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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 now $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.

Council's Resilience and Recovery website

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, one Councillor 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.

 


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 trio 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?

Part 3: Don't let population pressure tear our community apart.


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

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.


Interviewed on ABC Sydney Radio about Warragamba Dam

Overnight, former Labor politician Bob Debus addressed a gathering of UNESCO in Baku, Azerbaijan, to seek their support in opposing the raising of Warragamba Dam.

This morning, ABC Sydney Radio asked to interview me to provide a response.

Here's the audio. I repeat the argument I've made many, many, many, many, many times before.

 


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

June 7th 2021 Update: This morning the Prime Minister and the Premier announced that funding for this project has been lifted to $500 million. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the new bridge will be 6m higher than the current bridge. The funding will be 80% from the Federal Government and 20% from the NSW Government. This is tremendously good news, along with confirmation that the project will not dump traffic into the already-congested heart of North Richmond but rather bypass North Richmond and join Bells Line of Road at Crooked Lane. This map has been circulating this morning as a preferred (note: not final) route.

I note that Susan Templeman the Labor Federal MP has chimed in pre-emptively this morning to claim credit for this announcement. I thought my remarks on that question I made two years ago remain just as relevant today.

Original 2-4-2019 post:

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.

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.


Appearing on the Hawkesbury Gazette Podcast

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with reporter Conor Hickey from the Hawkesbury Gazette for their weekly podcast.
Topics covered included how elected representatives can better engage with the community, development, and Windsor bridge.
Listen in!

https://soundcloud.com/hawkesburygazette/talking-engagement-with-councillor-nathan-zamprogno


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
Warragamba Dam in 1960

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!

https://soundcloud.com/nathan-zamprogno/nathans-hawkesbury-radio-interview


Appearing on the ABC News about raising Warragamba Dam

I was pleased to be interviewed by the ABC today on the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam. This project will mitigate against the frequency and severity of floods in the Hawkesbury, and will save life and property.

I'll have much more to say about this soon. Stay tuned.


"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 chamber

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).

https://soundcloud.com/user-423594224/mayoral-minute-mp3?in=user-423594224/sets/ordinary-meeting-14-november#t=16:56


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.