Hawkesbury-Nepean river suffers as HRCC endures cut to funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawkesbury Radio interview, February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawkesbury’s Local Housing Strategy and the pressure for development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Committees and protecting our Heritage

Hawkesbury City Council has no less than 17 different Committees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NSW 2020 State Redistribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have drawn this data from places such as:

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

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

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

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

and

Helping Bushland Regeneration in Bilpin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If you want to get on board, contact HRCC.

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Re-elected as Chair of the Hawkesbury River County Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been reported in the local media:

My own statement relating to this issue is below:

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

Defeated in the effort to ensure fairer Hawkesbury Council Rates

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

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

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

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

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

Let me encourage you to listen to the Mayor Patrick Conolly and myself as we make our case. My remarks are from 2:20 in.

Straight talk about Development

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

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

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

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

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