make cellular towers and exchange points more fire resilient.

On this front, there is already good news, with the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spots program recently announcing new funding for three new cellular towers in the Hawkesbury, at Central Colo, Colo and Putty, and community input requested for the next rounds of the same program. I encourage you to make a submission by the deadline of June 19th.

Another significant lesson is the need to ensure that our fire defences are supported by the provision of modern and spacious headquarters to manage emergencies and provide logistical support. The need for a new, purpose built  Hawkesbury Fire Control Centre is a fight I’ve written about before, and which I will continue to advocate for.

The Federal Government has announced significant funding for tourism in the Hawkesbury (yes, tourism will recover after Covid-19!) through the Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Grants scheme.

Applications remain open for the Federal-State government’s Small Business Bushfire Support Grant. The grant provides up to $10,000 for businesses that have been indirectly impacted by the fires and whose revenue has declined by 40% (relative to the previous financial year).

At a more local level, Council is continuing to assist with the cleanup effort, especially in Bilpin, at Colo and in the Macdonald Valley.

52 inspections have been undertaken with 31 properties deemed to be eligible for clean-up assistance, with 12 properties already completed. Inspections and removal of dangerous trees are ongoing.

Property owners seeking to rebuild are being provided with a concierge service, and Council is developing a ‘Rebuilding and Repairing Buildings Damaged by Bushfire’ factsheet, which will be available through Hawkesbury Council’s Bush Fire Recovery Page.

Bushfire Recovery
The Council’s resource page for bush fire recovery.

If you’ve been affected by fire or flood, it must feel like other more recent events have pushed you out of everyone’s minds entirely.

You haven’t been forgotten.

As (hopefully) the impact of COVID-19 subsides, we can return our focus to getting the Hawkesbury back on its feet after both the fire and the flood.

Road upgrade works along March Street, Richmond

The RMS is in the process of beginning works to upgrade March Street in Richmond, largely between the intersection of Bosworth Street (KFC Corner) and Chapel Street.

(hi-res version)

These works will widen the road and involve underground service relocation and unfortunately the loss of many established Crepe Myrtle trees lining March Street. The commencement of works has caused some understandable concern in the community.

The proposed scope of the works is evident from a 2016 RMS Review of Environmental Factors Report:

I share your concerns about the loss of these lovely, established flowering trees, and a related concern about the project threatening a large Plane tree at the intersection of March St and Chapel St which forms part of a significant avenue of heritage trees along Chapel Street (where I used to live). It’s a beautiful part of Richmond and the Crepe Myrtles are absolutely stunning when they are in bloom.

It bears remembering that this is an RMS project, not a Hawkesbury Council project. RMS (at best) only liaise with Council about the potential impacts, especially at the interface between State roads and Local roads.

Also, these upgrades are part of a series of upgrades between North Richmond and Richmond that will ease long-standing traffic flow issues until a more permanent fix in the form of a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River is built.

So here’s what we know about what can be done. The 2016 RMS report acknowledges the significance of these trees and they undertake to replace them “where appropriate” after the road is widened and the footpath replaced:

In terms of the Plane tree on the corner of Chapel St, Council and RMS representatives held a site visit recently to discuss alternative options to save the tree.

I’ve made it clear that these trees have value to the community and amenity of Richmond, and that they need to be replaced with mature specimens, not seedlings, if at all possible. Our Council staff will continue to press that point to the project managers, RMS / TfNSW.

If you care for these trees, I would encourage you to make your concerns known by contacting the RMS’s project contact managers, DownerMouchel on:
Phone: 1800 332 660, or
Email: NSW_projects@dmroads.com.au

Ecotourism, Hindu Temples, and WTF is a Housekeeping LEP?

On Tuesday night, Council resumed for 2020 and half way in, the meeting descended into chaos. A massive thunderstorm killed the power at a crucial juncture, forcing a second postponement, much to the frustration of a full gallery. The meeting had already been held over one week after flooding shut the Hawkesbury’s three major bridges. It wasn’t an auspicious start.

Before the storm, Council were able to consider several motions of condolence relating to the bushfire emergency that occurred during the recess.

It also approved a motion I brought which sought an extension of the public consultation period about the Pitt Town Hindu Temple proposal, and directs Council’s involvement in a public meeting which will go some way to addressing the community’s concerns about it. I raised this after representations from members of the Pitt Town community, and the vote was a victory for common sense.

Later, what we were debating when the power went out was something called a “Housekeeping LEP”, and it’s more important than it sounds.

Council’s LEP, or Local Environmental Plan, governs what zonings prevail in various parts of our city. This in turn governs what can be built and where.

It was last fully updated in 2012 and is vastly in need of an overhaul. We were promised that it would be totally renewed in this term of Council, but the process has dragged on so badly it will fall to the next Council, elected in September, to get the process done. Part of the delay is the refusal of the State Government to properly resource our Council to do the necessary preliminary work, even though other Councils have received State funds for the job.

This is frustrating for many reasons: Changes to planning law mean that Planning Panels — unelected, unaccountable and bureaucratic bodies, have taken on the job of assessing Development Applications, which used to be what your elected Councillors did in the chamber. The Planning Panels in turn interpret Council’s stated policies such as our LEP (and our DCP – the Development Control Plan, which defines things like the scale, shape, quality, aesthetics and building materials that can be used in constructions), to get a sense of what is permissible or desirable.

That Planning Panels are making these decisions with no formal input from your elected Councillors, while drawing on an ancient LEP which does not reflect our current values and expectations, is not good.

In my opinion, the conduit for executing the community’s desire for a particular style or scale of development, via elected Councillors, through their limited input into infrequently updated planning instruments, and thence to the interpretive whim of Planning Panels, is now so torturous and diffuse as to be impotent.

I’ll give an example why we need an update: The 2012 LEP made very little mention of Ecotourism. It was there in the LEP dictionary, and section 5.12 even laid out some standards. But the words “Ecotourist facilities” were missing from the land-use tables to permit it in any zonings. Meaning, there is presently no permission for this form of economic activity, one our city ought to be promoting as an appropriate and desirable land-use. Ecotourism ticks all the boxes – it aligns well with the Hawkesbury’s tourism strategies, it enables a productive use of land that may be unsuitable for other purposes, it encourages environmental awareness and good stewardship, it confers a halo effect on other parts of the local economy, and an Ecotourism framework in the LEP will regulate the sector, providing checks & balances for near neighbours, and certainty to those wishing to invest in those businesses.

Recognising the interminable process of getting a wholly new LEP, Council conceived getting some of the changes we’ve put off into a Housekeeping LEP, a kind of mini-LEP update, like a software patch issued between major revisions of an operating system.

Here’s a slide from a Councillor briefing we received in February 2017 reminding us that the Housekeeping LEP process began in July 2015.

And here we are, five years later, and we’re still no closer. Unbelievable!

Fifty such changes were identified for inclusion, including a provision for Ecotourism.

Sadly, a lack of will and strangulating bureaucracy has eroded even this limited proposal for endorsement by the NSW Minister for Planning. The watered-down Housekeeping LEP falls maddeningly short of what I and my fellow Liberals had hoped for .

We had hoped we could make good on our election commitment to permit Detached Dual Occupancies. But it’s been removed from the draft. Ditto a more generous definition of Secondary Dwellings (effectively granny flats). And Ecotourism? Included in an earlier draft, but now recommended for elimination based on an apprehension that the Minister will scuttle the whole thing because of dangling threads. This is not good enough.

Complicating public debate is a protracted campaign by feuding millionaires with Polo properties down on the Richmond Lowlands. One of them opposes both the function centre and the ecotourism provisions of the Housekeeping LEP, citing the risk of flooding on the Lowlands. And while that’s probably a valid point, the only reason you’re reading about this via full-page ads in this week’s Gazette and the Courier is because these millionaires loath each other and just want to cause grief for one another.

The simple fact is that even if the Housekeeping LEP is ratified in full, individual DA’s for proposals (say) on the Lowlands would still be subjected to a raft of other merit-based assessment criteria. Flood liability may still rule such developments out, but they would be assessed on an individual basis.

On Tuesday, the Liberals were key to an amendment to direct Council to submit the fuller version of the Housekeeping LEP to the Minister, with Ecotourism included. That amendment then became the motion, and based on the same numbers, was likely to pass.

Then, at the key moment, the power went off.

Will it pass when the meeting resumes on Tuesday night (25th)? Let’s see.

Is a Hindu temple appropriate for Pitt Town?

A number of residents have approached me about a development application which was lodged in late November for the construction of a $6.4M temple complex at 95 Old Pitt Town Road, Pitt Town.

The image below should provide some context: In the upper left is the Pitt Town cemetery and in the lower right is Pitt Town Sports Club.

The application as submitted to Hawkesbury council requests permission to

Council’s DA Tracker website has the details (use DA0513/19 or the address as the reference). The application has been initiated by a group called Sri Mandir who are based at Auburn. They appear to be a different entity to the organisation who successfully sought permission to build a Hindu temple at Beddek St in McGraths Hill in October 2016. That group is called Sri Siva Jyothi Temple, who are based at Wentworthville.

With respect to the 2016 DA, this occurred during the time when Council was the consent authority. On that occasion I voted against approval, and the public remarks I made as to why are on the public record.

The Hawkesbury Social Atlas shows that at the time of the 2016 Census, the Hindu population of the Hawkesbury was 0.2% (130 individuals), vs 3.5% in the Greater Sydney area.

It would appear that the D.A is for a very ostentatious structure, being multi story and with 67 car parking spaces. The structures are “forward” on the subject block, and close to the road.

The residents who have approached me have expressed a range of concerns about the appropriateness of this development for this site, citing traffic, scale, noise, fire hazard and the effect on amenity. The development sits quite close to Scheyville National Park, as detailed in the Bushfire Assessment Report.

Under changes to NSW Planning, Hawkesbury City Councillors no longer vote on DA’s before our Council. These planning powers were removed from many NSW Councils and given to unelected, unaccountable “Planning Panels”. I and many other Councillors (Liberal and non Liberal alike) are opposed to this diminution of democracy in our planning laws.

Planning Panels may empanel people with eminent subject expertise in planning matters, but in our democracy, the expertise of public servants must be balanced with democratic accountability to the community.

If a Planning Panel makes an unpopular decision, frequently they have no “skin in the game”– they can’t be voted out by the public, and in some (not all) cases, don’t even live in the communities they are affecting by their decisions.

Details about the Hawkesbury Local Planning Panel are at Council’s website.

Hawkesbury Council has at least some part to play however. They act to receive and process paperwork related to DA’s, and before the Planning Panel meets, will write a staff report either listing the consent conditions that should be applied, or alternatively, recommending refusal and citing the ways in which the DA would be inappropriate in that zone or at that site.

Residents have also expressed concern that the exhibition period, occurring over Christmas, and during a time of significant duress within the community with bushfires, has not afforded people enough time to digest and respond to the proposal. There is also a report (unverified by me) that not all the documentation currently on the DA tracker was made available in a timely fashion.

I think a public meeting should be held so that residents can receive information and understand the implications of this proposal.

As was the case with the McGraths Hill proposal (which curiously has not broken ground on their land since consent was granted in October 2016), I will be happy to support local residents as they seek representation to the Planning Panel, which will meet later this year (date unknown) to consider it.

On the plan to build a new Fire Control Headquarters in the Hawkesbury

Recently at our last Council meeting for 2019, Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert moved a Mayoral Minute to seize on the high profile of bushfires in the Hawkesbury.

In it, he advocated for Hawkesbury to build a new purpose-built Fire Control Headquarters, to replace the current facility at Wilberforce.

I know Fire Control well, having volunteered there for some years in my teens and twenties, under the then Fire Control Officer, Bill Rodger. Situated in the old Colo Shire Council chambers building, it was an ageing, awkward and pokey fit even a quarter century ago. Colo Shire Council was founded in 1906 and amalgamated into the Hawkesbury Shire Council in 1981.

At times of emergency, the place just isn’t big enough. Temporary structures have to be built outside, necessitating much to-and-fro.

The Mayor’s Minute was endorsed, unanimously. However, the way in which it was presented strikes me as worth further comment.

I think most people supporting such a move appreciate the sentiment behind it first, but then expect it to outlay concrete steps that lead to the desired outcome. A new, purpose built facility is a massive expenditure. Ground was broken in September for a new facility on the South West Slopes and that will cost $6.3 Million.

The Mayor’s motion contained no financial commitment to either build, or even scope the ideal location and configuration of a new Fire Control Centre — both pre-requisite in my opinion to the State government signing on for funding.

In other words, Council needs to budget money to build our case. There’s little point in “initiating discussions” (as the motion says) to ask for such a significant financial commitment. Wilberforce may not even be the best location for a new facility — some addressing the meeting nominated a number of alternatives.

This kind of wishlisting, without appreciating proper process or budgetary considerations, has happened before. As if smelling the wind, the Greens added a clause to the motion to insist that the Wilberforce Brigade (who are co-located with Fire Control) be “fast tracked” to a new facility “within twelve months”. In my opinion, this offers false hope, when Council’s budget for the year has been locked in.

Michael Scholz, Captain of the Wilberforce Rural Fire Brigade addressed us and described the inadequacy of the current facility. No one disagreed. But the process of building a new fire shed involves forward planning and budgeting, and a lot of consultation. It can’t be done by fiat on the spur of the moment. Two fire shed renovations in the Hawkesbury were held up for several years by spurious Native Title claims.

Our RFS locally have and continue to do a heroic job. There’s definitely a case for a new Fire Control Centre. However, we have to now take concrete action: to budget, to scope our plan, to make a compelling case, and to commit to co-funding the facility. In my opinion, only then will our State Government take us seriously.

Pitt Town Road upgrades

Back in August 2017 I joined members of the Pitt Town Progress Association, fellow Councillors and staff on a tour of the Pitt Town area to identify a long list of “action items”. High on that list were upgrades to Pitt Town Road that were promised as benefits to the Pitt Town development.

These upgrades consist of the Pitt Town Bypass project, which received a $4.7M boost in the most recent State Budget (and which will be an estimated $8.2M for the whole project), and upgrades to other intersections between Pitt Town and McGraths Hill. I hope the Bypass will have shovels in the ground in 2020.

The most important of these other works is the intersection of Pitt Town Road and Saunders Road. Increasing traffic has rendered this intersection dangerous for some time. I know people personally who have had serious accidents there.

It is pleasing to see these works now underway, but many have asked me why it looks so elaborate, and what all the pipes sticking out of the ground are. I am advised that the pipes mark the location of various underground services such as water and gas.

There will now be dedicated turning lanes when coming along Pitt Town Road, in both directions, for traffic turning into Saunders Road, and for traffic turning into Pitt Town Bottoms Road (towards Lynwood).

Here is a one-page graphic of the works proposed, and below that is a more detailed PDF copy of the plans.

Pages-from-DS2018.000661-P0036163_AFC_Rev-A_Combined

Elected Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

With HRCC General Manager, Chris Dewhurst, Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston, and outgoing chair, Clr. Karen McKeown from Penrith Council.

Tonight I was elected as the new Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, after serving for the last 12 months as Deputy Chair.
This is a great honour. I am the first Hawkesbury Liberal Councillor ever to be elected to this role.

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 2,014 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.

Robyn Preston MP – Member for Hawkesbury was elected as my Deputy! Considering she’s my boss in another context, this was regarded with great mirth.

I’d like to thank the outgoing Chair, Councillor Karen McKeown for her steady hand over the last year, and our indefatigable General Manager, Chris Dewhurst.

The Vineyard Development area

Recently I completed a pair of short videos that go together in covering issues relating to housing development.

My desire is to touch on larger issues affecting our city and its future growth, but I use the example of the proposed development of the Vineyard area to illustrate them.

They cover:

  • The extent of the Vineyard development in the context of the North West Growth Sector
  • The role of both developers, the State Government, and Councils have in funding and delivering infrastructure
  • The role of IPART, the Government’s independent pricing regulator, in adjudicating whether Council’s infrastructure plans are economical.

Here they are together.

Part 1: Development and Congestion in Hawkesbury City

Part 2: Who should pay for Infrastructure when housing development comes?

Councillor Zamprogno secures $90,750 grant for Richmond School of Arts Lighting refurbishment

With Hawkesbury MP, Robyn Preston, School of Arts committee member, Ross Wanstall, and President of Richmond Players, Sean Duff

There are a range of grant programs that community groups can avail themselves of in supporting their work.

Hawkesbury Council have their own Community Sponsorship program, recently revamped by Council with clearer processes and assessment guidelines, which groups can access here in the case of facilities, and here in the case of events.

For more major works, the State Government have grant programs like the Community Building Partnership grant program, ClubGrants, and the new MyCommunity grant program. There are also non-government philanthropic programs like the Crown Resorts Foundation.

As part of my work supporting Hawkesbury organisations, I have become adept at identifying and advocating for groups to get funding in this way.

If your community organisation want a hand in securing grant funding, get in touch, because I’d be happy to help.

I successfully initiated and pursued a grant for $25,800 to install a sound system in the Richmond School of Arts building in 2010, followed up by $3,655 in 2015 for a new projection screen for the same building.

In the case of the School of Arts and its anchor tenants, the Richmond Players dramatic society, the masterplan was always to attempt to complete the auditorium refurbishment with a new lighting system.

The old lighting system in that building is old and fragile. The filament lights could only be driven to 80% brightness – if they blew, there were no replacement parts. Once it dies, that’s it.

It was obtained second hand from Channel 9 in the early 1970s, and was old even then. I hear, in the past, the lighting operator John Phipps dimmed the lights by plunging a live coil of wire wound around a broom handle into a bucket of water!

I’m hugely proud to say that this year, a grant I initiated and pursued for $90,750 has been successful, finally allowing this wonderful community organisation, now in its 68th year, to complete the refurbishment.

The pivotal moment was when the State Government launched a new grant scheme, the MyCommunity Grant Scheme, in which the winners would be voted on by the public. I knew there was a large and enthusiastic community of patrons of this space, and of community theatre, who would rally to the cause. They handed our fliers at shows, letterbox dropped the local area, and gained the support they needed.

I’m also very pleased that a number of other local Hawkesbury community groups have secured funding, including for an expanded Men’s Shed in the grounds of the Pioneer Village at Wilberforce, for shade structures at Council’s community pool at Richmond, and for public-access heart defibrillators for the Wiseman’s Ferry community.

Of course this would not be possible without the support of the NSW State Government, and of our local Hawkesbury MP, Robyn Preston, whose office has facilitated information about the grant programs throughout. Thank you, Robyn.

Gazette gives Councillors an attendance report card

Report card: Councillors Danielle Wheeler and John Ross have recorded 100 per cent attendance at council meetings since the beginning of 2018. Picture: Archive.


Diligence matters. Turning up, listening well, and being across our subject matter.
This is what you’re entitled to from me and from your other elected representatives.

I’m gratified I get a “A” in this week’s story in the Gazette concerning our meeting attendances record over the last three years.
I would clarify that the meeting I was not at was due to me attending a conference on behalf of Council.

As the story suggests, Chamber attendance is only one part of our duties, and isn’t a perfect indicator of our engagement in our work.

Non-Chamber-meeting Tuesdays are for closed Councillor briefings by Staff, and most Councillors are also members of a number of Committees. The list of my Committee involvements are here. Committee membership is an essential part of being a good representative, as it allows us to “deep dive” into particular policy areas and gain a better understanding.

Lastly, when Council hold community consultation meetings around the district, I feel it is important to get along to as many of them as possible. I’m pleased to report that in the most recent round of town-hall meetings, I attended those at North Richmond, Upper Colo, Oakville/Maraylya and St Albans.

We don’t need another referendum about Council

At the last Council election we also held a referendum on whether our city should be divided into wards. That exercise – really just the thought bubble of one Councillor — cost us $24,000 and the idea went on to be soundly rejected by the community.

At our Council meeting tonight we were asked to consider if there was any other change we wanted to put to a referendum for the local government elections that are scheduled for September next year. Would we like 13 Councillors instead of 12? A popularly elected Mayor? To revisit the Wards issue?

I took the view that these suggestions wouldn’t improve the quality of democracy in our city. 

Some of our Councillors made a very conspicuous show only a couple of months ago of rejecting a CPI-rise in the fee paid to Councillors — a virtue-signalling exercise that would save Council a grand total of $7,132p.a. Nevertheless, tonight the same ones took a shine to the idea of holding another referendum that would cost another $24K (or more) to put to voters, and in the case of increasing Councillor numbers, another $80K+ in pay across the 4 years of a Council term.

I confess, I found that a trifle inconsistent.

So I voted for the status quo. I’m happy to report I was in the majority. I suggest that the money we save by not entertaining thought bubbles like this will be better spent on better roads, parks and services.

Hawkesbury wins in the NSW Budget

The 2019-2020 NSW Budget handed down today by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet makes for encouraging reading. 

For people in the Hawkesbury, it includes:

  • $2M for the planning of the new Hawkesbury River crossing. 
  • $4.7M for the Pitt Town Bypass ($8.2M estimated for the whole project)
  • $31.4M for the Windsor Bridge Replacement Project ($78M spent to date)
  • Another $384K on top of $6.2M already allocated for the renovation of Richmond High School.
  • $56.4M for land acquisition associated with the new Rouse Hill hospital.
  • $99.2 over 4 years spread across the Western Parkland City Liveability Program for the rejuvenation of the town centres of Windsor, Richmond and South Windsor.

This is a good result for the Hawkesbury and sits in the broader context of record spending on schools, infrastructure and services, and ongoing budget surpluses.

This is what good financial management looks like.

Funding for a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River

 

The North Richmond Bridge, built 1905. Photo: The author

Yesterday, the Federal Liberal government committed $200 million to build a new road crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

This is tremendously exciting news, but some commentary I’ve seen is misleading about about who to thank and where we go from here.

The need for traffic congestion relief for residents west of the river has been understood and acknowledged for years. A walk through the timeline will be instructive.

In 2011, the newly elected Liberal State government commissioned a study, which delivered its “Long Term Options Report” in September 2012 and canvassed a number of options. These included:

  • Amplifying the current bridge to three lanes and employing a contraflow arrangement morning and evening.
  • Constructing a new two-lane bridge immediately downstream to provide an extra two lanes, either at the same level as the current bridge, or somewhat further downstream and at a higher level to provide 1:20yr flood immunity.

Each of these options would ultimately increase traffic through both Richmond and North Richmond and would require substantial amplification to roadworks between the Bosworth St intersection in Richmond, and the Grose Vale Road intersection in North Richmond.

In 2011, the then Labor Federal government pledged a paltry $2M — money that did not appear in the budget or the forward estimates until 2015. The then Liberal Macquarie MP Louise Markus drew attention to this, saying

“(It’s) another empty promise that may never eventuate. Heavy peak traffic on Grose Vale Road, Terrace Road and Bells Line of Road leading down towards the M7 causes significant congestion around the Richmond bridge. It takes sometimes more than an hour for people, once they reach North Richmond, to cross the bridge to Richmond on the way to work, and the same can happen in the evening.”

By August 2014, the Federal Liberal-National government was in position to advance the issue. Louise Markus told the House of Reps:

The provision of safer, more efficient roads to regional Australia is a priority of this government. One such issue needing to be addressed was the Richmond Bridge … This bridge has experienced significant increased traffic pressure over recent years. Labor failed to deliver on this committed project, but I have fought to see Richmond and North Richmond receive the approved infrastructure that the community deserves. 

For several years, planning by the federal government and the New South Wales coalition government has been underway to cater for increased traffic around the Richmond Bridge. The city-centric previous Labor government short-changed regional Australia by cutting $500 million in regional funding. I am pleased to acknowledge the coalition government has committed $18 million of total funding for the Richmond Bridge and its approaches from 2013-14 through to 2018-19.

Meanwhile, the State Liberal Government got on with the job of using these funds to improve a range of issues affecting traffic flow along Bells Line of Road, with this graphic from an October 2018 RMS newsletter showing the works around the intersection, but which does not show extensive improvements at the intersection of Old Kurrajong Rd / Yarramundi Lane.

By the 2018 State Budget, our local MP and State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was able to pledge $25 million dollars of State money to do detailed planning for a new river crossing ($7m of which was in the 2018-2019 FY). This is what proper collaboration between State and Federal governments looks like.

I am agnostic on the question of whether the bridge should be a straight duplication of the current bridge, or should be located elsewhere. I’m wary of increasing congestion in North Richmond and Richmond. Council is in the process of finalising a detailed Regional Traffic Study. The process of choosing a site for the bridge and the support roads that will lead to it should be data-driven, as well as acutely mindful of the effects on our heritage towns.

Against this backdrop, the only missing piece, and by far the largest one, was funding for the bridge itself. And it’s arrived.

When the announcement was made yesterday, you should realise it has come off the back of a decade of advocacy from Liberal representatives — Local, State and Federal, as well as a lot of dedicated members of the community.

State Pols

Building the roads and rail of the future helped Premier Gladys Berejiklian to be re-elected and today the Prime Minister is hoping to copy her vote-winning strategy. #9News | http://9News.com.au

Posted by 9 News Sydney on Monday, 1 April 2019

All your Local Liberal Councillors have advocated for the funding for an extra crossing — especially Sarah Richards, now the Federal Candidate for Macquarie, who has knocked on the door of the State and Federal government doggedly.

These kinds of infrastructure projects are possible when governments balance their budgets and grow the economy. No one argues that they are necessary, but it takes years of planning.

So how did Labor react, after years of neglect on infrastructure? They fell over themselves to say they would match the funding.

It’s galling to see this portrayed as some kind of Labor funding announcement, or something that has come as the result of Labor’s careful planning for infrastructure and thrift. It’s not. And I’ll bet that the $200 million dollar commitment is as unfunded and ephemeral as other announcements they have made over the years. Under the last Labor government in NSW, they had six transport ministers, nine transport plans, announced a dozen new railway lines and delivered just one — the Airport line — the contract for which was inked under the previous Liberal administration.

Susan Templeman, and Labor generally, deserve no credit for this fantastic announcement. This has come off the back of Liberal advocacy, and Liberal budgetary management. $200 million dollars doesn’t fall out of the air, and saying “me too” in its wake with no sign it was ever costed by Labor doesn’t represent leadership.

Visiting the St Albans Community

Yesterday, The people of St Albans hosted a visit from myself, the Mayor, fellow Councillors and Council staff to catch up about how Council is serving that community.

Far from being overlooked, the “Forgotten Valley” tracing the course of the MacDonald River is one of the most beautiful parts of the Hawkesbury, and the effective provision of infrastructure and services is important to us. Ongoing programs of Council are repairing roads, have renovated the local Tennis Courts, and support initiatives in parks, tourism, and so on.

Locals, including Stephen Brown, President of the MacDonald Valley Association brought a range of issues before us, including renovation of the School of Arts Hall, planning controls on flood-affected land, the responsiveness of Council to inquiries, and the state of road and ferry services.

It was a pleasure to meet the MacDonald Valley community and listen to them.

The Children’s Crusade on Climate Change

Today, some schoolchildren around Australia will wag school and march to promote action on climate change.

In discussing this with my 16yo son, I took the opportunity to draw a parallel with the ill-fated Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century.

Unarmed, and “led” by the 12 year old Stephen of Cloyes, they bore crosses, banners and an optimistic assumption that once they got to the Holy Land, they could convert Muslims with persuasion and divine intervention.

Of course, they were cruelly deceived. None reached the Holy Land, and many never went home either — starved, drowned, or sold into slavery.

I suggested that there have always been those willing to exploit the idealism and naïveté of youth, even if the putative cause is a worthy one.

We’ve also had long conversations about how protest activism, political power, and social change intersect. Do these forms of protest ever achieve their aims? Who turns up to co-opt and use well meant idealism for more cynical political purposes?

My son asked, reasonably, if he could go into the city today and observe the rally, because he wanted to see it for himself and make up his own mind. I thought it was a good idea and he’s gone with a posse of other students from his school.

I have no problem with this, because I want my son to be not only politically active in his life, but also to have the ability to recognise competitive virtue signalling when he sees it, and to employ his critical thinking toolkit to evaluate arguments for bias, vested interest, or factual errors.

I suspect he’ll see all those things today, and in spades.

When the issue of Climate Change came up this week at Hawkesbury Council, the Greens advanced a motion to hold a workshop locally to discuss our “Climate Emergency”.

Passing (for the moment) that the Greens also want to sell MDMA from Supermarkets, it was observed that an identical motion was put to Blue Mountains City Council within the last weeks. It’s manifestly part of the silly season of election politics.

I made some remarks and enclose the audio below, with my remarks commencing at 25m40s.

I think all Australians want to be good stewards of the environment. This involves both slowly transitioning to renewable and cleaner sources of power, and strengthening protections for fragile ecologies. As the deputy chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council, I sit on an organisation whose sole remit is biosecurity, weed control and the protection of our waterways.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that merely changing our lightbulbs to LED or putting solar panels on the roof is the magic bullet that will mitigate climate change. It’s an important symbolic gesture, but if we really want to fix the problem, it’s not where the main game is at.

 World industrial carbon emissions are 9.8 gigatonnes, with Australia contributing 0.536 Gt, or 5.46% of the global total.

In turn, the 67,000 residents of the Hawkesbury represent 0.27% of the larger Australian population of 24.6 million. On a proportional basis, this means that the Hawkesbury contributes less than 0.0147% of global Carbon emissions — one part in 6,783.

Like Steven Pinker, I prefer to look at the bigger picture and find reasons for optimism.

The most recent Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a scientific publication from the Department of the Environment and Energy, points out that Australia’s Carbon emissions per capita are at their lowest levels in 29 years, being 34 tonnes per-person per-year in 1990. As of September 2018, they are at 22 tonnes, and falling.

 Emissions per capita and emissions per dollar of real GDP, Australia, year to September 1990 to 2018

Similarly, Carbon emissions per dollar of GDP was 0.80kg of CO2 per dollar of real GDP in 1990. Today, it is 0.30kg, and falling.

The solution to climate-change and sustainable energy-generation issues largely sits at federal, and international level, through the covenants we enter into with other nations, the initiatives we support to develop sustainable and carbon-neutral sources of energy, and the pressure we put on other global emitters of carbon that simply dwarf what we do in our own community.

The fact is that the single biggest thing Australia could do to reduce Carbon emissions is embrace nuclear power. I don’t see the Greens falling over themselves to endorse that. Australia has the world’s largest supplies of Uranium, not to mention Thorium, which represents the next generation of nuclear fuel whose waste products can’t be refined into bombs.

What Australia needs is reliable baseload power, which is why it is so genuinely difficult for us to wean ourselves off coal. Energy storage technology has not advanced quickly enough for widespread or cost-effective adoption. I hope it will, and again its worth pointing out that Western Australia has the largest deposits of Lithium in the world. We could and should be leading research, development and commercialisation in this field.

In the meantime, Coal will continue to be needed to provide our baseload power. Neglect of generation in this sector is one contributor to the doubling of electricity costs over the last decade. Australia will make the transition to 100% renewables, but it cannot come at the cost of the whole economy. Those who push too hard on renewables fail to understand that only a nation with a strong economy has the ability to invest in renewables in the first place.

However, I think of all the other benefits that would flow from better international action on climate change. These include not basing the tenure of our whole civilisation on the consumption of resources which will some day run out; the advantages of cleaner air and water, especially around our major cities, or not forking out hundreds of billions of dollars to middle eastern countries that hate the West and gladly use the money to fund fundamentalism against us. There are also clear economic benefits in spawning new industries in renewable energy and scientific research. 

Holding a workshop on a so-called climate emergency here in the Hawkesbury will not solve those formidable challenges. It is cynical, competitive virtue signalling at its worst.

And today, we can expect representatives from the Greens, from GetUp, and (probably) Bill Shorten to whip up discontent without a shred of impartiality about the policies of the current government to tackle the problem.

Confronting those who prey on the vulnerable

Those arriving here as the result of the August 2020 VICE story “I lost my wife to a cult” may wish to see this page after you’ve read this one.

I’ve had a role over the years in raising awareness about cults and their destructive behaviours.

Being interviewed by Ch.9 about cult law reform in Canberra for a national conference in 2011.

Sadly, there are individuals and groups who exploit others, robbing them of their critical thinking faculties, and then their relationships, their money, and finally their dignity. It makes me angry, and it should make you angry too.

Frustratingly, Australian law is ill-equipped to deal with cults. The paradox of our pluralist, postmodern society is that people are entirely free to choose to join groups even when it’s objectively clear that the groups are exploitative, nonsensical, and laughable even while they are sinister.

For a healthy society, the balance between religious freedom and not tolerating those who cynically exploit it deserves to be debated, and refined, every so often. The dilemma was best put by the philosopher Karl Popper, who spoke of the Paradox of Tolerance:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

–The Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945

Far from being an attack on religious freedom, it should be accepted that the most damaging thing for the good works of mainstream faiths are the presence of bad religious actors who poison the well.

There is a pressing need for reform of laws relating to fraud, psychological abuse, health regulation and guardianship of the vulnerable. I have been committed to this fight for many years, authoring submissions on behalf of advocacy organisations to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, the federal Department of Social Services over a proposed repeal of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and the Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom concluded last year. I’ve appeared on TV, radio and the Press many times to make my case.

To the degree I have a modest role in public debate, I am committed to continue advocating for these reforms and I seek your support.

On Sunday night, a major exposé was screened on the Channel 7 Sunday Night Program of the predations of a cult called Universal Medicine, led by the creepy Serge Benhayon. “U.M” was founded and has a significant presence in Australia, especially on the north NSW coast.

This exposé comes off the back of a recent, and major NSW Supreme Court victory over Universal Medicine. The fight was won by tireless campaigner, Esther Rockett. I am proud to say I made several donations to the fighting fund that led to this victory, over a period of four years.

I recommend the Channel 7 story to you — it perfectly encapsulates the cult phenomenon, and the need for the community to be better aware of cult tactics. “Dumb” people aren’t the only people who join cults. Smart people at a point of emotional vulnerability in their lives are equally likely to succumb.

If you ever encounter Universal Medicine or any other group showing the same M.O, run a mile. I can put you in touch with community support groups like Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS — I used to be on the Committee and remain a supporter) who can help.

If you have lost a loved one to a manipulative group, be they religious, new age, motivational or otherwise, there is help out there.

Congratulations to Robyn Preston, successful preselection candidate for Hawkesbury

For the last two months the Liberal Party has been engaged in the process of choosing its candidate for our state seat in Hawkesbury.

I put my hand up. Our media policy restricted me from confirming little more than the existence of my nomination, and I have abided by that rule.

Today, the preselection was held and the successful candidate was Clr. Robyn Preston, from Hills Shire Council.

I have worked with Robyn for many years, starting with a time together in the office of Kevin Conolly, the member for Riverstone.

I congratulate Robyn on her successful nomination, and we will work hard to ensure her election and the re-election of the state Liberal government.

What I had to say to our local party members during the preselection campaign helped me reflect on and articulate a lot of what I believe in as an elected representative on Council.

If you wonder what makes me tick, and what makes me so desirous of being a good local Councillor, then this material may be of interest.

I wish Robyn well. She’ll do a great job.

Click below for my campaign brochure:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Nathan-Zamprogno-Hawkesbury-Preselection-Candidate.pdf

And here are three of the short videos I produced which spoke to what I believe.

Commissioner rejects appeal on the Avina Caravan Park expansion

The 2016 story about the opposition to the proposal. Click here to read original story.

There has been a major development in the proposal to massively expand the Avina site, and I wanted to give you an update. 

In October 2016, barely a month into this term of Council, concerned residents approached me over the proposed expansion of the Avina Van Village bordering Oakville and Vineyard.

This caravan park has been a fixture within the local landscape for decades, and is permitted under the RU2 and RU4 zoning it sits in, where most other properties in the area are 5 acres or more — including productive farms.

We have long recognised the utility of a mix of accomodation styles in the Hawkesbury to our tourism strategy. Visitors to our area with a large boat in tow, or a horse float and need for temporary agistment, or maybe even pets that need some space to run about — they all benefit from the availability of this kind of accommodation.

Unfortunately, some developers see in caravan parks a convenient loophole to push through inappropriate development. The proposal Council received in 2016 was to massively expand the Vineyard site from twelve acres to forty-seven.  247 housing lots as small as 223sq.m were proposed. If this had come to Council as a housing development, it would fail at the first hurdle as completely inappropriate for such a rural lifestyle or agricultural zone.

Bizarrely, the proposal was able to be considered because the proposed structures were regarded as “removable dwellings” — like caravans. In reality they are houses, on concrete slabs, constructed on-site from prefabricated panels. It stretched credulity to think of them as portable in the same way as caravans. Nor would they have been constructed to conform to norms relating to energy efficiency, insulation, parking or open space required of any other housing proposal. There were also significant issues relating to public transport, road access and public amenity.

Under changes to planning law in NSW, the proposal was assessed by a JRPP — a Joint Regional Planning Panel. I disagree with planning panels because they remove decision making from democratically elected, and therefore publicly accountable, Councillors. Certainly people approaching me were expecting Councillors to play a role in representing their concerns.

At the planning panel meeting, apart from the mayor (who was on the panel proper), I was the only Councillor that turned up — on this occasion, to put my view as a private citizen and resident of the area. The JRPP rejected the proposal (unanimously), and I regarded this as a good result for the community.

The developer, Ingenia, immediately lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. Since, I have been approached by people in other areas, like Forster, where Ingenia may attempt a similar playbook: Buy a caravan park, lodge a proposal to massively change and intensify its land-use by proposing an intensive housing estate not subject to the usual controls, advertise it as a “seniors living”, propose structures that exploit the loophole of referring to houses as “removable” or “portable” when they are anything but, and then litigate when communities push back.

I am not opposed to some adaptive reuse of land, and I’m not opposed to increasing our area’s stock of over-55s living options. However, I do object to inappropriate developments in rural areas that exploit loopholes that really should be closed in our planning instruments.

After a long delay and a failed mediation with Council, the matter was heard in the Land and Environment Court on 29 – 30 October 2018 by Commissioner Susan O’Neill. The evidence heard included testimony from 7 residents affected by the proposal. Hawkesbury Council were the defendants, despite the fact that the decision had been made by a planning panel and despite the fact that Council’s own report to the planning panel was to approve the development — an unwieldy feature of the new laws — A Council can put a view, be overruled by a Panel, and then have to defend the Panel’s ruling in court.

The Commissioner considered these fundamental issues:

•   Whether the proposed development satisfies the objectives of the RU4 Primary Production Small Lots zone under the provisions of the LEP 2012;
•   Whether the scale and density of the proposed development is appropriate having regard to the character of adjoining rural properties and the rural locality;
•   Whether the proposed development should be granted consent having regard to Clause 10 SEPP No.21 – Caravan Parks, with particular regard to whether community facilities and services, including public transport, retail and schools are reasonably accessible to the occupants of the proposed development; and
•   Whether the proposed development provides for adequate physical separation from adjoining land.

Today (7th November), the Commissioner rejected Ingenia’s appeal. Click here to read the judgement. It stated

The orders of the Court are:

The appeal is dismissed.

Development Application No. 0685/16 for the staged alterations, additions and expansion of an existing caravan park to accommodate an additional 208 long term residential sites is refused.

(Link to judgement)Hawkesbury City Council won. The development is dead in the water.

This is a pleasing vindication. What do you think?

I join Dan Hannan in defence of the Enlightenment

There are too few genuine role models in politics. Tonight, I got the chance to meet one of mine.

Years ago I discovered the writings of, and then the many videos of Dan Hannan, one of the United Kingdom’s elected representatives to the European Parliament. I was hooked.

 I aspire to speak and to persuade clearly, robustly and intelligently. I have become therefore a life-long student of those who communicate well. If I model myself on anyone in this aspiration, I model myself on Dan Hannan, and on my other hero, Christopher Hitchens. These two are polar opposites on some questions, but as Hannan reminded me tonight when he quoted John Stuart MillHe who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

Hannan is, in my mind, one of the most brilliant orators in conservative politics. When I discovered he was attending a Sydney function at the invitation of the Centre for Independent Studies, how could I resist?

His topic was “How identity politics is undoing the Enlightenment”. He made the point that western society is turning its back on the very basis of modernity when we judge the validity of an argument by some phenotypic characteristic of the speaker (such as race) or ethnicity, rather than the argument’s intrinsic merit. 

He skewered the doublethink professed by many competitive virtue-signallers when he pointed out that many of the great rights-crusades in history were predicated on the desire to treat people equally (such as for suffrage, or racial equality), but that social reformers today have lost their way, seeking to see certain viewpoints privileged precisely on the basis of the perceived minority status of their exponents.

His discourse, which also roved over the UK political landscape and the issue of Brexit, proved to be a great night. Dan was very generous to me when I buttonholed him and gushed like a schoolgirl.

I leave you with one of Hannan’s virtuoso performances at the Oxford Union, and this audacious claim: We should prefer, in our public representatives, either the ability to speak like this, or at least those with the aspiration to do so. Too many whom we accept into our parliaments simply cannot, and neither stir the heart nor persuade the intellect. And that is why the broader public become cynical about politics.

Road Safety and Schools

Representatives from all tiers of government inspect the pedestrian safety issues at Ebenezer Public School, including Principal Luke O’Brien, P&C members Jodie Black, Rochelle Miller, Rachel Kousal and Gordon Eckel, plus people from the RMS and the Police.

This morning I visited Ebenezer Public School to view the concerns school parents have raised about road safety. The school, adjacent to busy Sackville road, is buzzing with passing vehicles morning and afternoon.

What I saw amply justified the case put to me. Traffic counts done in February showed 65% of vehicles were exceeding the limit of 40km/h during scheduled slowdown times. Several vehicles were clocked at over 100km/h. One in five were heavy vehicles.

What the school needs is a better pedestrian crossing, or an adult to moderate the pedestrian flow. I saw a bus zone big enough for one bus, while two buses arrived and the second hanging out into the street, further blocking visibility. A BMW with a ‘P’ plate growled past — a parent standing next to me issued an expletive; “That muppet hoons past here all the time and never slows down.” He adds “We’ve had too many near misses. It’s only a matter of when, not if, there is an accident.” While he spoke, I witnessed ten year olds shepherding six year olds across the road. Shortly after, a vehicle brakes so heavily at the crossing that smoke comes off the brakes.

Ebenezer School traffic.

Requests for new measures have been denied. In my view, this is not good enough.

The threshold for new measures is a vehicle count of 300/hr and 50 unattended children crossing, morning and afternoon. The numbers compiled by the school fall just short of this count — and usually only in the afternoons. A petition has been presented to the State Member with 1500 signatures — extraordinary for a school with 134 kids.

And by the way, these thresholds are state-wide, meaning a school in the inner suburbs on a main highway has its needs determined by the same formula as remote schools, which is unfair.

Sense should prevail. Ultimately, the Minister for Roads (Pavey) should work with the State Member to grant an exemption for the necessary thresholds and allocate funding for a traffic supervisor (that’s a lollypop person to you and me) morning and afternoon.

I will continue to advocate for this.

Op Ed: The commercialisation of national icons

I read once that there’s an ancient tomb in Rome inscribed with a plea: ‘Bill-poster, I beg you, pass this monument by. If any candidate’s name is ever painted here, may he suffer defeat and never get an office.’

Strangely, that’s what I recall when I see the commentariat, furious this week over the use of the Opera House sails to advertise an event; in this case, a horse race.

Some of the swirling outrage says we live in a competitive commercial culture, and the Opera House is an international icon ready-made to boost an event that’s just as economically significant as Vivid, the Wallabies, the Ashes, or the Olympics; each of which have been projected on the sails.

Others say it’s a desecration of a world heritage landmark, and that the Opera House is not a billboard, and asking if stewards would permit advertising on the Statue of Liberty, or the Eiffel tower, or Big Ben?

But if that’s the basis of their objection, how ignorant of history these people are! The designer of the Statue of Liberty, Bartholdi, licenced his design’s likeness and flogged it mercilessly to advertisers. The Eiffel tower carried the word “Citroën” in lights from top to bottom for years. And even Big Ben has been lit, although a distinction should be drawn between sanctioned commemorations like Remembrance Day, and guerrilla marketing campaigns who projected onto the landmark without permission (usually late at night) to create a media storm.

A political cartoon from Puck Magazine, circa 1880s, entitled “Let the Advertising Agents Take Charge of the Bartholdi Business and the Money Will Be Raised Without Delay.” (ref.)

So despite the ABC’s conclusion that this is an “exquisitely Sydney stoush over the city’s premier billboard”, this teacher of history sees today’s debate as old, old news.

However, don’t think I’m making excuses — The fact that it’s happened forever doesn’t mean it isn’t in poor taste, and I want to be clear: this is.

My view is to lament that society is losing its ability to feel an aversion for the crass, which my Oxford defines as ‘lacking sensitivity, refinement or intelligence’.

Do you remember when over a century of tradition surrounding the Sheffield Shield was flogged off for branding by Pura Milk, a Filipino food multinational? Or when the Melbourne Cup was flogged to Emirates, a $37 billion airline conglomerate owned by the government of the UAE? That nation has an appalling human rights record, and where, for what it’s worth, gambling, with the exception of horse racing, is illegal. Oh, the irony. Or when the naming rights for Sydney’s Olympic Stadium was flogged to Telstra, and then ANZ?

These branding opportunities undoubtedly made sound commercial sense. They may have boosted the profile of the events or venues, or enlarged the prize pool, or negated some need for sponsorship by government or through ticket sales. But the cost to the dignity of our society is high.

We saw a similar thing when Woolworths tried to use ANZAC images to sell groceries, or when Coopers Ale tried to do something ‘woke’ by placing their beer in an advertisement about same-sex-marriage. They both copped a serve for it, and deserved it.

Here’s what they have in common: It’s crass.  And people are right to pull a face, and lament why it isn’t seen as obvious that some things should be off limits for commercialisation, regardless of the airtight spreadsheet-logic behind it.

I agree with our Premier that using the Opera House sails to promote this event is will be noticed around the world – the advertising value will be huge and there’s no denying it. And equally, I’d tell her that it’s a tasteless and demeaning gesture, and it should never have gotten past the thought bubble stage.

I’d like to know what you think.

We have a new Mayor!

It is timely to have a word about tonight’s vote for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

I witnessed some truly awful behaviour from the gallery in Council, so this is where I stand.

The Liberal Councillors are four among twelve. We collaborate as best we can. But in this term, having no majority, our lot is limited to choosing the least worst from options put before us by others.

We all know the pendulum will swing back some day. My job is to ensure that the Liberals deserve a majority at the next election, and never merely assume it as a right. We accept our accountability.

Tonight, knowing no Liberal could secure the role, I made a choice between the two candidates.

Mary: Vivacious. A great grass-roots networker. Broad minded. Compassionate. Mary has brought a flair and energy to the office of Mayor that had been missing for a long time.

Barry. Quietly spoken, deliberative, policy-and-outcome focused. I’ve witnessed Barry to have a depth of experience borne of 19 years in local government which has earned my respect.

I have nothing to bad to say about Barry or Mary. I enjoy a friendly relationship with both, and I accord them (as I do all my colleagues) the courtesy of believing they are honourably motivated to serve the community.

So I chose Barry. I didn’t choose on the basis of Party. Indeed, it was in the face of enmities others assumed we should hold against each other.

I didn’t choose on the basis of some “deal”. There wasn’t one. Those present observed unanimous support for an open vote and not a secret ballot. There was no “quid pro quo” as some said — everything was out in the open. 

Sadly, we got to witness another Labor Councillor and now state candidate, presumably bound by his party’s constitution to vote for his leader, betray that for all to see.

Here’s some unwelcome free advice: You do nothing to advance the case for your party’s ascendency to State government by joining their team and then knifing your colleagues before you even hear the starter’s pistol.

 If you want to know what a return to State Labor would look like—there it is.

Anyway, the Liberals made the choice that seemed least-worst for our community for the next two years. No vendetta. No Machiavellian intrigues. Just an opportunity to tweak the team and knuckle down and make the best out of the remainder of this term.

I congratulate our new Mayor Barry, and I thank our outgoing Mayor Mary for her service.

I have few illusions, of course. Labor supported the rate restructure that made our rating system less fair. And Labor supported the Special Rate Variation that will hike all our rates by nearly a third, because left-leaning governments will always raise taxes. Tonight’s vote does nothing for those who are rightly aggrieved by a system that has doubled or tripled their Council rates over the last two years. If you want the system to be fairer again, vote Liberal.

A spread of views in an elected chamber is what makes democracy work. We may contend passionately over differences of policy, but tonight some people got very angry, and personal, and cruel when they were displeased at the result. This has spilled over into social media, and in addition to juvenile tit-for-tat, some serial pests have infringed on the personal safety of Councillors, including women and children, and have made unfounded allegations about the conduct of Councillors for vexatious intent.

Let me be clear: This crosses a bright line, and it must stop. The twelve Councillors met specially to discuss this last week and we all agreed unanimously that the conduct of some trolls has gone too far.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose one side or another – argue passionately about ideas and values, but don’t be an asshole to another human being. I won’t tolerate it on any forum I moderate, and my challenge should sound familiar: you endorse any behaviour you walk past.

Please, be kind.

Demanding clarity on the future of the Hawkesbury

(Edit– 27th June: The motion I put to Council on the 26th passed 11 votes to 1. Audio of the debate can be accessed below:)

Original post:

The whole messy process that has unfolded since March about road corridors has brought the issue of development in the Hawkesbury into focus.

Everyone can see the  massive surge of housing and commercial building that has marched down Windsor Road and is now knocking on our door. Indeed, some of this urban development is even now in our Council area, because the “Vineyard Precinct” of the North West Growth Sector (NWGS) is within the Hawkesbury City boundaries.

Residents and landowners on acreage properties adjoining the NWGS are justified in their concerns that this development will eventually overtake them as well. Everyone is entitled to some certainty about their future on the land, which includes some of the Sydney basin’s diminishing stock  of prime and currently productive agricultural land, plus remnant Cumberland woodland.

As a Councillor, I’ve tried to apply pressure to planning officials with the State Government to be honest and co-operative about what the long term future of these areas are, largely defined by the suburbs of Oakville, Maraylya, Vineyard, and even parts of Pitt Town and Cattai.

What I’ve received are mixed messages, and this isn’t good enough. Some of the documentation associated with the Outer Sydney Orbital hints at areas “north of the Vineyard Precinct” for some kind of industrial use. The “SEPP”, a planning zoning that makes the NWGS possible, actually encompasses a far larger area that the current development. Speculators — real estate types and developers — are fomenting rumours about currently rural areas being re-zoned for future development and this is inflating prices, which inflates land value, which inflates your rates. I’ve said more about this in the video I made about the corridors proposal. Check it out.

The consequence is a persistent sense of dread, and an inability for residents to know what their future looks like, even while they are being rated out of existence on the properties that they bought with a working wage, and wanted to retire on.

Council has a particular responsibility here. Later this year we are renewing what’s called our “Residential Land Strategy”. This exercise will set out Hawkesbury Council’s desires for what areas will take what degree of development over a longer timeframe. Regardless of where you sit on the question of growth, Council needs to manage what could or should happen, and where. Here is the link to the current strategy, adopted in 2011.

In the RU2 and RU4 zoned acreage properties in the south eastern part of the city, our choices could range from “no change”, to “detached dual occupancy” (meaning two houses on a five acre lot, but under one title), to “large lot rural subdivision” (like we see at Windsor Downs, with block sizes at a minimum of one or two acres), and then upward through a range of subdivision options that resemble what we see on the eastern side of Boundary road. I am emphatically not in favour of that outcome.

However, for Council to deliberate well, we deserve clarity from a range of state government departments, including the Department of Planning, Transport for NSW, and the Greater Sydney Commission. And of course, the public also have a right to know, and my gut feeling is that we have not had full disclosure from these agencies.

I am therefore moving the Notice of Motion you see below at the Council meeting next Tuesday (26th June), and I invite you to spread the word, come along, and register your support for this call for honesty and clarity about what the government’s long term plans are for our homes.

Notice of Motion - Development outside the NWGS

The BLOR and M9/OSO Corridors, Part 2

This post is the second of two in response to a proposal to create two motorway and rail corridors through the Hawkesbury.

The first video provides some historical context to the broader phenomenon of State and Federal governments foisting large projects on unsuspecting communities. The challenge of balancing long term planning and the impact on individual communities has frequently been botched, and I cited the history of corridor sell-offs, and earlier proposals for airports, prisons, dumps and new suburbs, by both major political parties, as salutary examples.

What follows is a transcript of the video, with documents referenced on-screen linked or inserted as needed.

TRANSCRIPT:

In the first video, I provided a small history lesson about the litany of misguided schemes that governments of both hues have cooked up over the decades for the Hawkesbury, and how each one, after a fight from the community, was scuttled, and the government of the day had their asses handed to them, on a plate.

Today, let me be far more specific about the current corridor proposals. This video is also a part of my submission to Transport for NSW.

Point 1:  Both these corridor proposals are equally bad.

It is true that the Bells line of road corridor has gained more publicity here in the Hawkesbury, including through a very well attended meeting at Clarendon showground a few weeks ago. But the fundamental problem of both corridors are the same.

Both corridors divide rural communities, destroy productive agricultural and equine lands, diminish visual amenity, endanger ecological communities and threaten the futures that families thought they had by buying homes outside of what I call ant-nest Sydney.

And both corridors suffer from the deficiencies of process that have landed these proposals on unsuspecting voters, without sufficient community consultation, without  enough knowledge of the options to make meaningful contributions to the debate, and in a time-frame that is far too short.

The community has had barely 8 weeks to inform themselves and organise to have their say on  projects that may happen decades from now. What’s the rush?

Point 2: The River crossing has to be back on the table

We are free to speculate that the government will change its mind about the Castlereagh corridor. It may default to the original 1951 alignment, and it may choose to stop at the Hawkesbury Nepean river instead of crossing over it.

If that’s the case, then the question of an extra crossing of the river must be back on the table.

I always believed that only someone as major as the M9 could deliver what we’ve always needed – a new crossing of the Hawkesbury Nepean River, somewhere between North Richmond and Wilberforce.

The BLOR/ Castlereagh corridor (purple, at left) and the M9/ OSO corridor (blue, at right), and the floodplain. Castlereagh is a long way from where traffic relief is needed, which should be between North Richmond and Wilberforce

It turns out that we got proposals for two corridors, and neither delivered. The briefing Council received on the Castlereagh corridor actually suggested that it would help alleviate traffic on Windsor Road, by putting a new crossing of the river at Castlereagh, more than half the way to Penrith. Bollocks!

But what  a huge political win it would be for the party that redirected the M9 along, say, the south creek floodplain, crossed the Hawkesbury river downstream of Windsor bridge, and joined it to the Putty road, providing a link to both the Hunter and Newcastle as originally intended.

An alternative route that would cross the South Creek floodplain and cross the Hawkesbury River downstream of Windsor.

Point 3: Why are both corridors roads to nowhere?

The Bells line corridor is irrelevant unless there is a major amplification of Bells line itself west of Kurrajong Heights and over the range. There isn’t anything like a compelling case for this given that billions have been spent over the last two decades to upgrade the Great Western Freeway.

A summary of the major capital works spent on the Great Western Highway.

And the M9 corridor konks out at Maraylya. Here’s what the terrain looks like between there and Newcastle. Mountainous terrain, National parks, wetlands, another major crossing of the Hawkesbury River, and well downstream, so the river is broader and deeper.

The terrain north of Maraylya is hilly, heavily forested, and crosses both the Hawkesbury at a location that is deeper and wider than Windsor, and passes through National Parks

If there’s little prospect of the corridor being driven north of Windsor Road, why endure the political pain of taking it even that far?

Point 4: Why is the government’s material contradictory and incomplete?

Why do the government’s press releases and maps state that the corridor passes through Box Hill?

The Outer Sydney Orbital brochure referencing the corridor as passing through Box Hill. You’d think they could name the suburb correctly.

Below, the area in purple is Box Hill, in the Hills Shire, and on the left is the corridor. They are not the same.

Why does the draft EIS reference the M9 corridor as only running from Windsor Road and south to the Hume Highway at Menangle?

vegetation

Why is the vegetation study in the draft EIS so incomplete?

I’ve created a tool in the program  Google Earth. The online map that Transport for NSW provides is difficult to navigate and doesn’t allow you to leverage other geographical datasets and overlay them on the corridor.

This overlay I’ve created allows you to see the Hawkesbury ends of both corridors and toggle them along with other useful data, like alternative routes and a vegetation study.

There’s a link to this overlay at my website, along with a longer video tour of what it shows. All you need is the Desktop version of Google Earth for Mac or Windows, and that’s a free program.

Nobody else seemed to be doing this kind of analysis, so I thought I’d do my bit.

What you can see here is the area of the M9 north of Windsor Road, in Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya. Here is an overlay of the vegetation study map that appears on page 96 of the OSO Draft EIS dated March 2018.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor overplayed on the vegetation study created by Transport for NSW.

This looks a little muddy, but the green areas represent “Threatened ecological communities” and the hatched areas represent “Cumberland Plain Priority Conservation Lands”. Even from this map, it’s obvious that the M9 corridor goes through threatened ecological communities.However, what concerns me more is that this map is incomplete.

The northern extent of the proposed M9 corridor overlayed on the vegetation study created by the National Parks and Wildlife service. This shows that TfNSW have vastly underplayed the significance of the remnant Cumberland woodland (specifically, endangered shale forest) in the corridor area.

Here is a 2002 map from NSW National Parks overlayed on the same area. It shows many more stands of Cumberland Shale Forest – areas that just don’t appear on the Transport for NSW Map. And it’s not because there has been mass deforestation since 2002 – the amount of tree cover in this area has remained pretty constant over the years, precisely because landowners look after them as rural lands.

If I toggle the layers, you can see a huge difference. The draft EIS has massively underestimated the tree cover, and the conservation value of the lands under the M9, and it seems apparent that the BLOR corridor study suffers from the same defect.

Point 5: What is the future of this part of the Hawkesbury anyway?

The government can’t have it both ways. It says it needs to reserve this corridor through the area because of future land use pressures. But this land is currently zoned rural, for acreage properties.

Here’s the property on the corner of Old Pitt Town Road and Speets road – part of the Sydney basin’s diminishing store of productive agricultural land. It’s also smack bang underneath the M9 corridor.

Here’s a map you’ve probably never seen. The red area is the area defined by the current North West growth sector. The part that’s in the Hawkesbury is this bit south of Commercial Road and Menin Road.

The outer dashed line represents the outer boundary of what’s called the SEPP – it’s the planning instrument that makes the North West Growth sector possible. It encompasses a much larger area – all of Oakville, the rest of Vineyard, most of Maraylya, and parts of Mulgrave and McGraths Hill.

Why stick a fuse in something unless you’re going to light it? We already know large chunks of land inside the dashed boundary, but outside the North West Growth Sector, are already subject to development, like this huge area north of Old Pitt Town Road. When will the other shoe drop?

Hawkesbury Council will be reviewing its Residential Lands Strategy later this year. I grew up in Oakville, and live there still.  My heart is to protect our rural amenity and provide a buffer between the development at our door, and our agricultural lands, the National Park, and the remnant Cumberland Woodland that still exists outside the boundaries of the park.

But as an elected representative, I have to weigh what is best for the whole community. If there has to be development in the Hawkesbury, this is the area closest to Windsor Road, closest to the new rail infrastructure, not subject to the pinchpoints of the river and its inadequate crossings, and relatively flood free.

I’m calling on the state government to be honest with the community and to tell us if there are any plans to subdivide land outside the current growth sector boundaries.

For example, there’s this from the OSO Draft Strategic Environmental Assessment, which says:

The Growth Area LUIIPs have assumed that the recommended corridor will be formally identified in the future, and will inform more detailed planning for precincts yet to be rezoned. For example, the DPE is considering land immediately north of the Vineyard Precinct as providing future opportunities for employment and industry related to the future OSO infrastructure, with detailed planning to commence once the location of the recommended corridor is formalised.

The areas north of the Vineyard Precinct are in Oakville and Maraylya, and are currently zoned “Rural”. Questions I have asked of departmental officials about the long term future of Oakville, Vineyard and Maraylya have been met with silence.

A map of the Vineyard Precinct. Note the lands to the north are zoned “Rural”

Point 6: Why weren’t we told?

Minister for Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres made much of saying that the announcement of these corridors was already the culmination of plenty of consultation with the community. Bollocks.

Here’s a glossy document that came out in 2014, three years ago, titled “A plan for growing Sydney”. And in that document is the only map I’ve ever seen that shows, before this announcement in March, where the corridors may have been.

“A Plan for Growing Sydney” (p14), released December 2014

It clearly shows the possibility for these corridors to affect Castlereagh, Grose Vale, Yarramundi, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong in the west; and Oakville, Maraylya and Vineyard in the East.

No one I have spoken to in any of those communities were consulted. Not one. And not Hawkesbury Council, to the best of my knowledge.

Point 7: There are plenty of alternatives.

I’m not a town or transport planner. Maybe you are. But why has the government placed one option for each corridor before us, and left it to us to suggest alternatives?

I feel inadequate to the task, but here are some starters.

Stop the corridor at Windsor Road.

This option has the M9 corridor ending at Windsor Road.

Follow the South Creek catchment and cross the river downstream from Windsor (see map above)

Follow the alignment of the North West Rail Line extension corridor.

Or, there’s this proposed solution from a road lobby group, Roads Australia.

Lastly,  the funds could be diverted into local road solutions.

Point 8, and my last: Do not forget the political dimension.

I am an elected Liberal, and statistically, most Hawkesbury voters are Liberal voters. This isn’t a left-right thing – my last video showed you a long list of awful thought bubbles foisted on us by past governments of both hues.

But I lament that the bad way in which this issue has been handled by an otherwise praiseworthy state government has given a huge free kick to our political opponents.

The government has made a mistake in both these corridors. I can’t find it in my heart to attribute to malice what can easily be explained through stupidity.

The government simply needs to step back, realise it may well lose the next State election if it keeps this up, and without ego, change its mind – just as it was mature enough to do on the question of council amalgamations, greyhound racing, and stadiums.

I think it’s actually the mark of a good government to put things out there and then really heed criticism. It needs to do that now, because the damage has already been done.

Even if you’re watching this after the deadline for community submissions, which is June 1st, please let me encourage you to keep the pressure up, especially by calling and writing to the office of your state member of parliament, Dominic Perrottet, Stuart Ayres, and the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

My name is Nathan Zamprogno, and these views are my own. They are not Council policy and they are not the “Liberal Party line”, whatever that is. I’d love to know what you think.

A Google Earth overlay of the OSO-M9 and BLOR-Castlereagh corridors

In my videos on the OSO-M9 and BLOR-Castlereagh corridors (Part 1 and Part 2 are here) I reference a Google Earth overlay I developed that draws together data from a variety of sources.

My other posts do not tour the various layers that have been incorporated into the layout, so I made another short video to show you around.

Please note that my focus is on the northern extents of the corridors passing through the Hawkesbury LGA. My apologies if you have come here from the Camden locality looking for data on the southern extent of the M9. Perhaps someone down your way can do a similar analysis.

What is a Google Earth overlay?
You are already familiar with Google Maps. Perhaps you use the web based version on your browser or smartphone.
There is a more powerful standalone app called “Google Earth”, which allows more sophisticated data to be layered on top of the general map, and layers can be toggled and edited.
The document format for an overlay carries the “.KML” or “.KMZ” extension. They are functionally the same. “.KMZ” files are simply compressed and take up less space.

How do I get Google Earth?
It’s free! There are versions for Windows and Mac, and you can download them here.
There is also a version called “Google Earth Pro”, and it will work, but the standard version is fine.

Can I use the version of Google Earth through the Google Chrome Browser?
Not to view my overlays. You need to use the app for Mac or Windows. You can’t use the Google Earth App for Android or iOS, either.

Where can I get your overlay of the road corridors?

At    THIS LINK HERE.

What do I do once I’ve got it?
If you have Google Earth installed, and you’ve got my file “M9_BLOR_Corridor_Analysis_Clr_Zamprogno.kmz”
then double-clicking it should bring it up in the Google Earth program as a series of layers and folder in the left-hand pane of the app. Experiment with toggling  them on and off. You can do this individually or as whole folders.
Note that the layouts will come up with a splashscreen with my notes. It’s the first thing you’ll turn off by deselecting “Title Graphic” in the left hand pane.

The BLOR and M9/OSO Corridors, Part 1

This video is the first of two, and explores the history of government attempts to ride rough shod over the community, and what has tended to happen when they try.

It is intended to encourage people engaged in the current struggle to protect the Hawkesbury from two destructive corridor proposals to recognise that these kinds of things have come along before, and the community has generally won.

The second video will be more specifically focused on the reasons why the current proposal is a bad idea.

Transcript:

In this video, the first of a two-parter, a history lesson about why the government’s proposal to drive motorways through the beautiful vistas of the Hawkesbury is deja-vu, all over again.

I’m Nathan Zamprogno, one of your elected Liberal Councillors on Hawkesbury City Council.

Barely two months ago, the State Government announced a consultation period in relation to two proposed road and rail corridors passing through the Hawkesbury district.

The Castlereagh Corridor proposes a crossing of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River at Castlereagh, and then goes through Yarrramundi, Grose Vale, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong, and rising steeply to join Bells Line of Road at Kurrajong Heights.

The Outer Sydney Orbital or M9 corridor runs north from Camden, passes through the site for the new airport at Badgery’s creek, strikes north-east from Marsden Park and would decimate communities in Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya.

At some indeterminate point in the future, it is suggested that it will go all the way to Newcastle. Pigs might also fly.

As an elected Liberal, I’m stating my opposition to both corridors.
Even though the State Government is of my party, a dumb idea remains a dumb idea wherever it comes from.

Recently, all four of your local Hawkesbury Liberal Councillors voted unanimously with all the other Councillors to express our concern about these corridors, and to seek a better solution, in a motion passed at Council on May 8th.

I want to explain why, and the best way is a video two-parter.

Both videos are a part of my own submission to Transport for NSW.

You may have cause to agree and disagree with me simultaneously – and that’s because I’m doing my job. I’m aware that I need to represent a range of views. But stick with me.

This video, part 1, is called “We’ve all been here before”
After this, watch part two, called “Surely, we can do better than this?”.

Since everyone loves lists, let’s roll with that.

Point 1: There’s nothing wrong with the idea of corridor reservation.
I promise this is the only overtly political thing I’ll say – so I’ll get it over with.

Look, we criticise governments for failing to engage in long term planning, and we’re especially critical over the issue of transport congestion.
Those of us with an eye to history remember that it was the Wran Labor government who left a ruinous legacy of flogging off road corridors for the M4 and elsewhere in 1977.

The Canberra Times, 1978. A piece penned by the seemingly immortal Errol Simper.
The Wran Government left an awful legacy of selling off corridors. We’re still paying the price today

Now, taxpayers are left with multi-billion dollar bills for projects like Westconnex, or the north-west rail link – made ridiculously more expensive precisely for the lack of some bold, long term planning decades ago.

But lest you think that I am mounting a defence of wall to wall freeways – think again. Sydney needs a coherent mix of road and public transport networks.

We need to avoid “Los Angeles-isation” of our city. But if this infrastructure barely keeps pace with an eternally growing population, it merely creates the illusion of progress while we actually go backwards in terms of our quality of life, sustainability outcomes, and commute times.

It alarms me that none of our leaders are prepared to ask the question “When will Sydney be full”? It’s a simple enough question, and shouldn’t be heresy.

I’ve used Dick Smith’s compelling documentary “The Population Puzzle” with my students.
It alarms me that Sydney is growing without any leadership on the question of what it’s maximum population should be.

I believe that Australia’s sustainable future lays with both limiting population growth, and providing sharper incentives for decentralisation – sending demand outside of our capital cities. we need to have a period of consolidation in Sydney, so that our infrastructure can finally catch up. People are very angry about this, and it may prove decisive at the next State election.

however, that’s a huge topic which I’ll say more about in another video.

Point 2: We’ve all been here before

Confession: If this begins to sound like a history lesson, it’s because I am a qualified history teacher. But indulge me; because it’s really important to understand some historical context, so we can understand why this kind of thing keeps coming up.

I only need to pick one small part of the Hawkesbury to illustrate in microcosm what happens when governments suffer from these repeated thought bubbles and then ride rough-shod over the community.

cumberland
1948 – The County of Cumberland Plan

Back in 1948, there was a master blueprint for Sydney called the “County of Cumberland” plan. It understood that a healthy city contained a dense core, a ring of urbanised suburbs, and most importantly, green belts that served the city with recreational spaces, productive agricultural land, wildlife preservation and visual amenity.

1948 – The County of Cumberland Plan. Note the green belts that were integral to the plan. They didn’t last.

It was a great idea. And it didn’t last. Sydney wide, the pressure for growth at any cost gradually eroded the green belt idea.

All the land in our neck of the world was farms and rural properties. And the land now next to the proposed M9 corridor, is Scheyville National Park. It was gazetted in 1996. But before it was a National Park, it was one of the largest contiguous parcels of crown land left in the Sydney basin. Which is why, by turns, various governments, Labor and Liberal, state and federal, if I might paraphrase HG Wells, “looked upon us with envious eyes, and slowly, they drew their plans against us”

In 1978, there was a serious proposal to make Scheyville and Pitt Town the site of Sydney’s second airport.

Hawkesbury Gazette, March 1, 1978

This bubbled away for years. One of my earliest memories, and a kind of political birth for me, was seeing this map of the proposed locations of the runways.

My home at Oakville was underneath one of them. The irony that these airport runways now also lay directly beneath the path of the M9 shouldn’t escape us.

Hawkesbury Gazette, 15 February, 1978

The proposal created uncertainty and dread just like we’re seeing today.

Hawkesbury Gazette, May 3, 1978

I think it’s significant that, by 1983, the State, Liberal member for Hawkesbury, Kevin Rozzolli, was prepared to speak out strongly on behalf of his constituency. He said:

“Mainland Australians are concerned at the environmental damage that may occur should the Franklin Dam be constructed in Tasmania.
The same people should be concerned about consideration of the siting of an International Airport in the area… variously described as Nelson, Box Hill, Rouse Hill, Maraylya, Oakville and Pitt Town”
“The major factor is not technical feasibility… but whether such construction will so alter the character of the area in which it is located that it will destroy forever a part of Australia’s heritage, a heritage at least as priceless as the Tasmanian wilderness”

Hawkesbury State Liberal MP Kevin Rozolli stands up for his community. Hawkesbury Gazette, 15th June, 1983

I’ll underline that: Our State Liberal member was prepared to liken the natural and historical heritage of Oakville, Maraylya and Pitt Town as analogous to that of the Franklin river in Tasmania. He went on:

“The natural endowments of the area which have created the unique circumstances of its history, scenic beauty and quality of life, demand its preservation as part of Australia’s heritage”.

That heritage is still relevant today.

Dominic? I am calling for you to show the same conviction that your predecessors have.

Let’s move on. In 1987, the same site was announced for a massive, maximum security prison, bigger than Parramatta gaol.

Hawkesbury Gazette, July 29, 1987

Again, the local Liberal state member for Hawkesbury was in the vanguard in condemning the idea, saying

“I am going to give my full support to the community in opposing this gaol”

In 1991, the Government announced that Scheyville was at the top of a list of preferred sites for a what would have been the largest rubbish dump in the southern hemisphere.

In 1992, the government announced that the same area would be the site for a massive housing development. Hawkesbury Council issued a prospectus that showed bushland at Oakville and Scheyville bulldozed and replaced with a new suburb of 20,000 people, complete with four new primary and high schools, and urban runoff draining straight into Longneck creek.

1992- Scheyville housing development plan_sm

So, my point? We’ve all been here before. There’s nothing new under the sun.

But also: People power can win!

Each of these proposals, presented in most cases as necessary and inevitable, were knocked on the head by the community rallying to make the government see sense.

The airport idea was scuttled.

Hawkesbury Gazette, November 8, 1978

The dump didn’t happen. The prison idea went the same way


And the plans for a massive new suburb? Stopped cold.

Hawkesbury Gazette, November 18, 1992

And eventually – we got the land around Scheyville gazetted as a new national park. I was 22. It was the year after I first stood for Council. I played a small role in that fight, and I’m kinda proud of it.

You’ll note that I’m not political point scoring here: These rotten ideas were proposed by both Labor and Liberal governments alike.

What matters is people standing up and demanding that their leaders listen to them.

The point of this history lesson is this: People can make a difference, and governments can be made either to see the light or feel the heat.

In the second video, I’ll be listing the reasons why this particular proposal isn’t good enough, and suggesting some alternatives. I hope you’ll join me.

A word about representing all people, not just the ones who agree with you

I’ve been reflecting recently on what principles should guide me in my role as a politician. I still regard myself as relatively new to this, and I want to continue to learn and grow in what I’m doing.

I think that leaders should hold themselves to the discipline of sitting down regularly, not only with people they agree with, but with their most withering critics. Even with people who might perceive themselves as your enemy — not that I regard anyone in that way.

It’s always struck me as obvious that this is an essential part of the job. In politics, we contend and we argue; and we must expose our ideas to both affirmation, and to scorn.
It’s been said that an overlooked evil of censorship is that it denies weak arguments the opportunity to publicly humiliate themselves in a fair fight. Nothing is easier than becoming jaded and to withdraw to an echo chamber where that refining fire has been extinguished. I’m too aware of my own ignorance to think that my own views must always be right. I refuse to take myself so seriously that if a three-year-old hands me a toy phone, I can’t take the call with a glint in my eye.

I recall my Aristotle, and warn you that you should not make the mistake of thinking that me entertaining your idea, is the same thing as me agreeing with you. But if I disagree with you, I’ll always try to offer you the courtesy of remaining civil, saying why, and then continuing the conversation because, who knows, I might be wrong. Maybe we’re both wrong!

Leadership is about sifting through contending views and trying honestly to serve the greater good. Making tough calls is bruising, and frankly, sometimes it leaves me exhausted. I have enormous respect for people who do this daily, and at much higher levels than a humble Councillor. Still, I’ve never, ever been happier than in trying to fulfil this calling. Please take my enjoyment as a gesture of respect for the challenge of representing you.

Hawkesbury Council fails a test of leadership on flood safety

I am disappointed that Council last night reversed the position it has held for decades, and declined to reaffirm its support for raising Warragamba Dam to provide flood mitigation to our valley, through the Notice of Motion I brought to the chamber.

As I said last night, this issue is too important for it not to have bi-partisan support.

The Mayor of the Hawkesbury, Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett voted against the motion.

In my opinion, the Mayor’s position as the chair of Council’s Flood Risk Advisory Committee is now untenable. In September last year, Council ratified new terms of reference and objectives of that committee, which specifically includes advocating for the flood mitigation strategies contained in the Hawkesbury Nepean Floodplain Review Taskforce report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities, ‘in partnership with relevant state agencies and stakeholders.’

That report’s signature capital flood mitigation initiative is raising Warragamba dam.

If the Mayor is unable to support the Committee’s objectives and show the leadership her predecessors offered on flood mitigation, then she cannot be its chair and she should resign from that committee.

Joint Media release - Flood Mitigation

Hawkesbury Council should support the raising of Warragamba Dam

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Update: The result of the motion I put to Council is recounted here.

Only last year, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the worst flood since European settlement in the Hawkesbury district. We were reminded that, back in June 1867, an inland sea of swirling detritus 30km wide stretched from Riverstone to the foot of the Blue Mountains —  the result of only four days of rain. The survivors in Windsor inhabited a shrinking island, huddled in St Matthews Church. Wearily, they grieved over the news of the drowning of 12 members from the one family, the Eathers, barely a mile away at Cornwallis. Past the mouth of the river, the beaches from Barrenjoey to Long Reef were black with uprooted trees and bloated livestock. Of course, many of the dead were never found.

Many people are unaware that the construction of Warragamba Dam in 1960 confers little in the way of flood protection to the communities downstream. The whole capacity of the dam is for drinking water storage. In the event of a rain event, there is no “buffer” to absorb flood waters in the dam and moderate its release, reducing the frequency and severity of flooding on the floodplain.

Recognising this, there have been thwarted plans to augment Warragamba since the 1980s by raising the dam wall, and we should welcome the State Government’s June 2016 commitment to a $700 million program to finally raise the dam by another 14 meters, giving it that crucial buffer. It is clear that the Hawkesbury Council, representing the community most at risk from flooding, should support this new initiative. I have been advocating and writing about this for many years.

To date, Council has not availed itself of the opportunity to express this support, and it would be timely for it to do so in the face of well intended but misguided opposition from environmentalists.

Thus, I and my fellow Liberal Councillors are bringing a Notice of Motion before the chamber next Tuesday to invite my colleagues to show their support for this measure which will protect your life and property against the rare but potentially catastrophic effects of a bad flood. I will have more to say on this soon.

ORD_APR1_2018_BP_NOM(WarragambaDam)

Hawkesbury City Councillor Zamprogno interviewed on Hawkesbury Radio on corridor reservations

I was pleased to be invited by Gary Cotter from Hawkesbury Radio today and talk to him about the State Government’s announcements of land reservations for both the Castlereagh corridor (Bells Line of Road) and the Outer Sydney Orbital (M9) corridor.

Both these announcements may have substantial impacts on the Hawkesbury. On the one hand, governments should be praised for forward, generational thinking. On the other hand, their claim that the chosen locations were based on extensive community consultation is completely false.

Listen along to the interview (<14min) and tell me what you think. There will be much more to say about this soon!

“Clean up Australia” Day in the Hawkesbury

Tomorrow is “Clean up Australia” day around the country, and there are many ways you can pitch in and help keep our area looking spic and span.

Sunday 4th March 2018 is the main event, and a complete list of sites around the Hawkesbury where you can make a difference are here.

This morning, as a curtain raiser, I was helping members of the Pitt Town Progress Association help clean up rubbish polluting Bardanarang Creek under the Friendship Bridge on Pitt Town Bottoms Road. I identified this site as in need of an urgent clean-up when Councillors toured Pitt Town with the Progress Association back in August, and I have worked with the Association to have Council resources assist in the cleanup. I also initiated getting the County Council out to deal with an infestation of Balloon Vine on the banks of the creek, which happened back in September.

Friendship Bridge is a significant historic site, as it represents the place where Governor Phillip first encountered Aboriginals from this area in 1791.  A plaque commemorating the meeting lays nearby, and a piece of trivia that I love is that the bronze casting of two arms clasped in friendship includes that of our much missed and late Mayor, Dr Rex Stubbs.

Among the items we dragged out of the creek were dozens of tyres, an engine block, a 4-burner BBQ, two mattresses, a bong, ladies lingerie, and two sex toys. Yuk.

Tyres, metal and other debris polluting the creek.

Some of the rubbish fished out of the creek

A four-burner BBQ was part of the haul. Who dumps stuff like this?

The plaque commemorating the first meeting between Europeans the local aboriginal people.

 

 

Get involved in the good work of bush regeneration in the Hawkesbury

Our local Landcare groups and their volunteers do a magnificent job around our district. The Hawkesbury Landcare Network will be running bush regeneration weekends on the weekends of March 10-11 and April 14-15 targeting Scheyville National Park, Cattai and Mitchell Park. New volunteers are always welcome.

As a reward for the work, guided bush walk tours will be carried out with local experts, followed by a fully catered dinner, and, in the evening, you can spotlight to see the threatened Yellow bellied Glider, found in the old growth trees of Mitchell Park (pictured).

Let me commend the good work of Landcare, the Hawkesbury Environment Network (HEN), and the Hawkesbury River County Council (HRCC) for what they do to keep our bushland healthy.

Details about the bush regeneration weekend are available at the link below:

Mitchell Park WWW_feb 2018

(Right click HERE to download the PDF directly)

Hawkesbury Council gets 2018 underway with a bang

After the unqualified success of Hawkesbury’s Australia Day celebrations down by the river, the first Hawkesbury Council meeting of 2018 occurred on Tuesday night and went from 6:30pm and until well after 1am. A number of issues of consequence to local residents were on the agenda.

Thankfully, now that Council is “podcasting” its meetings (a move I pushed for and endorsed), I can bring you the audio of my contributions as part of my summary in an effort to remain accountable to you.

The Special Rate Variation

Firstly, a Mayoral Minute on the question of the >30% rate-hike our Labor-Greens dominated Council is applying for, was debated. I took exception to a proposal to use ratepayer’s money for Council to seek to mail out a political “fact sheet” on the SRV when some of those facts are in dispute. I pointed out that the depth of feeling in suburbs like Oakville arise because, when you do an analysis of rates paid suburb by suburb (something I distilled from the raw data provided by Council staff — a spreadsheet with over 24,000 rows in it), it reveals that some suburbs are carrying as much as 271% of the rating burden compared to other suburbs. The analysis is based on the total rates collected divided into the number of residences in each suburb. The system implemented by the previous Liberal Council in 2013 was far fairer than the system now in place. If the Liberals are re-elected to govern in 2020, I and my Liberal colleagues commit ourselves to fixing this problem.

A chart of Hawkesbury rates. Click for a larger version

Those of you who wish to see the spreadsheet containing this analysis can click Suburb Analysis of Hawkesbury Rates 2016-2018.

My remarks to the Chamber are here, followed by those of my Liberal colleagues (@ 13m24s, if the link starts the audio at the beginning rather than at the right time-index):

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/5-item-003-mm3-special-rate#t=13:24

I will shortly have more to say about rates in a future post.

A new child-care centre in Oakville

Last August, Council received a development application for the construction of a new child-care centre in Smith Road at Oakville. Although generally welcoming of the provision of services like this to the Hawkesbury, I called for the application to be deferred due to a lack of parking, the proximity of the building to a neighbour’s fence, and the issues related to outdoor play, noise,  and traffic control on the street outside.

In this case, the deferral allowed the applicant, Council planning staff and concerned near neighbours to come together and  address those concerns. The revised application represented a real improvement; the development is now  more centrally located on the applicant’s land,  and I was happy to move the recommendation to approve the development.

Here are my remarks (@15m24s):

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/6-item-005-da0107-17-child-1#t=15:24

More haggling over Windsor Bridge

People frequently ask me about my opinions on the current project, now well advanced, to replace Windsor bridge with a new structure. And my answer is “It’s complicated”.

My mixed feelings arise from an awareness that the last bridge was built in 1874, If we only make this kind of decision every 144 years, then we have a solemn obligation to future generations to get it right. It disappoints me that we are spending close to $100 million on a project that condemns another century of heavy traffic to travel through a historic square. It is significant that both the Labor and Liberal tickets to the last Council election supported an additional crossing of the river (whether that is termed a “bypass” or not is immaterial) as a major infrastructure priority.
So: I hope that this bridge will be built soon… and elsewhere.

However, as a local government Councillor, I have to recognise that this is a State government matter. I wish that the State government would re-think its current plan in favour of new bridge at a different location that will be regarded as more visionary by our descendants, but I also recognise that local residents should not wait another decade or more for an alternative that isn’t planned or budgeted for, and for which there is presently no political will.  If you’re stuck in the endless Windsor traffic bottleneck morning or evening, my sympathies are with you. There has already been too much delay.

I neither completely buy into the histrionic rhetoric of CAWB when they say that the plan represents the “rape” of Thompson square, nor the agitprop of the RMS, whose estimations of the improvement to traffic flow are at best suspect. A new bridge in this location will make some improvement to traffic, but in terms of cost-benefit, it’s a very poor substitute for a bypass, which could cost only a little more.

However, the only solution that has money on the table now, that has planning well advanced, and which stands any chance of being concluded within this decade, is the present one. No other funded plan exists, even on a napkin. I think this is a point the detractors of the project ignore. How much longer would the community have to wait if the whole process had to be started over? And that is why, with these misgivings, I have consistently supported the construction of the new Windsor bridge whenever the matter has come before us.

So where does that leave Hawkesbury Council? We are not the consent authority for the bridge. Our opinion is, in the scheme of things, not as important as some of my colleagues’ egos think it should be. Our responsibility is for the built environment that will be ours to manage after the construction finishes. This includes having a constructive role in consulting over the fabric and layout of the public spaces; the lighting, footpaths, street furniture, heritage interpretation, plantings, signage, public access and amenity, and so on. It disappoints me that some of my colleagues, having sought election precisely to be immersed in this issue, have instead fouled the efforts that have been made to permit the best outcome to be achieved. They repeatedly stick their fingers in their ears and think that saying “No” to everything will make the problem go away. It won’t.

The case in point last Tuesday was the RMS plan to retain the first span of the old bridge as a viewing platform after the new bridge is built, to act as a historical interpretive landmark. Regardless of your opinion of the overall project, if there has to be a new bridge, this is unarguably a way of enhancing the Thompson Square precinct. It’s a great idea. And because this will ultimately become Council’s responsibility, the RMS sought our concurrence for the plan. And what did the Councillors elected on the “Windsor Bridge protest platform ” do?  Quibble, obstruct and dissemble. The annual maintenance cost for the static structure will be ~$5000p.a, and there is plenty of precedent for the RMS to pick up the tab for this — small change on a $100M project. And yet every single vote on a necessary and practical aspect of the project that requires a clear indication of intent from Council to allow planning to proceed is instead diverted into a sterile debate on the whole bridge project. It’s becoming tiresome.
Newsflash: The RMS knows what Council thinks. It doesn’t need to repeat itself every five minutes.

My remarks to the chamber on this are here (@7 minutes in)

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/7-item-008-windsor-bridge#t=7:00

 

Unapproved Dwellings in the Hawkesbury

Here’s a common story: Someone lives in a tiny fibro house on acreage in the Hawkesbury. At some point during the 1970s or 80s, they do as many did and build a bigger brick house on the same block, and move in. They go through the old fibro house and meticulously disconnect the water and electricity, and a council inspector certifies it as uninhabitable. There is no obligation to demolish the old structure. The inspector leaves; the owner carefully reconnects the utilities, and the kids (or a parent, or someone else) moves in. No one cares. Decades pass.

This story is common enough that I could drive you past half a dozen such “illegal” dwellings in Oakville alone. Because I have long been a supporter of detached-dual-occupancy, I’ve always been kind of pleased that this is one rule that Council turned a blind eye to. I’ve never spoken to the neighbour of such a property that was put out by such an arrangement; easy to understand when you’re on enough land that your neighbours living arrangements don’t disturb you. I’d be happy for this to continue.

But here’s another story: Someone allows a friend in need to take up residence in a boat shed down by our river with a maximum flood risk. They aren’t on anyone’s census or the radar of emergency services, and then a natural disaster strikes. How many people need evacuating? From where? Manifestly, it will always be unwise to permit anyone to live in such a place, and if Council knew about it, it would have to discharge its duty of care to act.

How we deal with these two ends of the same demographic phenomenon is vexed, and I supported a call for a report to be brought to Council.

My remarks to the chamber are here (@2m50s):

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/13-item-019-nm4-unapproved#t=2:50

 

In Defence of Australia Day

Soon, we will be celebrating Australia Day. I want to spend a moment to reflect on why it truly is a day to celebrate what it is to be an Australian.

Celebrating Australia Day on the 26th of January is evolving beyond merely the day we remember the pioneers who came to a strange and challenging land, building prosperous and peaceable society which is now the envy of the world.

While it is true that these pioneers were mostly British, we now also inclusively recognise Australia’s migration success story, and our land’s original Aboriginal inhabitants. Take me, of mixed descent: British settlers and third fleet convicts on one side, Italian migrants on the other. They all came to a young nation seeking a better life, and they found it.

What they created is a nation with an uncanny ability to punch above its weight. How delightful that our national DNA valorises the idea of a fair go, or that we cheer for the underdog. How heartening that our patriotism rarely descends into jingoism, and that our national sensibility is grounded by a laconic wit, and an ability to laugh at ourselves and prick the egos of the self-important.

We deserve to be proud that Australians are a people who will always come to the aid of a friend. Australian soldiers, sea and airmen have laid it on the line to protect freedom and decency in the crucible of war, and we have paid with our dearest blood. We should be proud that our military prowess has not led us to glory in conquest, but instead in the four ANZAC virtues of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice.

On Australia day we traditionally hold citizenship ceremonies to welcome our New Australians. Hawkesbury Council is pulling out all the stops this year to hold our biggest Australia day celebration ever, down at Governor Phillip park in Windsor. This is an important gesture of support for January 26th as our National Day. I hope you’ll join us.

Our message to these new Australians is this: If you work hard, respect our values, speak our language, and value your Aussieness over all other national, cultural or religious identities, we will welcome you in with open arms. The new Australian is as much an Australian as the first fleet descendent or the Aboriginal whose connection with the land covers millennia.

When my Italian grandfather, Lorenzo Zamprogno migrated from northern Italy at the cusp of the war, he understood that it was equally important to be proud both of where you came from, and where you are. That is why he founded the Marconi club in 1958 as an Australian-Italian friendship club. The club he helped found is now a $100 million sport and entertainment powerhouse. There can be no doubt that when we choose carefully, people from other parts of the world greatly enrich the Australian experience.

My grandfather’s experience exemplifies a great thing about Australia: The colour of your skin should not matter, or your accent or your creed or your preference.  Whether your mob came last year, or 40,000 years ago: There shouldn’t be a distinction between “first Australians” and then the rest of us. There’s just…. All of us. One big family. Equal, as Australians under the law. If you pitch in, and respect the remarkable legacy of our young nation, then this is objectively one of the best places, not only in the world, but in the history of the world, to live and prosper in peace.

I am unconcerned that the debate about Australia day is perennial. It will always means different things to different people. For me as a history teacher, I note that it is also the anniversary of Australia’s only armed overthrow of a government, the Rum Rebellion of 1808. As a politician, it’s a timely reminder that unpopular governments get kicked in the arse.

Celebrating Australia day does not imply that our nation, or any nation, is without faults. We recognise the deep and abiding connection of Australia’s first inhabitants to the land. But Australia day is about looking forward, not back, and it’s worth remembering that one of the things we celebrate is that one of our aspirations is to treat all people equally and with dignity. It is not a day to wallow in recrimination, cast accusations, or judge our forebears by the different standards of today.

Australia a youthful, peaceful, democratic, pluralist, secular, lawful, compassionate, innovative and good-humoured country. That is genuinely worth celebrating. And on Australia day, I give thanks that we live in such a place.

Podcasting of Council meetings

Hawkesbury Council chamber

Since I was elected, I have sought to improve the ways in which our Council engages with the wider community. Back in January, I seconded a motion brought by Clr. Rasmussen to look into what is called “podcasting” our Council meetings — making the audio of what is said available on the Internet for those unable to attend on the night.

This seems to me to be an elementary way of improving our accountability to you, and as I explained to Councillors and staff, very easy to implement at low cost. Early estimates of the cost of such initiatives were ridiculous. We received a report from Council staff claiming that Webcasting (the next step up, including video streamed live) could cost over $43,000 a year! I have an app on my iPhone that can do it for free.

This reminds me of the time 16 years ago that I advocated that our Council record the votes of individual Councillors at meetings. I was told that this was either impractical, expensive or dangerous. I was told there was no provision in the Act, that it opened up Councillors to individual liability for what they said, or that it would impede the progress of meetings. A few years later and it was mandated as the law. Ahead of the curve, as usual. How times have changed!

As it is, Council have worked out that podcasting can cost only about $12 a month. And look, I have no illusions about whether a podcast of us pollies jabbering on represents gripping entertainment. It doesn’t. Trust me; I’m there. But it does send a message about our responsibility to the community to be accountable, and for there to be a way for you to compare what we say when we seek election, and then the way we end up voting on your behalf. Sometimes, you just want to know what a Councillor said about a controversial issue, or a planning decision that affects you. And unless you’re a political tragic that attends our run-until-midnight meetings, you can’t. $12 a month seems money well spent in that case, and I encourage you to hold us to account.

So here’s the link to Council’s SoundCloud page where you can listen to and subscribe to the audio (which will be kept there for 12 months), and here’s an example of an issue I spoke to at our first Podcasted meeting:

The State Government have proposed to implement IHAPS — planning panels consisting of planning bureaucrats appointed by the Minister — and usurp the role of democratically elected Councils in determining most DA’s on planning matters worth more than a few million dollars. This has occurred because of genuine corruption in other Council’s planning processes, but my view is that it is improper to apply this punitive remedy to so many other Councils not suffering from that disfunction.

I am pleased to find myself in good company in holding this concern, and the Liberal-dominated Hills Shire Council has extended an invitation to join with them and other Councils in opposing IHAPS.

In the below clip, I state why I am supporting a Mayoral Minute on the subject. Why not have a listen to what I and the other Councillors are saying?

(If the below audio does not start at the right place, my contribution begins at 16minutes56seconds).

Is Sydney Full?

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald has declared “Sydneysiders in revolt over development as two-thirds declare the city is ‘full'”.
So what’s my view? The common stereotype is that Liberal governments are pro development and left-of-centre governments are full of NIMBY greenies. The truth is not so simple. I sat up and took notice at this quote in the story:
“Significantly for the Coalition government, 61.7 per cent of Liberal supporters believe Sydney is full, 28 per cent are in favour of more development and 10.4 per cent are undecided.”
I’ve been meditating on the incredible challenges that Sydney’s urban sprawl has caused, and the legacy it will leave for the liveability of both greater Sydney and the Hawkesbury for future generations.
 
We are grappling with massive changes. Decades of poor planning, underinvestment in key infrastructure, and the pressures of increasing population are causing the slow erosion of many values that Hawkesbury residents consistently put at the top of their list as making our area special. Open space, continued use of land for agriculture, recreation and habitat, and the ability to both live and work within a reasonable distance of one another.
 
What is an elected Liberal Councillor to make of this tension? On the one hand, I applaud the State government for getting on with the job of building the railways, roads and bridges we should have had in Sydney a decade ago. To those inclined to a short memory, I am happy to remind people I talk to that 16 years of Labor government came with complete stagnation in infrastructure. Projects announced, reannounced, then renounced and quietly abandoned. Minister after Minister disgraced, sacked and imprisoned for pederasty, greed and fraud. Do we really want to go back to that?
And on the other, the rapacious consumption of the last fragments of open space left in the Sydney basin is something I oppose completely. If the survey results reported above are true, a clear majority of Liberal voters agree with me. Studies like Sydney Food Futures tell us that, due to the pressures of urban sprawl, over 30,000 tonnes per year of food production in the Hawkesbury may be lost by 2031, and 400,000 tonnes p.a of lost food production across the Sydney basin. We would be foolish to permit that. But to quote the Lorax, who speaks for the trees?
To those who may remonstrate with me, my question is this: So when are we “done” with development? At what threshold, even in theory, would we say “this represents overdevelopment” in Sydney, when other cities in NSW are crying out for growth and investment? When, as the article bluntly poses the question, is Sydney “Full”? As a teacher, I’ve looked at this with my students, and I focused a unit of study on population around Dick Smith’s excellent documentary The Population Puzzle. It’s required viewing for anyone genuinely concerned about this issue.

As a local government representative, it concerns me that our ability to even contribute to that debate on your behalf  is slowly being eroded by an increasing centralisation of planning controls, gravitating towards the Planning minister and panels of unelected bureaucrats. Many decisions that Councils used to make are being taken out of our hands. The reduction in local democracy is alarming.

Yet, my Liberal colleagues counter,  this is because the decisions that many Councils make, including our own, are grossly inconsistent with the established planning guidelines. The substantial time and money invested by people seeking permission to do, legally, what they ought to be able to do with their land is subjected to the caprice and thought-bubbles of quixotic Councillors. Some of the decisions taken by our Council in the last year baffle me. Regretfully, the rank situation in Councils like Auburn, where developer Sam Mehajer brought the whole process of local government into disrepute, has caused all Councils, including our own, to be tarred with the same brush, and to be subjected to the same extreme corrective measures.

Again, both views represent facets of a larger truth.

I’m thinking and reading deeply on this matter and will have more to say in the future. In the meantime, I want to know what you think. Please let me know in the comments.

Hawkesbury landowners get extended deadline for review of their land value

“In this episode, a climactic meeting with the Valuer General, plans to secede from the Hawkesbury, and a ray of hope for people who have endured massive rate rises, but only if you act now.

In my last video I described how thousands of Hawkesbury ratepayers have been hit with a big rise in their Council rates. I described how the 23% of our landowners whose rates have gone up, are now paying 35% of Council rates, and how that just isn’t fair.

I explained how the biggest part of that rise came from changes to land value as calculated by the Valuer General. An important development has occurred recently that you need to know about.

Hosted by Council, a representative from the Valuer General’s office came to a very well attended meeting at the Windsor Function Centre on August 30th.

Present were hundreds of angry ratepayers, stung by the rise in their rates, and who generally had not availed themselves of the opportunity to apply for a review of their excessive land valuation before the 60 day cutoff – the period that began after everyone received their valuations earlier this year.

At that meeting, the Valuer General made two concessions. The first is that Hawkesbury Residents have now had the deadline extended, and they can apply for a review of their land valuations until the end of September 2017.

If you live in the Hawkesbury and your rates have gone up, I strongly suggest that you apply to ask for a review of your land valuation.

The details of how to do that are at the link on the Valuer General’s website.  My hope is that if enough people do this, some pressure can be brought to bear.

The second concession was that no landowner asking for a review in this round will have their land valuation put up. This is important because when you ask for a review, it could go down or up, and this makes the process of asking for a review a no-risk proposition.

However, unless you cite the right reasons, your application for a review may fail.
“I don’t like this” or “I’m on fixed income and can’t afford to pay” aren’t likely to get much traction, even if they’re true.

As I see it, there are three grounds for review, especially if you live in the Oakville, Maraylya, or Vineyard area.
The first is that real-estate values are being distorted by adjacent development caused by the North West Growth Sector.
Of course, one riposte may be that, even so, they are current the real-estate sales values, and that the Valuer General’s is merely applying their formula, and that’s that.

However, residents attending the meeting at Windsor were alarmed to find that only around ten sales in the area were used to define the values for the whole suburb, which is over 1200 properties in Oakville, Maraylya and Vineyard. This sample space is too small to be representative. Similar properties are grouped together into statistical units called Components. Nearby components separate to the Oakville component are cheaper, despite both containing acreage properties with similar aspects and uses. In my opinion, the Valuer General’s methodology is flawed.

My second concern is that land value should be reflective of what people can do with it. This instructive video from the Valuer General acknowledges that things like whether the land is sloped, or has an ocean view, has good soil, or is subdividable, all affect land value. Overwhelmingly, your land that has risen in value so sharply can only be put to the same use that it could be put a year ago, and no subdivision is in prospect. The Valuation of Land Act states that land must be valued according to its “highest and best permitted use”. But what happens when land is bought, at inflated prices, on the basis of speculation that it will be rezoned in the future for a different purpose?
The Valuer General should be prudent enough to mitigate against the effects of speculation in the market.

The third concern is that the Valuer General should acknowledge that changes as severe and rapid as this are socially and politically intolerable.
When you think about it, there is some precedent here. Look at what happened with the recent Fire and Emergency Services Levy.


You will recall this was introduced with great fanfare by the State Government in December 2015, only to be withdrawn in July this year, precisely because the government’s modelling was flawed. When it came out that the change in tax to many property-owners, based on land valuations from the Valuer General, were too steep, too unfair and too rapid, the whole program was put on hold.

Political intervention was justified there, and is here too, and for exactly the same reasons.
Your Liberal Councillors, including myself, have stood up for Hawkesbury residents on two fronts. To the degree that Council can affect change, we will continue to push for it, all the while continuing to bring these concerns before our State colleagues as well.

I’ll end by answering a remark I’ve heard at more than one community meeting. Ill-feeling is bad enough among some to suggest that parts of the Hawkesbury feeling this financial pain should secede from the Hawkesbury and apply to join the Hills Shire, or that the whole question of amalgamation between the Hawkesbury and the Hills be re-opened.

I’m not sure what you’d call that. Following the model of Brexit, should it be Hawkes-xit? Oaks-xit?

Frankly this is a nutty idea. Firstly, Hills Shire council never saw a development they didn’t like, and if you want the whole of the Hawkesbury to look like Rouse hill or Kellyville, then… please see your GP to change your medication.
Secondly, you would be no better off. The Hill’s rating structure is not so different to our own. To join the Hills Shire, where people may or may not eat their babies, would be at best a Faustian bargain that we would regret.

The Hawkesbury is a special place, and it deserves to stand on its own and determine its own destiny. I regard our corner of the world as a bulwark against the encroachment of what I call ant-hill Sydney. It is a valuable region of the greater Sydney area that is still most valuable for its amenity, open space, agriculture and heritage. If people can’t afford to live on acreage allotments because the rating structure is unfair, those on Council who have engineered this change might care to accept some of the blame when landowner’s thoughts turn to selling up to developers.

Video blog – Hawkesbury Council rate rises and the Valuer General

Further to an earlier post on Hawkesbury Council’s rates rises, I’ve done some further analysis on the factors contributing to sharp rate rises for many Hawkesbury ratepayers, especially those in Oakville, Maraylya and Vineyard.

The maps referenced in the above video can also be downloaded here.

Remember, subscribe, like and share for updates!

An experiment in video engagement

 

I was elected nearly a year ago, and when people ask me how “the Council thing” is going, the answer I’ve tended to give is “I’m having more fun than at any time of my life!” That’s not to say that I don’t take the job seriously; I do. But I’ve genuinely relished the opportunity being a Councillor has offered to meet people, engage in debate, and meditate on those things that make communities thrive.

One of the things that I’ve noticed for years, and which people have confirmed, is that governments often struggle to engage with their citizenry effectively. That’s not to say there’s a lack of awareness of the need, or a lack of effort. But Councillors are used to voting on weighty matters that have been on public exhibition that attract few submissions, or attending community consultation sessions held in public venues around the district which, even if well attended, may only represent 1% of the broader electorate.

I asked our Council recently what proportion of ratepayer accounts were held on our database with a valid email address associated. The answer I got was  that we have email details for only 11% of ratepayers, and mobile phone details for 26%. In contrast, the latest Census results show that 79.9% of people are connected to the Internet.

I believe it is incumbent on elected representatives to use new technologies to engage people, and I’m doing something about this.

Thus, I am pleased to announce a semi-regular video series, which will be complimentary to this website. My aim is not to become the next viral YouTube megastar (although that would be nice), but to reach parts of our citizen population that are not currently being reached — with the consequence that cynicism about government is at an all time high.

However this experiment will only work if these efforts find an audience, and reach the critical mass needed for other elected representatives to realise that the Internet is where many people gain their information about the world around them — especially Milennials, or working professionals with little time to attend evening meetings.

If you think this kind of thing is worth supporting, then please let me suggest that you subscribe, like and share.

-Clr. Zamprogno.

Are some Hawkesbury residents paying too much tax?

Angry residents demand answers at a community consultation session at Pitt Town

The hot-button issue this month is that rate notices arriving in the letterboxes of many Hawkesbury ratepayers show that their rates have risen sharply, while other suburbs have had a modest decrease. And by “risen sharply”, I mean doubled or tripled from this time last year. The worst example I found was a property at Pitt Town now paying over six times the rate of an average property compared to last year.

Most residents accept that paying tax (in this case, Council rates) is necessary to provide the services people expect. However, many community consultation meetings (and last Tuesday’s Council meeting) were full of ratepayers who are visibly angry at what they feel is a betrayal of the principle everyone pitching in equally; the Aussie notion of a “fair go”.

So are some people now bearing a disproportionate burden of Council rates? I and my fellow Liberal Councillors think some are, and we’ve tried to do something about it.

What’s happened is a triple-whammy of changes and proposed changes, and it’s been challenging to educate the public about the contribution of each part.

Here’s how to understand what’s happened.

Prior to the changes made by the Liberal Council in 2013, all your rates were calculated based on your Land Value

Prior to 2013, your Council rates were calculated entirely on your land value. This is called the “Ad Valorum” approach (Latin for “according to the value”). This of course meant that if your land value rose sharply, your rates reflected that rise very directly.

The Liberal-lead Council instituted a change in 2013 that introduced what’s called a “Base Rate” of 50%, meaning that there was a standard charge paid by everyone, and that the remainder of rates Council collected based on land value was also 50%.

The Liberal Council regarded that as a reasonable and democratic change to make, and it resulted in an “evening out” of rates paid by both residential and rural-residential landowners. Rural-residential properties frequently are situated further from common resources in the towns, and endure worse roads, a lack of kerb and guttering, poorer street-lighting, and other disadvantages. Of course, the 2013 change resulted in some rates rising and some falling, but the changes were calculated to be moderate, and not extreme, unlike the most recent changes.

In September 2016, a majority of the Councillors elected to Hawkesbury Council were Independents, Labor and Green. The four Liberal Councillors are now outvoted by the 8 Councillors in this decidedly left-wing alliance.

This year, the new Council decided to change the formula again and reduce the base rate to 30%, and consideration is being given to a Special Rate Variation (SRV) that will put everyone’s rates up by more-than-rate-pegging if the proposals currently before us are endorsed by the Council and then by IPART.

Your Liberal Councillors voted against this change. The reduction of the Base Rate to only 30% means that people experiencing a spike in land value are more heavily hit.

It is not the purpose of this article to argue the case for or against the SRV, as that is more complicated.

Enter, the Valuer General. Land values in a range of suburbs across the district have changed sharply in the most recent round of valuations (which generally occur once every four years).

The contribution of land value increases vs the increase caused by the Council’s formula changing

The area in which I live, in Oakville, has been particularly hard hit, with the average rate rise of 57%, and with some property owners very much harder hit than that.

Frankly, the Valuer General has erred in valuing the land in Oakville in the way that it has. It has erred because land value should reflect the prospective “subdividability” (if I might coin a word) of land, and of course there is no prospect of landowners in Oakville being able to subdivide their land at all in the near future. The land valuations are calculated on recent real-estate sales figures, and this isn’t the same thing. Very heavy development is occurring on the other side of Boundary Road in the Hills LGA, and this has artificially skewed the figures in a highly disadvantageous way to Hawkesbury  residents whose income has not risen magically to keep pace with their land value. I am heartened to hear that the Valuer General will be visiting the Hawkesbury to meet with residents and my hope is that they will be willing to revisit their valuation processes instead of simply coming with the attitude of only explaining but not changing their conclusions.

At the Council meeting on Tuesday 8th August, the gallery was packed with residents supporting a Liberal resolution to re-visit the rating formula and to apply pressure to the Valuer General to explain their decision. This motion was opposed by Mayor Lyons-Buckett and the independent-Labor-Green alliance and substituted with a significantly watered down motion that effectively called for no action to be taken on the base rate.

This was disappointing, and rural-residential landowners badly affected by both the change in formula and the Valuer General’s decision will continue to be hardest hit.

I and your Liberal Council representatives will continue to listen and represent your concerns, right up to the next Council elections.

-Councillor Zamprogno.

 

Commemorating the 1867 Hawkesbury Flood

To help commemorate the upcoming 150th anniversary of the tragic, yet fascinating events of the 1867 flood, I recently took The Hawkesbury Gazette journalist Justine Doherty on a brief tour of the flood exhibit at the Hawkesbury Museum.
I talk about flood history in the Hawkesbury, a subject dear to my heart as I am the direct descendant of a third-fleet victim of the Windsor flood of 1809 (William Kentwell), and I remind everyone that they should come to Thompson Square on the evening of Friday 23rd June to join the official commemorations.
The Gazette’s story is which I appear is here.

(Non)-Recycling at the Hawkesbury Show

Last weekend was the annual Hawkesbury Show, and what a success it was! Fine weather, well-attended, and a buzzing community vibe as local businesses and exhibitors showed off what’s great about the Hawkesbury District.

Also pleasing was the presence of the Hawkesbury Council tent, where we engaged with the community and educated people about the services we deliver and the role Local Government plays in your lives. I am informed that the attendance at the tent was an all-time record of 7164, which is 52% bigger than last year. Our staff should be commended for their enthusiasm and their stamina across the three days of the show.

The Hawkesbury Council tent at the show

I noted one particular focus for Council was to encourage showgoers to be good recyclers during the show, with these fliers being distributed:

Recycling flier handed out at the show

This sentiment seemed to be backed by the presence of paired bins around the show ground to enable people to do the right thing:

Recycling bins at showground

Council had waste education officers in the Council tent, consultants performing surveys about recycling, and bin inspectors going around and looking at bin contents.

Your correspondent is so tragic that even I was going around and taking photos of the insides of the recycle bins to see how well people were taking to the message about recycling by putting the right rubbish in the right bin.

Recycling bin interior

The inside of a recycle bin at the 2017 Hawkesbury Show. Remember, you saw it here first.

Generally, people were heeding the message. This is pleasing.

However, my warm and fuzzy environmentalist thoughts came to a jarring halt when I learned what happened to the collected rubbish. Rural Fire Service volunteers were given the gig to collect bins during the show, in exchange for a donation to the RFS, which is a win-win for the community. And I must say, they did a good job. The showground always looked spic-and-span.

Then, one volunteer drew my attention to the single compactor Council had provided for all the bin-waste at the show. I witnessed the RFS volunteers enthusiastically emptying both types of bins into the one hole, to be sent straight to landfill. We weren’t recycling at all! This meant that all the good work that was being put into education and in having paired bins was (excuse the pun), wasted!

The single rubbish compactor at the Hawkesbury Show

The single rubbish compactor at the Hawkesbury Show

Frankly, I was surprised that no one else had raised this, and I immediately made inquiries through Council staff to see what went wrong. My fears were confirmed.

This is a disappointing result. However, there’s no recrimination here; only lessons to be learned. We need to plan better to give effect to community expectations about recycling at large events. I have been assured that the post-event debriefing will allow us to learn how to do better at next year’s show.

From a political perspective, I see this as a good example of my core philosophical principle: Competence trumps ideology. The (entirely laudable) sentiment we hold about recycling is worth very little unless we go about implementing it competently. Voters rarely desire overtly ideological governments, but they do strongly prefer competent governments that act consistently, efficiently and innovatively in the service of their constituencies. That is what I and my fellow Liberal councillors are pledged to deliver.

ANZAC Day: A Commemoration, not a Circus

Today, on ANZAC Day, I present an article I originally wrote back in 2008 about my own very personal pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and my quest to seek out a very particular grave at Lone Pine.
During my adventure, I was arrested by the Turkish Army, held at gunpoint and accused of being a spy. If you want a ripping yarn, ask me some time…

The author at Lone Pine, at the grave of Stan Stafford of the 2nd Batallion, 1st AIF.

Seeing our TV Screens full of Australasian backpackers flooding onto the Gallipoli peninsula is an ineluctable and annual staple. “Good on them”, we think. The commemoration of that singular event in our history which gave birth to our national identity is carried to a new generation by young people picking up the mantle saying “Lest we forget”. If we look a little closer, we note that those making the pilgrimage to the sacred site don’t always pick up their rubbish, some look a little worse for wear, and sometimes the gravity of the occasion has been lost a little. Most have made an overnight coach trip from Istanbul, which is nearly 300km away, stay to see a compressed guided tour of the ANZAC precinct, and head back the same day. Those seeking the historical flavour might sit through The Gallipoli movie with their package tour group the night before the trip. Few, if any, actually make it to the town called Gallipoli (Gelibolu, to the locals), which is some distance from ANZAC Cove.

Every year I see those pilgrims, I’m filled with pride that so many people continue to be motivated to travel to what’s still quite a remote spot to stand with other Aussies and Kiwis and blow on the coals of remembrance. My own son has a Gallipoli veteran as an ancestor, on his mother’s side. Every Australasian should make this trip at some point in their life.
But I’m also filled with a lot of sadness, because they’re robbing themselves of the best and most moving ANZAC experiences. Let me share my Gallipoli story…

I was fortunate enough to travel to Turkey a few years ago. Making my way from Ankara, 750km away, and with no fine command of Turkish, all I decided to do was keep saying “Gelibolu” at bus depots and sea ports and then go in the direction people were pointing. For simplicity, my plan was a 10 out of 10. For accuracy, as my five-year-old says: “minus zero”. Not that it mattered. I was mesmerised. Every waypoint was a palimpsest of history. Getting lost was a pleasure. Beneath the modern city of Istanbul lay the Ottoman’s den. Beneath that, the Roman city of Constantine. Beneath that, the Greek’s Byzantium, and beneath that, a Phoenician Seaport. As I was crossing the Dardanelles by boat, I was dreaming of those young, brave souls from country NSW or outback Queensland, about to set foot into hell. But I could have as easily dreamed I was Paris of Troy, or Alexander the Great, or Xerxes, or the Apostle Paul, all of whom made the same journey over the same stretch of water.

Unfortunately, my geography wasn’t quite as good as my history. Shortly after my triumphant arrival in the actual town of Gallipoli was the news that, sorry, Gallipoli isn’t actually anywhere near, well, Gallipoli. Only a minority of ANZAC pilgrims end up there, although there must have been enough; the local lodgings were called “ANZAC House”. Ah, ANZAC House… where the toilet (right next to my bed, and whose interior surface was black with exotic encrustations), ran all night, while the showers wouldn’t. Long story…

Now those that know me well will expect me at this juncture to tell my How I Got Arrested By the Turkish Army Story and Held at Gunpoint story, and perhaps I will… another time. I want to make a different point.

You see, all those well meaning pilgrims attending the ANZAC Day dawn service are missing out on an enormous part of the Gallipoli experience. It’s like going to the Louvre and staying half an hour… it’s just not on. Certainly, there is a unique feel to being there with so many other people, but my own experience was far more moving because of how I found myself there. Here’s what happened.

I wasn’t travelling in the area at ANZAC time. It was early April, weeks out from ANZAC Day.  My poor navigation landed me in a fishing village bearing the name of my destination but unfortunately not the co-ordinates. There’s something charming about being an accidental tourist, and I got to see somewhere that a lot of people don’t, even those who come back saying “I’ve been to Gallipoli”.

Fortunately, as a result of losing myself, I was approached by a charming local man, Gurkay, who negotiated a price to drive me down the peninsula in an ancient Combi and show me personally all the sites I wanted to see, such as the Gallipoli museum, Lone Pine, ANZAC Cove, and all the various monuments one would expect; a trip which would last a long day. I had my own personal guide! He thought he was rorting me blind for AU$100, and I thought I was getting a bargain. He had a little English and I had only a little Turkish (limited to the phrases for “I love you, my darling”, “get well soon”, or “thank you”… again, long story). We were firm friends by the end of the day.

Further, I had a mission. A dear family friend in his nineties had heard I was going to Gallipoli. He explained that his older brother, Stan, had died at Lone Pine and that in all the years since, he had never seen as much as a photo of his brother’s grave. Wow. Challenge accepted!

Stan Stafford, born in Lithgow.

When I made it to ANZAC Cove and Lone Pine; when I walked the partially reconstructed trenches, and when I went bush-bashing a bit just to see what it felt like to climb a hillside in Gallipoli with no railing or path, I was able to think in silence, by myself. I think I sat there and thought for a long time. A really long time. It was a sunny, breezy day, and birds were chirping, but I think that only by sitting there quietly for half an hour allowed me to hear the faint echoes of the fallen, and what they were trying to say to me.

When I found the grave I was looking for, the depersonalising effect of contemplating the mute and serried dead was all washed away. Courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website, I had located one of nearly a hundred thousand graves. Yet, this one was special. I arranged it with an Australian flag I had brought for the purpose, took photos and video of the area, and yes, I cried. I cried for a man who had not had a single soul to cry by his grave in 84 years.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Gallipoli, don’t settle for the prepackaged “back to the bus in 15 minutes”, shrink-wrapped, cattle-class version. See it properly. See it with time to sit quietly and contemplatively somewhere, by yourself. If it’s just an item on your itinerary and someone is holding your hand the whole way, then it isn’t a pilgrimage- it’s just a trip.

(Click here for the full Flickr set of photos associated with this story- my Gallipoli photos.)

Bilpin businesses need help from Council, not fines

Aggrieved Bilpin business owners and their signs (Photo: Geoff Jones, Hawkesbury Gazette)

Aggrieved Bilpin business owners and their signs (Photo: Geoff Jones, Hawkesbury Gazette)

Sean Prendergast, founder of Bilpin Cider, is on the phone with me, and he’s livid.

“$6000! Council fined me $6000 for having a sign on a trailer outside my business!”

Bilpin Cider advertising trailer

My ancestors were orchardists for over a century, at Glenhaven, and so I’m immediately sympathetic.

What’s worse, he tells me, is that in previous interactions with Council, he had formed the view that his current signage was compliant, after an earlier shot across the bow relating to “approach signage”, meaning signage placed along Bells Line of Road to let drivers know about approaching businesses and giving them the opportunity to slow down.

As it happens, I had already been speaking to Wayne Tapping, of Wildwood Gardens, His situation is worse, as his venue and café is on Powells Rd, just off Bells Line. “Without signage on the corner to let people know where we are, our business drops by more than half” says Wayne.

And what did Council do with his A-frame signs? They impounded them at Wilberforce, and told him that if he picked them up before 5pm, they would waive the $213-per-sign fine.

Knowing this, the story that appeared in the Gazette two days ago, Orchardists Reel as signs prohibited –  rules cruel Bilpin orchards and food outlets, is entirely unsurprising, and something needs to be done about it.

The problem is that the rules governing signage in our city are too inflexible. No one wants ugly signage in our already built-up areas, and the rules are there for good reasons. That said, some strange things still slip through. The Windsor Holden building in Macquarie St Windsor is a monstrosity, but I shall move on…

But businesses in Bilpin need every support they can get from Council, not $6000 fines. Under the current rules, they aren’t even permitted A-Frames (which require a form to be lodged and a $119 fee), because such signs are limited to business and industrial zones. The farm sheds most orchardists sell from are not considered business areas and are zoned “Rural”. Even signs on their own properties can’t be bigger than 0.75m², and higher than 2.5m above the ground. Good luck seeing that, barrelling along Bells Line at over 80km/h. Worse, our current LEP doesn’t permit approach signage at all. I’m sympathetic to the argument that approach signage improves road safety by giving potential customers time to make a choice, slow down, and look for the business coming up. So it’s clear that rules that work well in other places, are not working well in Bilpin.

Council’s current response is to suggest that Bilpin business make better use of Social media. This is more than a little dismissive, and it isn’t good enough. As the Gazette article points out, the number of orchardists in Bilpin has dropped from over eighty in the 1980s to ten today, and all of them rely on direct sales to some degree. The orchards in Bilpin are a key part of the agricultural, social and tourist fabric  of the Hawkesbury. We shouldn’t let them die.

When asked by the Gazette, Council says that “If business operators request that Council look into a signage policy, then Council can look into developing a signage policy for businesses around Bilpin area to provide more guidance. Until such times the current policies remain in force.”

I think we need to go beyond this. I want Council to take the initiative and develop a signage policy for Bilpin that balances the needs of those local businesses, draws the tourist trade, and yet is mindful of road safety and the aesthetic of our rural landscapes. Compliance to local ordinances and planning rules is important, but Bilpin businesspeople need our help. People like Neville Julian, and Shelley Julian, and Sam Ramaci, and Sean Prendergast, and Wayne Tapping, and many others would be entitled to think that, on current form, they aren’t getting it.

I have reached out to my Councillor colleagues on this matter and so far I have received a very positive response. Stay tuned.

Consistent inconsistency from Council regarding development

Kurrajong Kurmond Investigation Area

Applications in the Kurrajong-Kurmond Investigation Area currently in the pipeline. Hardly a deluge of Rouse-Hill like densification.

Today, the Liberal Hawkesbury Councillors issued a media statement to express their concern about the current Council’s inconsistent attitude to development in the Hawkesbury. This post is intended to provide more information on our position.

On the 29th of November last year, Council voted to receive a report into the “Kurmond and Kurrajong Investigation Area Survey”. The matter was on the agenda in the last days of the previous term, but they punted it to us to allow the new Council to consider the report and take whatever action we saw as necessary.

This report sought to inform Council of the clear wishes of the residents of Kurrajong and Kurmond concerning the scale and form of development that they preferred. The summary of the report declared:

“Overall, the results of the survey showed that there was more interest in large lot residential/rural- residential development throughout the Investigation Area than for further residential development, particularly within the existing villages of Kurmond and Kurrajong. There is some support for large lot residential/rural-residential development and residential development immediately surrounding the village of Kurrajong and large lot residential/rural-residential development and residential development immediately surrounding the village of Kurmond”

The results were clearly tabulated, looking (in part) like this:Kurmond Kurrajong Survey result

The recommendation that came to Council from staff said

  1. Council receive the results of the Kurmond and Kurrajong Investigation Area Survey.

  2. Council Staff identify a number of specific areas (based upon Constraints Mapping, survey results and the preferred approach as outlined in this report) for possible development of additional large lot residential/rural-residential development throughout the Investigation Area and some residential development up to, but not within, the existing villages of Kurmond and Kurrajong.
  3. The identified areas be further consulted with the community regarding future development.
  4. The results of that further consultation be reported to Council.” 


At the prompting of Labor councillor Amanda Kotlash and Greens Councillor Danielle Wheeler, the following two items were added to the motion:

5.   Council not accept any further planning proposal applications within the Kurmond and Kurrajong investigation area until such time as the structure planning as outlined in this report is completed. Council receive a progress report on the structure planning prior to July 2017.

6.    Council continue processing the planning proposals within the investigation area that have received support via a Council resolution to proceed to a Gateway determination and any planning proposals currently lodged with Council as at 29 November 2016. 


Mayor Lyons-Buckett recused herself as her own home is in the investigation area, and the motion was passed 10:1, with Clr. Rasmussen the only dissenter.

During the debate, it was clear that there were several reasons why the motion could be supported in a broad and bipartisan fashion.

The first reason was because there was an acknowledgement of the broad purpose of the Investigation Area process. The initiating Mayoral Minute in February 2015 identified the need for “Implementation planning for the Hawkesbury Residential Land Strategy (RLS)”, and “the need to undertake structure planning and development contribution planning for development areas.”

My worthy colleagues on Council frequently cite an epidemic of ad-hoc development as the reason for slamming on the brakes, as though the Hawkesbury is sleepwalking into a Rouse-Hill style densification without a broader appreciation of the physical and social infrastructure required to make those communities accessible, sustainable and in keeping with the semi-rural qualities we value highly in the Hawkesbury.

I’m on the record myself as being uncomfortable about the pace of residential development in the LGA, but the key difference is that I respect the need for the proper planning processes to establish what should and shouldn’t happen in various parts of our city.

The motion that the Green and independents willingly sponsored acknowledged just this: That this was a well-conceived process of asking the residents of Kurrajong and Kurmond what they wanted, and then proceeding to identify the large-scale and long-term resource allocation and planning work that would need to be done, and then reporting back to Council.

The proof that this was the case is in the brief that was given to Council staff. They were to formulate:

  1. What land may be suitable for large lot residential / rural residential development 

  2. What land may need to be protected or conserved (e.g. land containing threatened species or endangered ecological communities, riparian areas, land with significant slope, significant view lines) 

  3. The nature and location of future development (e.g. the type of residential development and minimum lot size requirements) 

  4. Likely development yield and take up rate 

  5. The extent of rural village expansion and limits to growth 

  6. The nature and location supporting public infrastructure (e.g. roads, intersections, drainage infrastructure, community facilities, parks and recreation facilities) 

  7. Mechanisms to fund and provide supporting public infrastructure. 


And they gained concurrence from local residents that the planning principles that should be adhered to should prioritise:

  1. Essential services under the Hawkesbury Local Environmental Plan 2012 and fundamental development constraints are resolved.
  2. Building envelopes, asset protection zones (APZs), driveways and roads are located on land with a slope less than 15%.
  3. Removal of significant vegetation is avoided.
  4. Fragmentation of significant vegetation is minimised.
  5. Building envelopes, APZs, driveways and roads (not including roads for the purposes of crossing watercourse) are located outside of riparian corridors.
  6. Road and other crossings of watercourses is minimised.
  7. Fragmentation of riparian areas is minimised.
  8. Removal of dams containing significant aquatic habitat is avoided.”

These are precisely the issues that the green-independent Councillors are obstructive over now, so of course it made sense in November for them, and us (the Liberal Councillors) to support this process.

However, the second reason that the motion drew broad support was, crucially, that it granted procedural fairness to applicants who had begun, and in many cases, were well along in the process of submitting planning proposals or development applications that were consonant with the kind of development that the report identified as desirable by the communities of Kurrajong and Kurmond! Look at point six: Any application lodged before the 29th of November and which had earlier been supported by a Council resolution, or anything lodged in the system before that date would “continue to be processed”. This meant that the Greens, the Mayor, the independents – all of us that voted for the motion, accepted that the only fair and consistent policy to enact would be to continue to see existing applications move through Council, and proceed to Gateway Assessment (the “higher up” review of planning proposals by the NSW Department of Planning, who are also cognisant of the “bigger picture” issues relating to roads, utilities and sustainability).

It was regarded as fair that, seeing as the clear preference of the new Council was to disfavour development west of the river, that new applications be put on hold. And it was equally understood as fair that procedural fairness be granted to planning proposals “in the pipeline”, not that there were even very many of them (see map at the header of this post). Many families with larger acreage holdings had entered into the expensive process of seeking approval for large lot subdivisions (~4000m²) in good faith. Council is entitled to indicate a new direction for new applications, but it is not entitled to cut off applications already in the system at the knees.

Sadly, this agreement has not been honoured, and the Green and Green-aligned Councillors have reneged on the processes that they themselves seconded and supported in the Chamber.

Since the 29th of November, a number of extant planning proposals that met the criteria of the Kurmond/ Kurrajong Investigation Area have come to Council and been repeatedly knocked back for reasons unrelated to their individual merit, demonstrating a complete inconsistency with Council’s resolved position in November. I and my fellow Liberals have remonstrated with the Greens and Independents, and I might say, have frequently been supported by the Labor Councillors Amanda Kotlash and Deputy Mayor Barry Calvert. In this new Council, on this matter, the “establishment parties” represent professionalism and respect for process, and the green-independent Councillors represent stumbling, amateur opportunism.

One Councillor disputed factual assertions by Council staff, claiming his half hour of Googling on the question of the capacity of waste water recycling systems trumped the considered data put forward in the business paper. As a result, one applicant will have to install a second water treatment system for a single residence that currently has an occupancy of four. Cost: many thousands of dollars. Another Councillor barely manages to stay awake, punctuated by repetitive and irrelevant lines of questioning. Another Councillor admits their ideological “never, ever” predisposition to evaluating all proposals, and in seeming disregard of any evidence put forward. This isn’t government by the deliberative consideration of the evidence. This is government by ingrained bias and thought-bubble.

Now I hasten to say that I enjoy the fraternity of my Councillor colleagues, and also with Council staff. We get genuinely along, despite our differences of opinion, and I value that we generally treat each other with respect. However, we’re not there to agree on everything, and if I think our community is ill-served by this kind of inconsistency, I’ll call it out.

Today, our Mayor has tried to refute the idea that the Council is opposed to “any development west of the river”. In support, she states that 74 DA’s were approved by Council in the last month, with 45 of them west of the river, and 29 east of the river. This is a little disingenuous, considering a DA can be anything from a shed to a building extension, and that most of these DA’s were approved by staff under delegated authority.

A better measure is to look at the growing list of inconsistent decisions that would otherwise have been covered by Council’s resolution of 29 November.

On the 29th November 2016, Council considered a planning proposal for 431 and 431a Greggs Lane, Kurrajong. It was an 8 lot subdivision, each lot being no smaller than 4000m². It fell within the investigation area that Council had only moments earlier voted to continue to process extant applications for. Yet Council voted to defer. Then, on the 13th December they voted to approve, and again on the 11th April 2017, voted to continue the process.
Fine, so far. Their attention span held. But look what’s happened since:

31st January: 42 Bells Lane, Kurmond. 4 lot subdivision. Voted down.

31st January: 98 Bells Lane Kurmond, voted down.

14th February: 42 Bells Lane Kurmond (via Rescission motion). Defeated again.

11th April 2017: 631 Bells Line of Road, Kurmond: Voted to defer.

What was different between the Greggs Lane application and the others? Nothing. Applicant after applicant (frequently families dealing with the desire to secure retirement security, give their kids a leg-up, or dealing with deceased estates) leave the chamber shaking their heads, wondering why their application failed when similar ones were approved, and wondering why precisely none of the debate in the chamber came even close to arguing the actual merits of their proposal. Instead, they were knocked back over a general worry over “traffic”, or waiting until the results of a traffic study come in that has nothing to do with their application. It’s a bad signal to send to people wanting to invest in our area.

Further, what the residents of Kurrajong and Kurmond are entitled to find galling is that Council have already engaged in the process of asking you what you actually want in the area, and that the answer seems clear. Your preference is for Rural-Residential development (as opposed to Residential smaller-lot development), and the preference is for that development to be generally contigious or near the existing village centres. Despite being generally leery of development, that’s something that even I can support, especially when it follows extensive community consultation.

It is disappointing to see your other elected representatives claiming that they know your minds better than you do.

About the Grose River bridge and the Redbank development

Grose River Bridge crossing map

Today, I’m writing about the proposed bridge across the Grose River that forms part of the deal struck when the Redbank development was approved at North Richmond.

First, I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: If I had been on Council when the Redbank development at North Richmond was put up, I wouldn’t have voted for it. It worsens the congestion at North Richmond and across its bridge. The scale of the development was not compatible with the area, and the rural landscape created by the keyline dams scattered across the Peel property were better preserved as open space.

However, my current Liberal colleagues on Council are correct when they say that there was one thing that made Redbank compelling, and that was the provision of a new bridge across the Grose River, entirely at the developer’s expense.

I want to dispel some misunderstandings about where things are at. Councillors received a briefing on this matter just a few days ago. Our deliberations should always be led by the official reports that come to us in the lead up to a vote, but there’s incorrect information circulating in the community and the need for other tiers of government to be equally engaged with us makes this commentary worthwhile.

The Redbank developer signed what’s called a “Voluntary Planning Agreement” (a VPA) in August 2014. The VPA can be accessed here. The co-signatories were Hawkesbury Council and the RMS. The most significant obligation this VPA conferred was the provision of a “Multispan bridge, approach roads and intersections for crossing at Yarramundi of Grose River”, which would have to be approved by the time the 341st lot was sold. This threshold will be met by about March 2018, based on the current rate of lot sales.

The developer has taken out large advertisements in local papers declaring this approval is “stuck” in Council and “may take years to resolve”.

Redbank river crossing gazette ad

This simply isn’t true. The developer was given a choice about the mechanism by which the approval process for the bridge could proceed. They were advised about what would be required at a meeting in July 2015. They lodged a D.A. in April 2016, and then nominated to have the mechanism changed to what’s called a “Part 5” process only in August 2016. This was exhibited until September 2016 and is ongoing. There are a couple of documents outstanding, including a Crown Lands Merit Assessment. The necessary document for Approval to be considered by Council will be a revised Plan of Management, which could be available by late 2017 or early 2018 – in time for the lot threshold defined by the VPA.

It’s worth noting that this VPA also included a lot of other benefits to the community that have already been delivered, such as $2.5M to upgrade Bells Line of Road, Grose Vale Rd, the Terrace, Old Kurrajong Rd, Yarramundi Lane, Bosworth St and March St. It will also deliver 15 bus-shelters, concrete paths in Peel park, $1.35M to upgrade North Richmond Community Centre, the dedication of land with utilities for a future Child Care centre, and maintenance of all open space for five years prior to dedication of the land to Council into perpetuity. Not a bad outcome!

The developer now says that they would prefer to see a sum of $24M given over to “Council and RMS” to build the bridge themselves. But the reality is that only 5% of the money would come to Council, and that the RMS will not build the bridge with the money. RMS would be constrained to put the money towards “other improvements” to state roads between Richmond and North Richmond, but at time of writing, they have no projects to which the money could be profitably put. It is unlikely the Grose River bridge will cost only $24M to build, so why let the developer off the hook so cheaply? The developer has to supply the bridge regardless of the cost.

Similarly, there is a fantasy going about that taking this money will make a “third crossing of the Hawkesbury” happen all the sooner. This just won’t happen. The cost of duplicating North Richmond bridge is north of $200M. There is no connection at all between this bridge proposal and the widespread calls (including those of me and my Liberal colleagues) for a third crossing. It has no bearing on the merits of the now-advanced plans to replace the bridge at Windsor, and the Grose River bridge has never been advanced as being “the third crossing” that is needed. To be sure, it is a third crossing, but it’s not a crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

The developer’s advertisements make it seem like this clause to hand over money in lieu of building a bridge is something they can do unilaterally. They can’t. Nor can they “demand” that someone else build the bridge in their stead. And it’s not like the $24M is sitting in their bank account and burning a hole in their pocket. If the handover option was consented to, the money would trickle in based on future lot sales and could take over a decade to pay down. It’s a bum deal, and we’d be fools to take it.

It is against this backdrop that the current political debate is unfolding. A Facebook group titled “Hawkesbury Needs a Third Crossing” seems absolutely bent on opposing the Grose River crossing, which is “a” third crossing, and that strikes me as perverse. CAWB would willingly conflate the debate about the Grose River crossing with the current plans to replace Windsor Bridge, when they aren’t even remotely related. Others will claim that because the Redbank development was a matter that came before ICAC, the whole development is “tainted”. Three of the four Liberal Councillors, including myself, weren’t even around when that was approved and as unsavoury as that episode was, the claim does nothing to negate the advantages of having the bridge built now that Redbank is a reality.

What this boils down to is that the contractual obligation to build a bridge over the Grose River is the thing, the biggest thing, that made Redbank even remotely palatable. If Council decided to knock back the bridge, it would be cutting its nose off to spite its face. It would be refusing the major community benefit that flowed from the Redbank development, and it would be making a decision for largely political reasons.

Our Mayor recently released a “FAQ” statement that repeated some of the clarifications that I’ve just laid out. These statements, bar one, were agreed to by all the Councillors as necessary to clear up the confused discussion after we were briefed on the matter by Council staff. It was not, as one facebook commenter breathlessly declared a case of “In a grubby political river of misinformation the Mayor shines a light on the FACTS!!!” Please…

The Liberal Councillors fully supported the suggestion that Council rebut some of the claims the developer put in their advertisements. However, and unhelpfully in my view, the FAQ defensively reacts to the accusation that the “Non Liberal Councillors are holding up the bridge.” Neither me nor my Liberal colleagues have made that claim. What I have said is that, from this point forward, if Council is the body which determines the fate of the bridge, then most certainly its fate lays with the non-Liberal Councillors, who are a clear majority in the chamber.

I and my fellow Liberals took support for the Grose River bridge to the September 2016 election as a key plank of our campaign. Here it is on our election handout material…

It is also true that there are other Hawkesbury City Councillors who have expressed their trenchant opposition to the Grose River bridge. I don’t name them here because it is for them to make their own public statements on their position. But make no mistake: The decision is very much in the balance! My recommendation is for members of the public to hold the feet of all Councillors, Liberal and non-Liberal alike, to the fire and to make them state their position on the bridge clear to the community. We have. It is not enough to hide behind process and say that they aren’t prepared to say anything until a report comes to Council that’s about to be voted on. This is an agreement that Council, the Developer and the RMS inked nearly three years ago to do a certain thing. There’s plenty of information in the public domain, and which they should be across. Do they support this bridge or not?

It is my view that the vast majority of Hawkesbury residents, and especially those who endure the torturous ordeal of North Richmond traffic day in and day out, can’t wait to see this bridge built. They recognise that it’s not a complete fix (it will reduce the traffic across North Richmond Bridge by over 30%), but more significantly, it’s costed, timetabled and ready to go. Hawkesbury Council is doing its own part to prepare the necessary approvals for consideration by Councillors in early 2018. Hawkesbury residents west of the river understand that the best solution, even a partial one, is one that arrives within their lifetime, and is already paid for. If the non-Liberal councillors have seen the extensive information to hand, are not prepared to back the proposal, they should say so clearly.

When development fails the common-sense test


What would you think, if you lived on a pleasant suburban block, and your neighbour knocked down a modest 50’s era home to build a duplex so big that it came up hard to the fenceline on both sides of the property, and parts of the building even overhung your fence?

This is the situation a local resident has faced in Teviot St, Richmond. I was concerned when I visited this site that a building of this scale was approved for a block this size. The brickwork is only about 8cm from the fence on both sides, and the gutters actually crossed the line of the property boundary.

How this kind of structure gets a tick is beyond me, and I think most readers would agree with me that this fails the common-sense test. I’m now going to take an interest in seeing if the rules Council follows for developments like this should be changed.  If this building satisfied the criteria for such a development, then those codes need to change, badly!

Thankfully, the Gazette has picked up the story and my remarks on the matter can be found here.

Mrs McArthur, one of the affected neighbours, was not given any confidence when it was discovered that the private certifier has had several complaints upheld against him by the Building Professionals Board for not doing his job. At my urging, compliance action is now taking place by the Certifier and the builder, and I’ll continue to take an interest.

If you have concerns about a matter like this in the Hawkesbury, please feel free to contact me.

The Health of Currency Creek

The health of our creeks and other waterways should be important to us all. The river and all its tributaries are jewels in the area’s crown.

In our city, responsibility is shared between Hawkesbury City Council, various statutory bodies such as National Parks, the EPA and Sydney Water, and another body you may not have heard of, Hawkesbury River County Council. I was pleased to be elected in 2016 by my fellow Councillors to one of the two positions as delegate from Hawkesbury council to the County Council, which is a joint effort covering the LGA’s of Hawkesbury, Penrith, Blacktown and the Hills Shire.

The County Council’s responsibility is largely related to weed control in and near our waterways. Since coming on board, I’ve been impressed at the practical and professional approach shown by its leadership and workers. My perception is that it’s a tight ship, and the people know and love their jobs.

Recently, a Hawkesbury resident approached me and expressed concern about the health of Currency Creek. The creek runs east from Tennyson, through Glossodia, Ebenezer and Sackville where it joins the river.

The picture was alarming:

Concern was also expressed on social media:

I took up the issue at our HRCC committee meeting last night.

I was informed that upper sections of the 15km length of Currency Creek are frequently reduced to a series of standing ponds. Sometimes 200 or 300m long, sometimes shallow and sometimes 6-8 feet deep. The green scum is Duckweed, and blooms of it can cause the underlying water to become anaerobic “black water”.

Low flows in the upper reach of creeks are a natural consequence of rainfall patterns. It was not the opinion of HRCC staff  that nutrient levels here are higher than normal because of identifiable agricultural runoff. The presence of dead fish (mostly Carp) arose from the combination of low oxygen and warm water.  Carp like cool conditions. In weather like this, they “cooked”.

In terms of what might be done, HRCC’s mandate concerning weed control is limited to waterways traversing non-private land. Any waterway on freehold land is not subject to HRCC control. Spraying is not advised in this case because the subsequent biomass decomposition would exacerbate precisely the conditions causing the fish death. Many water plants such as Azolla (which, for example, my neighbour’s dam is full of where I live in Oakville) fix Nitrogen directly from the air, and return nutrients to the environment on decomposition. In fact, this is a strategy actively used by the Chinese to fertilise rice paddies for centuries. The Duckweed is not something that can readily be reduced, either mechanically or chemically.

However, there’s good news: This section of creek, although less than healthy now, is isolated and a single rainfall event will flush such blooms out. Here’s a picture taken recently of the same creek only 5km further downstream.

Here, the water is clean and healthy, and shows the spectrum of biodiversity of a healthy creek. The whole creek isn’t sick, just small sections. It’s the height of Summer, and no creek flows freely at all times and places.

Concerned locals should also note that groundwater monitoring occurs continuously in the same are. The monitoring station pictured below is very close to the location of the concerned resident’s video, and the health of our waterways are always under review.

In my new role at HRCC, I have been pleased to witness a new GPS-based logging and reporting system that has seen the number of property inspections for weeds rise through 2,500 per year and keep increasing. This requires a data sharing arrangement with member Councils and I have been supporting the dialogue required to make this happen. The HRCC makes good use of  volunteer and vocational programs for its on-the-ground workers, and gains an increasing share of its income from commercial activities and government grants, placing a smaller burden on contributions from member councils.

If the concerned resident was worried that “no one cares” when he comes across the distressing scene of a sick waterway and posts video of it on Facebook, then I can assure him that the HRCC noticed, and discussed the matter at length within 48 hours of his post. The HRCC must operate within its’ mandate, but if other environmental agencies need to be engaged, then they will be.

If you’re a Hawkesbury resident and are concerned about the health of a waterway in your area, or about a noxious weed control matter that may fall within HRCC’s remit, contact me and I’ll forward your concerns.

-Clr. Zamprogno

St Joseph’s Church, St Albans

At Council last night we were presented with the application for the use of the restored St Joseph’s church at St Albans as an accomodation and function venue. We had originally considered this application before Christmas but it was felt that a site visit would be useful for Councillors to be able to appreciate the merits (and concerns raised) over the application. I was pleased to visit the site recently.

Steve Kavanagh, the owner and restorer of this beautiful and historic building really should be commended for his passion, hard work and creativity. When he took on the building, it had been a roofless ruin since a fire in the 1840s. Mature trees had grown up through the original roofline amid the crumbling stone. When the church was founded (building commenced in 1839), it was the largest sandstone building outside Sydney.

Councillors were presented with the need to balance the proposed use of the site as an accomodation and function venue with the understandable desire of near neighbours to the peace and quiet which is distinctive of the Macdonald Valley. I listened carefully to the concerns raised at the meeting.

I felt that the conditions of consent proposed by Council adequately addressed those issues. Constraints on the days and hours of operation, which side of the building on which outdoor activities could occur, and the installation of noise-limiting technology that physically cuts the power if certain levels are exceeded certainly demonstrated, in my mind, a willingness of the applicants to be a good neighbour. Similarly, issues about campers and parking appear to have been addressed through appropriate signage and the use of a bond for bookers of the venue.

The recommendation of Council staff was to approve the application, and my Liberal Councillor colleagues, Clr. Richards and Clr. Conolly, agreed with me that this was precisely the kind of sympathetic tourist development we need in the Hawkesbury (Councillors Tree and Calvert were absent). Regretfully the Mayor, Mrs Lyons-Buckett, all the independent Councillors with the exception of Clr. Rasmussen, and Labor Councillor Kotlash voted the application down and the venue will be directed to shut down as a function venue from May 2017. I am informed that bookings had been accepted through until well into 2018, and that up to 20 local businesses will now be denied the aura of economic activity that the venue encouraged (including other accomodation venues, function planners, caterers, celebrants and providers of transport).

It’s a bit rich, when we talk almost continually about tourism being the spine of our prosperity in the Hawkesbury, and especially in scenic areas like the Macdonald Valley,  and we have a historic and beautifully restored venue like this appearing in the national media (the kind of exposure money can’t buy) only to find some Councillors voting in this way. It’s a poor outcome, and it defies my understanding.

Let’s Celebrate Australia Day!

Happy Australia Day, everyone.

I am fiercely proud that on this day, we remember the pioneers, mostly British, who came from the other side of the world to a wondrous, yet challenging land. They built a prosperous and peaceable society from nothing, which is now the envy of the world. Could you?

This is the day to honour the spirit of a people who have an innate ability to punch above their weight. Who respect the idea of a fair go. Who cheer for the underdog.

Even though we’re the best nation on Earth, we can laugh at ourselves, and we’re happy to prick the egos of the self-important.

We are a people who will always come to the aid of a friend. We’ve laid it on the line to protect freedom and decency in the crucible of war, and we have paid with our dearest blood. We’ll welcome you in with open arms if you work hard, respect our values, speak our language, and value your Aussieness over all other national, cultural or religious identities.

Our patriotism rarely descends to jingoism, but is grounded by our laconic good sense and an effective (and distinctly Aussie) BS-filter.

Here’s a great thing about Australia: It doesn’t matter the colour of your skin, or your accent. We all came from somewhere. Some of us just came more recently than others. There are no “first Australians” and then the rest of us. There’s just…. All of us. Equal, without pretentiousness. If you pitch in, and respect the remarkable legacy of our young nation, then you’re a mate. Welcome!

This is our day. If you don’t feel like you’re a part of it, then it’s only because you haven’t accepted the invitation. This is not a day to wallow in recrimination, cast accusations, or judge our forebears by the different standards of today. No one is trying to exclude you, and no one says our nation, or any nation, is without faults. Just understand that this isn’t what Australia Day is about. You’re welcome to join us–  We’re looking forward, not back.

We’re a youthful, peaceful, democratic, pluralist, secular, lawful, compassionate, innovative and good-humoured country. That’s worth celebrating!

The forgotten history of Scheyville and Pitt Town

Scheyville silos, 2006

I value our wonderful history here in the Hawkesbury, and as a Councillor I want to do what I can to help other people get excited about it too. The late Dr Stubbs, when he was on Council was always a wonderful exponent of our history, and wrote extensively on many local topics, as well as being President of the Hawkesbury Historical Society. One subject that was very dear to him was the history of the Pitt Town, Scheyville and Oakville areas, since this is where he (and I) grew up.

Before Christmas, I had the opportunity of attending the graduating parade of the Cadet unit from 336SQN RAAF Richmond. They decided to hold the graduating parade on the parade grounds at the old base at Scheyville as a way of commemorating the military history of the precinct, and it inspired me to complete a project I began nearly a decade ago.

In 1983 Rex and Linda Stubbs completed a book on the history of the Scheyville area, which included key events from the history of Pitt Town as well. This excellent and concise work has been available in Windsor Library ever since, but has been inaccessible to  students, historians and researchers using the Internet, being only available in hard-copy.

It has long been my desire to update, digitise and republish the Stubbs’ work, and the school holiday break afforded to me as a teacher has granted me the time to complete this.

It is therefore with much pleasure that I republish electronically, for the first time, Rex and Linda Stubbs’ “A History of Scheyville”.

Scheyville History book front page

Click the above image for the PDF file.

I owe many thanks to Linda Stubbs for her gracious permission to permit this republishing, and to Kylie Lowe for her editing support.

The book contains several fascinating (and partly forgotten) stories about how the Hawkesbury shaped early Australia; stories which deserve to be more widely known.

Did you know that an early (and failed) experiment in Australian socialism occurred at Pitt Town? If the experiment had succeeded, would Australia have become a Socialist workers paradise?

Did you know about the time that the new Australian government almost literally beat swords into ploughshares by taking money put aside for a battleship and instead spent it on training young British lads to become Aussie farmers? It happened right here.

Did you know about the major military installation, now defunct, that trained young officers such as Jeff Kennett (former Victorian Premier) and Tim Fischer (former Australian Deputy Prime Minister)? Right here in the Hawkesbury.

Did you know that there is an entire ghost town nestled in one of our national parks, which in its day had its own cinema and school, and now abandoned?

If you can, get out to Scheyville National Park one afternoon and walk some of the well-signposted trails that tell the story of this jewel in the Hawkesbury.

Is the Hawkesbury a Shire or are we a City?

I still remember that when I was a kid in 1989, “Hawkesbury Shire Council” changed its name to “Hawkesbury City Council”.

I wondered then, as I do now, why we bothered. It seemed a pointless gesture which worked actively against the identity most locals held about the area. I believe it sprang from an erroneous sense of inadequacy, and that we lost nothing by continuing to be known as a Shire.

Did you know the word Shire is a Saxon word, whereas County is its Norman equivalent? And a city, as our late Mayor Rex Stubbs used to explain to me, was a “town large enough to have its main church called a cathedral”. Despite Rex’s romantic penchant for referring to our historic St Matthew’s church (this year celebrating its bicentenary!) as the “Cathedral of the Hawkesbury”, I’m afraid I just don’t buy it. We don’t have to be a city. Let’s look at some numbers.

Types of Council across NSW

Types of Council across NSW. (Source)

There are (subject to the ongoing vagaries of the Council amalgamation process), presently 128 Councils in NSW. The City of Hawkesbury has a population of 66,134 (per 2015 ABS Statistics). It’s just a fact that plenty of Councils bigger than us are perfectly happy to continue to be known as “Shires”, even when given recent opportunities to re-name. Look at Hornsby Shire (population: 156,847), Hills Shire Council (169,872), or Sutherland Shire (210,863). The latter is three times our size, and they feel no need to “upgrade”. And no-one could accuse our near neighbour in The Hills Shire for being less dynamic or future-oriented. Further, their adherence to the word Shire is not an anachronism, considering they had the opportunity to re-brand themselves as a “city” when they changed from “Baulkham Hills Shire Council” (a name in use since 1906) to “The Hills Shire Council” in  November 2008. And look at that area now!

I’ve always held the belief that the word “Shire” was more pleasant than “City”, both for its ancient linguistic roots, but also its evocation of bucolic, open spaces.

The term Shire, in our case, used to reflect the fact that we were precisely not a bustling, congested, urbanised polis. We lay… between. We were between Sydney city proper and the country. The trendy term now in use is “peri-urban”, but I find this to be a little pretentious. One could speculate that Tolkien would never have used such a Newspeak word when trying to evoke his sylvan idyll. The recent process I engaged in to draft our new Community Strategic Plan underlined that  what we aspire to as our identity is largely defined by our semi-rural aspect. Our mix of habitation, agriculture, and protected environmental spaces is well described with the word “Shire”.  The word “City” just seems to convey the opposite to me, and, considering our population and neighbours who don’t use the word, makes us look more than a little self-conscious.

Should the Hawkesbury remain as a City, or go back to our old name of “Hawkesbury Shire”? I think we should, even while I acknowledge that there is probably little appetite for the change. Further, there would be the cost of changing all our signage, letterheads and other livery — and I would absolutely oppose that needless expense while we have more important matters to attend to as we pursue long term financial sustainability as a Council.

What do you think? I’m interested in knowing.

About NBN towers and the rollout of fixed wireless

A community meeting at Pitt Town about the NBN rollout

A community meeting at Pitt Town about the NBN rollout

We’ve all waited far too long for better Internet broadband in the Hawkesbury, especially for many of the rural and acreage properties in the district.

Frustratingly, there isn’t much of the newer, faster NBN broadband outside the Richmond/Windsor area, excepting the northern fringe of the larger urban rollout that has petered out just at the southern edge of Oakville. I’m as frustrated as the rest of you — faster broadband was promised to us years ago, and promised schedules only a year old were broken almost immediately.

NBNCO have been running community information sessions around the Hawkesbury as part of the process of the ongoing build process. I attended one of them recently at Pitt Town Sports Club, but others are being held for pending locations at Maraylya, Wilberforce, Cattai and elsewhere.

The most significant development announced was NBNCO’s intention to roll out broadband via what they call “fixed wireless” rather than by the “fibre to the premises” (FTTP) method used to date. Fixed Wireless is supposed to be different in execution to the kind of cellular network you use for your mobile phones — each tower will serve up to about 100 houses and each house will have a directional dish and a point-to-point link back to the local tower with a guaranteed amount of bandwidth (unlike your cellular mobile phone, where all bandwidth is shared). Unfortunately, fixed wireless at launch will give about half the bandwidth fibre would deliver (50Mbps down and 20Mbps up for fixed wireless, versus 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up for fibre), even though this is still far better than most people are getting now through their ADSL2 connections over Copper. For example, I measured the bandwidth of my ADSL2 connection at Oakville just now using Speedtest.net and got 2.58Mbps down and 0.75Mbps up. That’s awful! — worse than ADSL1, but I know that it’s because I’m over 5km from the local exchange. Attenuation over copper is a  fundamental limitation of ADSL, so there’s nothing to be done about it.

NBN — in any guise, is a huge step up.

Hawkesbury NBN progress at December 2016. Purple is active now – brown is “under construction”.

So, it might seem that anyone who was originally promised fibre but is now being offered fixed wireless should feel unhappy. However, NBN officials promised that new-generation wireless technologies (such as 5G) will substantially boost the throughput within only a couple of years, and that customers about to get Fixed-Wireless NBN will be upgraded at that time.

Me? I’m agnostic about technology choices made NBNCO are making because the best new-era broadband for me is the one with the best chance of arriving this decade. I could hold out for something that will never arrive, or would cost me thousands of dollars to switch to. It’s already overdue, let’s get it done. I suspect most Hawkesbury residents feel the same way.

Anyway, these were the facts laid out at the information session. I was there in my role as a Councillor, but it’s worth pointing out that Council has nothing to do with the technology choices NBNCO make, and very little to do with the process as a whole. Council acts as the consent authority for applications to install communication towers, but that’s about it. The tower proposed to serve the Maraylya area, for instance, is in the Hills Shire Council area and Hawkesbury Council won’t have anything to do with it.

I’m bothering to write about this because of something I learned that had nothing to do with Council. It was something I learned about human behaviour. I have noticed this before but it is newly relevant to me as a public representative.

I’ve worked in I.T for over 20 years, so I know a bit about technology. I studied Science method for my Masters degree in teaching, and regard myself as a Science nut. And frankly, most of the unhappy people at the (at times heated) community meeting I went to were ignorant of the scientific facts.

I saw a lot of people with genuine, but poorly founded fears about the impact of wireless technologies on their health. Even though they had lived alongside mobile phone towers for decades, they were convinced that these new NBN towers would irradiate them and give them cancer. One gentleman, on the wrong side of 60 or so it seemed, got up and proclaimed that he was worried about the effects of NBN radiation on the motility of his sperm. No, I’m not making this up.

As a politician, angry constituents made angry by something that’s Not Their Fault™ are usually seen as grist for the mill, and are a prompt for soap-boxing, tub-thumping and general denunciation of the angriness-causing-thing.

However, on this occasion, I was surprised, and I felt a little embarrassed. These were people I knew personally; who were constituents in my neck of the woods. And they were, as I came to realise as I listened to them,  mostly wrong about most of the things they were anxious about. In my opinion, the NBN representatives were saintly in their patience as they fielded the many questions they received, trying to convey scientific facts to a lay audience.

But, misguided fears are not insincere fears, and the people were entitled to answers about whatever they worried about, so let’s unpack them.

Radio frequency radiation is regulated by Federal standards to protect public health. The chief body is ARPANSA, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. ARPANSA has a lot of documentation describing the general risks of RF radiation, and of the risks attendant on NBN wireless technology specifically. It would appear that most people at the meeting either didn’t know about that, or specifically chose to be skeptical based on other non-authoritative research they may have done on line.

What troubled me about the tone of the meeting I attended was that some people’s Googling was accepted as having as much merit as ARPANSA’s authoritative role n determining absolute and relative risk as regards exposure to radiation. People are always free to hold their own opinions, but are not  entitled to their own facts. This is an observation we can relate directly to the recent and inexplicable election of Donald Trump.

So let’s be clear: The radio technology used in the NBN program is not harmful to human health. I’m convinced of that. If that’s the basis of your objection to the NBN, then I’m afraid we just won’t agree. No, Council aren’t really involved anyway, but that’s my view.

As a public representative, my job is to acknowledge the sincerity of concerns expressed to me, regardless of their foundation. I saw a lot of people sincerely worried about whether the move to wireless technologies to deliver the NBN was going to have a harmful health effect on them and their families. I listened carefully. However, rather than siding with them to gain political brownie points, I think it’s more important to educate people and to work to dispel their fears with well-explained and factual information. Some people won’t thank me for that, but it’s the right thing to do. Beyond this, there are undoubted advantages to finally getting the NBN activated for the huge number of Hawkesbury residents living on acreage properties and for whom this can’t come soon enough.

So, for what it’s worth, I’,m fully supportive of the NBN program and so long as wireless technologies eventually provide similar bandwidth as fibre (as we were promised it would), I have no objection to the mode of delivery.

-Councillor Zamprogno.

I love Trump, I hate Trump

trump_with_friends

November 13, 2016.

Today, I’m talking about Donald Trump. I’m sorry.

And who am I to add to the torrent of commentary that we’ve endured this year? Especially when the bulk of that commentary, from pundits and pollsters who should have known better, was spectacularly wrong?

You’re missing something. Perhaps it’s best described by the adage

“There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.”
– Larry Niven.

A week ago, I expressed the view as a Conservative that it might be better if Trump lost the election. I saw… danger. The feedback I got made me hasten to add that I didn’t regard Hillary Clinton as much better.

Events have crystallised an emerging sense I’ve had about what motivates me in politics and what I stand for. And I wanted to counter those who are desperate to dictate what Trump’s election to President does and does not mean for the future of Conservative politics.

Let’s start here: An adage I’ve held to for many years, and never needed as much as now:

“Competence trumps Ideology”.

Apart from the (coincidental) play on words, what I mean is that no amount of high-minded intent is worth a hill of beans without the ability to execute.

As a teacher, I offered this truism to my students as a starter for a classroom debate. I asked why it seems that our democracies devolve into binary blocs — two parties of the so-called Left and the Right.

The Left, ever thinking with their heart (“Ice cream for everyone, and damn the expense!”), but never delivering. Prey to all the traditional follies of socialism, and now adding the corrosive influence of woke culture and its competitive virtue signalling. Poor with money and public administration.

Meanwhile, the Right bloc regard parsimony as a virtue. They invariably have to clean up the mess the other mob leave behind when the political pendulum swings back, but rarely do the “vision” thing well. Their claim to the mantle of good economic management eternally in tension with the Right’s social (and often religious) conservatism.

Is this the best we can do?

This point was driven home recently when I read a recent speech by my friend and State MP Dominic Perrottet. He was speaking to the Menzies Research Centre where he called for Conservatives to better articulate their values.

Perrottet said:

“There is a loss of faith in public institutions, the political class and its programme. People feel displaced by rapid changes in the global economy. Establishment parties overseas are perceived as being on a unity ticket – of big government globalism, crony capitalism and minority fundamentalism. The frustrated centre is rejecting this elitist agenda and looking elsewhere for solutions – ending up in the arms of reactionary parties.”

Now there is a man with his finger on the pulse, considering that he spoke before the result in America was known.

So, is the choice increasingly reduced to alternating between parties that make high-sounding promises but engender disillusionment when they never deliver, and parties that run a trim ship but are perceived as not standing for very much?

Why not both?

It doesn’t have to be. And yet, here is the danger: I believe Trump represents the worst, the absolute worst of both worlds. Because Trump doesn’t promise the “both” we’re all looking for. He offers neither.

Donald Trump, and the dysfunctional party that backs him is an infuriating mix. Where Trump is right, on Islamic terrorism for example, or immigration, he will have little ability to execute (despite a majority in both houses), and will apply the wrong remedy anyway. He’s dead right about the dislocation and disempowerment the working class feel as the result of Globalisation, but betrays his party’s philosophical roots by becoming an economic protectionist, ignorant of the benefits of comparative advantage. Trump is like a doctor that diagnoses medical problems well, but whose prescription is invariably leeches and Mercury. His solutions are dead wrong, even when his diagnosis is spot-on. And where he is wrong (on renewable energy, or universal health coverage, or nuclear proliferation), his powers will be limited to undoing the work of others rather than proposing any better fix. I predict an ongoing split within the Republicans and an attempt at impeachment within this Presidential term. It’s a dreadful situation.

Worse is Trump’s sneering anti-intellectualism, which I find contemptible.

Asimov on proud ignorance

Only Trump could suggest a young earth creationist as Secretary for Education. Or a climate-change skeptic or oil magnate to be in charge of the environment. This proud know-nothingism lays at the core of the paradox that makes America simultaneously the smartest nation on earth and the dumbest at the same time.

I oppose Trump, even as a capital “C” Conservative because I can’t throw my weight behind a person who doesn’t respect science; Who sees conspiracy theories in every corner; Who shows no sign of thinking deeply on almost any subject;  Who thinks, like Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone, that his definition of loyalty to the state can be defined by his personal prejudices — and that to be outside that is treason. And lastly, and no less important: because Trump acts as a poor role model because of his gross disrespect for women.

By any objective measure, Trump is a lightweight, vulgar con artist.

On the other hand, I feel conflicted because Trump has exploited a legitimate resentment, which I share, that has built over recent decades towards modern fads. Competitive virtue-signalling, political correctness,  victim-fetishism, identity politics, polyculturalism masquerading as multiculturalism — these have all poisoned the well of our polity. The pushback has come from people who are sick of the moral superiority asserted by regressive leftists through their lecturing about “microaggressions”, “deplatforming”, “safe spaces”, or their refusal to mount a muscular defence of Western civilisation in favour of appeasement towards Islamic fundamentalism. Look no further than the abuses of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for proof that this problem extends to Australia.

Similarly, well held concerns about the downside of globalisation and the need for sovereign autonomy among nation states contributed to the UK voting for Brexit in June. (Parenthetically, Australia can only benefit from a renewed and independent Britain as a member of the club of English-speaking peoples of the Commonwealth.)

So on some of these broader questions, Trump is right. Yet still, I think he is absolutely the wrong standard-bearer for Western Civilisation. It’s an invidious situation, and the world will become a more dangerous place while he remains President.

How did we get here? How did Americans, in an era where fact-checks are available on everyone’s smartphones, elect a man who could deny in one breath what he had said in the previous one, and then stick his chin out when he was called a liar? Specifically, how do religiously conservative voters reconcile the cognitive dissonance of supporting a man with so few scruples? I recall the advice of my favourite author, Robert Heinlein:

“The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies; what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’

‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.”

I also recall my Spinoza:

“Faith requires not so much true dogmas as pious dogmas, that is, such as move the heart to obedience; and this is so even if many of those beliefs contain not a shadow of proof.”

I lament that this election heralds an era where factual correctness, moral rectitude, or depth of insight are explicitly rejected as necessary for high office.

So what’s the alternative?

What would a conservative leader who knew their history look like? Who was as likely to quote A.C Grayling as Hayek or Von Mises in supporting their worldview? Who, if they had to seek a sense of the numinous, looked to the revelations of the Large Hadron Collider, the Hubble Telescope or a gene sequencer before they looked to a holy book? Carl Sagan said “Science, properly practiced, is a kind of informed worship”. Why can’t that be enough? Why can’t we have a Conservative leader whose hero is Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Why should they “belong” to the Left? Science is cool!

What would a conservative leader look like  who spoke unapologetically about Western Civilisation being objectively, measurably better that its alternatives? Who was able to demolish the intellectual impostures of cultural relativism and postmodernism, and who built and articulated an intelligent and publicly compelling case for the subsequent and necessary decisions on immigration, foreign policy and defence, instead of calling names and threatening political opponents with gaol?

A leader who, as John Howard says “Can win arguments, not just elections.”

What would a conservative leader look like who understood that we live in a society, not just an economy, and who admits that although free-markets consistently deliver greater wealth, some regulation and accountability are necessary to ensure that this wealth is not distributed unfairly? Who can admit that universal health-care is not socialism, but rather something that many countries have supported with bilateral zeal for half a century? That such boons are our patrimony as prosperous and civilised societies?

What would a conservative leader look like who was prepared to address existential threats to civilisation such as overpopulation, climate change or resource depletion, but did so honestly? Who understood that our fundamental duty is to the generation after our own, more even than to our own? Who prioritises science funding, and space exploration? Who acknowledges our Judeo-Christian heritage at the same time as respecting the necessity of separation between church and state? Who was welcome to be a practicing Christian, but refused to wear it on their sleeve or ram it down your throat?

Whose attention span is longer than a tweet?

Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I’m asking for a conservative Jeb Bartlett. Maybe I’m fantasising that the nightmare will end when the Trump suit is unzipped, and a smiling Alan Alda steps out, miming finger guns to an appreciative crowd.

The left beat the pants off us in this regard. Again, returning to Perrottet’s speech:

“[The left’s] original aim of social justice, through helping the working class, has been left far behind. Today they cloak their politics in the sweet rhetoric of fairness, equality and tolerance – but their agenda is far from benign. They are motivated now by a burning hostility to our culture and heritage. It’s no coincidence they want to redesign our flag, rewrite our anthem, remove ANZAC Day, replace our constitution, repudiate our Judeo-Christian heritage, and rename our national day.”

I agree that the militant left have precisely this agenda, and my gut feeling is that there is a hidden majority in the sensible centre of the Australian electorate who are as repelled by this agenda as I am. The electoral dividend residing in that distaste for social engineering is the Liberal Party’s for the taking.

But I cannot see Trump as anyone’s solution to these problems. And again: this is no endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

Conservatism for me has nothing to do with “preserving marriage as sacred between a man and a woman”.  For pities sake… Let people live their lives. Grow up and stop pruriently caring about what happens in their bedrooms. It’s none of your business. And don’t say “think of the children”. Kids with gay parents turn out just fine.

But Conservatism has everything to do with acknowledging the wisdom that our future comes from our past, and that there is value in a sense of continuity and connection with our heritage. That we respect the intent and work of our founders, even while we innovate and update our sense of “what can be” for western civilisation. The Crown, the Constitution, and our inheritance from the Enlightenment are worth defending, because they have given us health, wealth and (relative) peace for over a century. That’s something Australians should be more proud of than they are.

Conservatism should have little to do with blindly following free-market economics, but should seek to temper economic rationalism. We should recognise the inherent value in some less tangible things and practices that provide enduring value — an anchor to the way we want to live. Preserving the semi rural lands in our city, and the viability of agriculture within the greater circle of the Sydney metropolitan area would be a good local example.

Conservatism should be about an absolute commitment to balancing our budgets and living within our means as the surest way of preserving intergenerational equity, but it shouldn’t be about driving efficiency at any cost, because the electorate will spit you out. Witness the huge electoral damage of pushing unpopular Council amalgamations in NSW as proof. A huge, and easily avoided mistake.

Conservatism should be about preserving an absolute right to free speech, and being confident enough in the force of our arguments to never seek to censor. If your inclination is to say “I’m offended” when you are contradicted rather than offer a rebuttal, maybe you’re just wrong and won’t admit it? Censorship robs us all of our right to see bad ideas fail in a fair fight in the public square.

Lastly, Conservatism should be about governing for everybody, because when the pie is bigger, everyone gets a bigger slice. As Perrottet noted, a famous Australian politician once said:

“This country has great obligations to the weak,the sick, the unfortunate. It must give them all the sustenance and support it can…. to every good citizen the state owes not only a chance in life but a self respecting life”
Perrottet then noted: “That wasn’t a socialist politician.  That was Sir Robert Menzies.”
Conservatism is better for us all.
But Trump? He’s just an idiot.

The Hindu Temple at McGraths Hill

The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The proposal to build a Hindu temple in High street in McGraths Hill came before Council at the last meeting and was narrowly approved. The vote was tied six-all and was approved on the Mayor’s casting vote. I spoke and voted against the proposal. The councillors who voted for and against the proposal are listed in the following table:

Voted for the Hindu temple

Voted against the proposal

Councillor Barry Calvert (Labor) Councillor Paul Rasmussen (Ind)
Councillor Patrick Conolly (Lib) Councillor John Ross (Ind)
Councillor Amanda Kotlash (Labor) Councillor Emma-Jane Garrow (Ind)
Councillor Lyons-Buckett (Ind) Councillor Peter Reynolds (Ind/Labor)
Councillor Sarah Richards (Lib) Councillor Danielle Wheeler (Greens)
Councillor Tiffany Tree (Lib) Councillor Nathan Zamprogno (Lib)

There is no doubt that this matter has been divisive, and I am aware of the strength of feeling that was expressed at the meeting from the gallery and on social media. However, my job was to examine the application before me and to consider it on its merits.

Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a public meeting at McGraths Hill where the community expressed its frustration at the approval of a development with so many flaws. Only one other Councillor, Clr. Ross, was present.

Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill

Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill

I felt quite proud of the civility with which people spoke. These were ordinary people– tradies, retirees and professionals, voicing well-thought-through concerns about their perception of deficiencies in leadership and of process at Council. Neither race nor religion were mentioned, nor was any bigotry manifested. The most common sentiment expressed was “great idea, wrong spot”. Frankly, apart from a very small minority of noisy online ranters who were not even present at the meeting tonight, the stereotype of “objectors as racists” was completely disproven.

This post does not intend to prosecute the argument for or against the development, nor to reflect on my worthy colleagues who were entitled to vote as they chose. We differed in opinion– and were entitled to. This is the process we engage in.

However, I will say that the purpose of this website is to communicate with the community. Each Councillor must account for the stance they have taken to their electorate, and I was glad to be able to stand among local residents and answer to them. A recording of my (brief) remarks are below:

Finding common ground on Windsor Bridge

thompson-square-protest

There is no more controversial issue before the new council than the project to replace Windsor Bridge. It is an issue that has tested friendships, inflamed passions within the community, and created a protest movement that uses every trick in its playbook to prevent the project proceeding.

There will be much more to say on the matter of the bridge, and of the larger issues it augurs relating to the future of our district. I hold particular views on the subject, but this post makes no argument. Yet.

And why? Because there are seven new councillors on council, myself included. I feel that the first step, the step that must occur before a substantive debate about the bridge occurs, must be for the new council to be properly briefed by the relevant departments.

So, at the council meeting on Tuesday, I moved my first Notice Of Motion which called for a briefing to be given to us on the project. I asked that the briefing be held either in Thompson Square, or in Chambers (or both), and that relevant RMS, ministry and council staff be present. Councillor Richards and Councillor Reynolds had moved similar motions of a more limited scope, relating generally to support for an extra river crossing, and relating to an overall traffic strategy respectively. I am pleased that both of those councillors acknowledged that my own motion encompassed their concerns, and with their permission and certain amendments, they withdrew their motions and the following was put:

“That Council:

Support an additional crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

  1. A Councillor Briefing, incorporating presentations from relevant RMS and Council staff be held to provide details on the current status of the Windsor Bridge project.
  2. This Briefing should address project status, heritage, traffic performance, design and aesthetic issues (including open space) and maintenance responsibilities.
  3. A further Briefing be held for RMS and Transport for NSW officers to outline options and planning for future river crossings including commentary on the impacts of proceeding with the current Windsor Bridge replacement.
  4. That Briefing canvas the various options to give substantive effect to achieving the actions and funding of studies and investigations.”

My background to the motion, furnished to assist my colleagues to understand why this was important, stated:

“The state of the Windsor Bridge replacement project is the most contentious issue before the new Council. The expectation of some is that Council should quickly resolve to reverse its former support for Option 1 and now formally oppose the project.

With seven new Councillors in the new term, there is clear merit in receiving a briefing on this issue before such a resolution comes before the Council, especially when it seems obvious there is sincere disagreement on some matters of fact.

To assist the General Manager identify which public officials should be invited to best achieve the briefing’s purpose, and to permit those officials to be adequately prepared, it is proposed the matters to be discussed could include (but not be limited to):

  1. The current state of the bridge replacement project (true cost and timeframe).
  2. How the project is identifying and conserving the heritage of Thompson square.
  3. The status of nearby heritage items, including number 10 Bridge St, the colonial era drainage works, the School of Arts steps, and the remnants of Greenway’s wharf.
  4. The evidentiary basis for predictions relating to improved traffic flow.
  5. The adequacy of the project to deal with projected traffic flows on a multi-decade horizon.
  6. The proposed aesthetic qualities, form, fabric, scale and position of the new bridge.
  7. How the project will manage the slope between the upper part of Thompson square park and the water.
  8. What ongoing input Council can have in ensuring the renewed precinct will suit the communities’ needs as regards amenity, aesthetic design (stone, ironwork, landscaping etc), tourism, mobility access, parking, historical interpretation and so on – which will be Council’s responsibility to manage after State-managed works are complete.
  9. What the options are for a longer term plan for future river crossings, such as the suggestion that an additional crossing form part of the feasibility investigations for the M9 orbital.
  10. What the cost of Option 8 from the 2011 RTA study would have been, which was for a downstream bridge near Pitt Town, and how it compares to the likely final cost of Option 1.
  11. Whether the time-frame or funding of such a future crossing is in any way affected by the completion or cancellation of the current bridge replacement project.”

I am well aware that feelings run strong on this issue, and my expectation is that those councillors who oppose the project should and will ask many pointed questions when the briefing is held. I hope they do! Ultimately, eleven of the councillors voted in favour of my motion, which is pleasing.

The sole vote against the councillors receiving this briefing came from CAWB member, John Ross. I’ll repeat that: On the very issue that elected Clr. Ross to Council, my worthy colleague voted against councillors even receiving a briefing, even after I had made it clear that it must be regarded as the first step towards a productive, rather than an angry and sterile, debate.

I will have much more to say on the subject of Windsor Bridge, but I will do so after this briefing has been given.

About the Redbank development at North Richmond

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An image of the RSL Kingsford Smith village layout, still available on their website today, advertising open space on the subject lands (the green area near the words “retirement living”)

Last Tuesday was the first public meeting where we new councillors addressed regular council business. It went from 6:30pm until well after midnight, owing to the backlog of matters created by the election, and a helping of deferred matters gifted from the previous council.

I remarked at the meeting that this was a baptism of fire, as immediately before us was arguably one of the most contentious issues facing the new council: The Redbank development at North Richmond. The specific item before us on Tuesday were ten blocks in an area called “The Gallery” which back on to the RSL Retirement village. The retirement village residents objected that they had secured their houses in the belief that the land behind them would be left as empty space. They also objected on the grounds privacy, drainage and noise, given that the land slopes upward behind them and a retaining wall has been constructed.

The previous week I had inspected the site and, despite arriving unannounced, the site manager Scott was gracious in receiving me and showing me around. I also spoke to various residents living in the RSL village in Catalina Avenue, who showed me the promotional material the RSL offered them. It did indeed show a layout of the Redbank site with the land in dispute left open– such as the image at the header of this post.

The recommendation from Council staff was to approve the subdivision — or rather to ratify it, since we were told that the blocks had been sold and the new owners were waiting to build. I was informed that the original approval body of this part of the subdivision was not Council, but a State body called the JRPP (Joint Regional Planning Panel), who take planning decisions out of the hands of Councils if the value of a development is over $20 million.

Meantime, the deferral of this matter by the previous council was taken as a deemed refusal and the developers had commenced litigation in the Land and Environment Court. If the litigation proceeds, legal costs could be considerable to council.

I expressed my anger at the meeting that the JRPP did not take up the issue of why the development they were asked to approve in early 2014 was at such variance with the prospectus offered RSL village purchasers. The village residents have every right to be aggrieved that the material was misleading. My understanding is that the RSL have acknowledged this and have offered the residents the option to move and gain a refund. But surely this is cold comfort for many of those residents who have considerable sunk cost in their new homes and who probably regarded their last move of house as their last.

To determine who has perpetrated a deception on whom is not simple. I believe the testimony of the residents when they say that they were given an indication that the land would be open, both in terms of the brochure they showed me, and verbally. I disagree with the statement in the Council business paper which says

“Investigation from Council staff has not found evidence that sales person’s advice had made this claim [that the land would be left open]”

However, on the other side, there are other factors which should be taken into account:

  • The land was always zoned for potential subdivision, and the residents should have known that this was a permitted and likely use of that land when they bought adjacent to it.
  • The residents bought-in after the Redbank development was approved (I’m awaiting definite dates here, but the developer says the JRPP approved it in early 2014 and the date one resident quoted me for their settlement was August 2014), and their solicitor could have found out the subject land was sub-dividable (but there is the legitimate riposte that they had received a verbal undertaking that the land would be free and did not think to check).
  • The material which misled them was produced by RSL Lifecare, and the developers of the subject properties on Tuesday’s D.A’s are an unrelated party, and that recourse should be made by the RSL.
  • That a complaint was made to Fair Trading about the deceptive promotional material, but that at this stage, the claim has not been upheld. I disagree, and would encourage the residents to pursue those avenues of appeal that Fair Trading indicated.
  • That the developer’s right to build on the lots approved by the JRPP is probably strong and a court case will be unlikely to negate it, but will be costly.

After balancing these concerns, I voted to approve the subdivision, but remarked that we metaphorically had a gun to our heads. I wasn’t happy about it, but felt we had to do it. I didn’t believe deferring or refusing it would alter the outcome, as regrettable as it is for the residents of Catalina avenue.

I am heartened, however, to hear that related issues concerning noise, drainage, and the screen planting between the fence and the retaining wall are all matters the developer is still happy to address with the residents as the matter comes to conciliation in the court.

The residents are entitled to think that the whole system has failed them. From their perspective, the RSL misled them and offered a remedy unpalatable to them. The JRPP should have been where the difference between the RSL prospectus and the developer’s request  were questioned, but weren’t. The matter was dumped in the old Council’s lap and then deferred to the new Council, who have again deferred it.

If the entirety of the Redbank decision had been mine to make years ago, I would have said no. However, that is a whole other question. On Tuesday, I was focused on the application before me, and nothing else.

As one of my worthy colleagues said during the meeting: “This is an example of how not to do things”. I agree.

Removing barriers between Council and the public

One of the things I expressed my commitment to when I was seeking election to Council, is to improve the perception that Councillors are accountable to the public, interact easily with the public, and welcome public participation at Council meetings.

Immediately after the election, my worthy colleagues and I began a conversation about measures to implement this desire. It was commonly agreed that removing the boundary cordon between the seated Councillors and the public gallery would be a symbolic yet significant gesture, as would dispensing with the security guard, since in the recollection of our Councillors who had been on Council for 17 years, not a single incident requiring security action had ever occurred.

At the council meeting on Tuesday 11th October, a Mayoral minute to this effect was put forward, with myself as a co-sponsor.
Immediately as the proposal passed in the Chamber, I was one of the Councillors reported as rising to physically remove the barrier. 

I am confident that in this Council term, visitors to our public gallery at Council meetings will interact positively with us, and that mutual respect will prevail.

Elected to Hawkesbury River County Council

At the Council meeting held on October 11, 2016 a preferential ballot was held to elect the Council’s delegates to the Hawkesbury River County Council. I am pleased to say I was elected as one of Council’s two delegates for the four year term.

The County Council operates effectively as a Council body in its own right, and its elected representatives are sent from the Councils in Hawkesbury, Blacktown, Penrith, and the Hills.

The Council’s remit is largely concerned with weed management in the waterways of the Hawkesbury Nepean river and its tributaries. I am proud to be one of our community’s representatives to this body.

Fitzgerald Aged Care branding launch

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The “Photo-Op”. Is there anything more clichéd and typical of the politician’s photo album?

You get invited to the opening or commemoration of something in which you can take next to no credit, and you pose, mugging for the camera in the hope that your Mum (or better still, a voter) sees you in the paper/ social media afterwards. I suppose I should resign myself to this early. Sometimes, people are right to be cynical.

But perhaps there’s something else going on here. Let’s explore.

I attended my first outside function as a Councillor this week when I attended the launch of the revamped branding of the Fitzgerald Aged Care facility. I learned about their plans for ongoing improvements at their premises in Rum Corp Lane in Windsor. Despite having driven past the place all my life, I had never been there, tucked in there as it is behind the Sebel. I was unaware, for example, of the amazingly long history of the organisation out of which Fitzgerald had grown, dating back to the formation of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society at a public meeting in 1818. This society had as its sole object “the support and relief by voluntary contributions of all real objects of charity in the Hawkesbury district” and “for the relief of such poor persons belonging to the district as through age, accident or infirmity (who) are unable to support themselves”. It is pleasing to think that a body formed for that purpose two centuries ago is still discharging its duty!

If I had not been invited to that launch, I would not have been spurred to lose an evening diving into Trove and beginning a study of the storied history of the Society from which the present organisation descended. Fascinating.

As I attended the launch, I also heard from the residents, board members and staff of how the culture of Fitzgerald was distinctive for the commitment and kindness shown to its residents, and the friendliness and professionalism shown by the staff. I was particularly pleased to make the re-acquaintance of the Board President Dr Jules Whitty, whom I knew in his days as a surgeon, as he reminded me that as an independent facility, the challenge to remain modern and well resourced  was constant. My new colleague on Council, Clr. Sarah Richards has also been a member of the board on and off for some years and her pride in the work of Fitzgerald was plain.

So there’s a better reason why a newbie politician like me should go to photo ops like these. It’s not about me. It’s about giving some recognition to people and organisations who plug away doing worthy things with less thanks than they deserve. Did you know about this hidden gem in our local community? I didn’t, and now I have a better appreciation for it, and for the staff and board who work so tirelessly for its betterment. Worth standing there for a photo.

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