thumbnail of Hawkesbury Council Rate rises 2017 (Councillor Zamprogno)

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.

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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.

 


Recycling bins at showground

(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.)


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

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.


Kurrajong Kurmond Investigation Area

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.

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p style="padding-left: 60px;">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.


Grose River Bridge crossing map

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.