Finding common ground on Windsor Bridge

thompson-square-protest

There is no more controversial issue before the new council than the project to replace Windsor Bridge. It is an issue that has tested friendships, inflamed passions within the community, and created a protest movement that uses every trick in its playbook to prevent the project proceeding.

There will be much more to say on the matter of the bridge, and of the larger issues it augurs relating to the future of our district. I hold particular views on the subject, but this post makes no argument. Yet.

And why? Because there are seven new councillors on council, myself included. I feel that the first step, the step that must occur before a substantive debate about the bridge occurs, must be for the new council to be properly briefed by the relevant departments.

So, at the council meeting on Tuesday, I moved my first Notice Of Motion which called for a briefing to be given to us on the project. I asked that the briefing be held either in Thompson Square, or in Chambers (or both), and that relevant RMS, ministry and council staff be present. Councillor Richards and Councillor Reynolds had moved similar motions of a more limited scope, relating generally to support for an extra river crossing, and relating to an overall traffic strategy respectively. I am pleased that both of those councillors acknowledged that my own motion encompassed their concerns, and with their permission and certain amendments, they withdrew their motions and the following was put:

"That Council:

Support an additional crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

  1. A Councillor Briefing, incorporating presentations from relevant RMS and Council staff be held to provide details on the current status of the Windsor Bridge project.
  2. This Briefing should address project status, heritage, traffic performance, design and aesthetic issues (including open space) and maintenance responsibilities.
  3. A further Briefing be held for RMS and Transport for NSW officers to outline options and planning for future river crossings including commentary on the impacts of proceeding with the current Windsor Bridge replacement.
  4. That Briefing canvas the various options to give substantive effect to achieving the actions and funding of studies and investigations."

My background to the motion, furnished to assist my colleagues to understand why this was important, stated:

"The state of the Windsor Bridge replacement project is the most contentious issue before the new Council. The expectation of some is that Council should quickly resolve to reverse its former support for Option 1 and now formally oppose the project.

With seven new Councillors in the new term, there is clear merit in receiving a briefing on this issue before such a resolution comes before the Council, especially when it seems obvious there is sincere disagreement on some matters of fact.

To assist the General Manager identify which public officials should be invited to best achieve the briefing’s purpose, and to permit those officials to be adequately prepared, it is proposed the matters to be discussed could include (but not be limited to):

  1. The current state of the bridge replacement project (true cost and timeframe).
  2. How the project is identifying and conserving the heritage of Thompson square.
  3. The status of nearby heritage items, including number 10 Bridge St, the colonial era drainage works, the School of Arts steps, and the remnants of Greenway’s wharf.
  4. The evidentiary basis for predictions relating to improved traffic flow.
  5. The adequacy of the project to deal with projected traffic flows on a multi-decade horizon.
  6. The proposed aesthetic qualities, form, fabric, scale and position of the new bridge.
  7. How the project will manage the slope between the upper part of Thompson square park and the water.
  8. What ongoing input Council can have in ensuring the renewed precinct will suit the communities’ needs as regards amenity, aesthetic design (stone, ironwork, landscaping etc), tourism, mobility access, parking, historical interpretation and so on – which will be Council’s responsibility to manage after State-managed works are complete.
  9. What the options are for a longer term plan for future river crossings, such as the suggestion that an additional crossing form part of the feasibility investigations for the M9 orbital.
  10. What the cost of Option 8 from the 2011 RTA study would have been, which was for a downstream bridge near Pitt Town, and how it compares to the likely final cost of Option 1.
  11. Whether the time-frame or funding of such a future crossing is in any way affected by the completion or cancellation of the current bridge replacement project."

I am well aware that feelings run strong on this issue, and my expectation is that those councillors who oppose the project should and will ask many pointed questions when the briefing is held. I hope they do! Ultimately, eleven of the councillors voted in favour of my motion, which is pleasing.

The sole vote against the councillors receiving this briefing came from CAWB member, John Ross. I'll repeat that: On the very issue that elected Clr. Ross to Council, my worthy colleague voted against councillors even receiving a briefing, even after I had made it clear that it must be regarded as the first step towards a productive, rather than an angry and sterile, debate.

I will have much more to say on the subject of Windsor Bridge, but I will do so after this briefing has been given.


About the Redbank development at North Richmond

redbank-plan-with-open-space
An image of the RSL Kingsford Smith village layout, still available on their website today, advertising open space on the subject lands (the green area near the words "retirement living")

Last Tuesday was the first public meeting where we new councillors addressed regular council business. It went from 6:30pm until well after midnight, owing to the backlog of matters created by the election, and a helping of deferred matters gifted from the previous council.

I remarked at the meeting that this was a baptism of fire, as immediately before us was arguably one of the most contentious issues facing the new council: The Redbank development at North Richmond. The specific item before us on Tuesday were ten blocks in an area called "The Gallery" which back on to the RSL Retirement village. The retirement village residents objected that they had secured their houses in the belief that the land behind them would be left as empty space. They also objected on the grounds privacy, drainage and noise, given that the land slopes upward behind them and a retaining wall has been constructed.

The previous week I had inspected the site and, despite arriving unannounced, the site manager Scott was gracious in receiving me and showing me around. I also spoke to various residents living in the RSL village in Catalina Avenue, who showed me the promotional material the RSL offered them. It did indeed show a layout of the Redbank site with the land in dispute left open-- such as the image at the header of this post.

The recommendation from Council staff was to approve the subdivision -- or rather to ratify it, since we were told that the blocks had been sold and the new owners were waiting to build. I was informed that the original approval body of this part of the subdivision was not Council, but a State body called the JRPP (Joint Regional Planning Panel), who take planning decisions out of the hands of Councils if the value of a development is over $20 million.

Meantime, the deferral of this matter by the previous council was taken as a deemed refusal and the developers had commenced litigation in the Land and Environment Court. If the litigation proceeds, legal costs could be considerable to council.

I expressed my anger at the meeting that the JRPP did not take up the issue of why the development they were asked to approve in early 2014 was at such variance with the prospectus offered RSL village purchasers. The village residents have every right to be aggrieved that the material was misleading. My understanding is that the RSL have acknowledged this and have offered the residents the option to move and gain a refund. But surely this is cold comfort for many of those residents who have considerable sunk cost in their new homes and who probably regarded their last move of house as their last.

To determine who has perpetrated a deception on whom is not simple. I believe the testimony of the residents when they say that they were given an indication that the land would be open, both in terms of the brochure they showed me, and verbally. I disagree with the statement in the Council business paper which says

"Investigation from Council staff has not found evidence that sales person's advice had made this claim [that the land would be left open]"

However, on the other side, there are other factors which should be taken into account:

  • The land was always zoned for potential subdivision, and the residents should have known that this was a permitted and likely use of that land when they bought adjacent to it.
  • The residents bought-in after the Redbank development was approved (I'm awaiting definite dates here, but the developer says the JRPP approved it in early 2014 and the date one resident quoted me for their settlement was August 2014), and their solicitor could have found out the subject land was sub-dividable (but there is the legitimate riposte that they had received a verbal undertaking that the land would be free and did not think to check).
  • The material which misled them was produced by RSL Lifecare, and the developers of the subject properties on Tuesday's D.A's are an unrelated party, and that recourse should be made by the RSL.
  • That a complaint was made to Fair Trading about the deceptive promotional material, but that at this stage, the claim has not been upheld. I disagree, and would encourage the residents to pursue those avenues of appeal that Fair Trading indicated.
  • That the developer's right to build on the lots approved by the JRPP is probably strong and a court case will be unlikely to negate it, but will be costly.

After balancing these concerns, I voted to approve the subdivision, but remarked that we metaphorically had a gun to our heads. I wasn't happy about it, but felt we had to do it. I didn't believe deferring or refusing it would alter the outcome, as regrettable as it is for the residents of Catalina avenue.

I am heartened, however, to hear that related issues concerning noise, drainage, and the screen planting between the fence and the retaining wall are all matters the developer is still happy to address with the residents as the matter comes to conciliation in the court.

The residents are entitled to think that the whole system has failed them. From their perspective, the RSL misled them and offered a remedy unpalatable to them. The JRPP should have been where the difference between the RSL prospectus and the developer's request  were questioned, but weren't. The matter was dumped in the old Council's lap and then deferred to the new Council, who have again deferred it.

If the entirety of the Redbank decision had been mine to make years ago, I would have said no. However, that is a whole other question. On Tuesday, I was focused on the application before me, and nothing else.

As one of my worthy colleagues said during the meeting: "This is an example of how not to do things". I agree.


Removing barriers between Council and the public

One of the things I expressed my commitment to when I was seeking election to Council, is to improve the perception that Councillors are accountable to the public, interact easily with the public, and welcome public participation at Council meetings.

Immediately after the election, my worthy colleagues and I began a conversation about measures to implement this desire. It was commonly agreed that removing the boundary cordon between the seated Councillors and the public gallery would be a symbolic yet significant gesture, as would dispensing with the security guard, since in the recollection of our Councillors who had been on Council for 17 years, not a single incident requiring security action had ever occurred.

At the council meeting on Tuesday 11th October, a Mayoral minute to this effect was put forward, with myself as a co-sponsor.
Immediately as the proposal passed in the Chamber, I was one of the Councillors reported as rising to physically remove the barrier. 

I am confident that in this Council term, visitors to our public gallery at Council meetings will interact positively with us, and that mutual respect will prevail.


Elected to Hawkesbury River County Council

At the Council meeting held on October 11, 2016 a preferential ballot was held to elect the Council's delegates to the Hawkesbury River County Council. I am pleased to say I was elected as one of Council's two delegates for the four year term.

The County Council operates effectively as a Council body in its own right, and its elected representatives are sent from the Councils in Hawkesbury, Blacktown, Penrith, and the Hills.

The Council's remit is largely concerned with weed management in the waterways of the Hawkesbury Nepean river and its tributaries. I am proud to be one of our community's representatives to this body.


Fitzgerald Aged Care branding launch

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The "Photo-Op". Is there anything more clichéd and typical of the politician's photo album?

You get invited to the opening or commemoration of something in which you can take next to no credit, and you pose, mugging for the camera in the hope that your Mum (or better still, a voter) sees you in the paper/ social media afterwards. I suppose I should resign myself to this early. Sometimes, people are right to be cynical.

But perhaps there's something else going on here. Let's explore.

I attended my first outside function as a Councillor this week when I attended the launch of the revamped branding of the Fitzgerald Aged Care facility. I learned about their plans for ongoing improvements at their premises in Rum Corp Lane in Windsor. Despite having driven past the place all my life, I had never been there, tucked in there as it is behind the Sebel. I was unaware, for example, of the amazingly long history of the organisation out of which Fitzgerald had grown, dating back to the formation of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society at a public meeting in 1818. This society had as its sole object "the support and relief by voluntary contributions of all real objects of charity in the Hawkesbury district" and "for the relief of such poor persons belonging to the district as through age, accident or infirmity (who) are unable to support themselves". It is pleasing to think that a body formed for that purpose two centuries ago is still discharging its duty!

If I had not been invited to that launch, I would not have been spurred to lose an evening diving into Trove and beginning a study of the storied history of the Society from which the present organisation descended. Fascinating.

As I attended the launch, I also heard from the residents, board members and staff of how the culture of Fitzgerald was distinctive for the commitment and kindness shown to its residents, and the friendliness and professionalism shown by the staff. I was particularly pleased to make the re-acquaintance of the Board President Dr Jules Whitty, whom I knew in his days as a surgeon, as he reminded me that as an independent facility, the challenge to remain modern and well resourced  was constant. My new colleague on Council, Clr. Sarah Richards has also been a member of the board on and off for some years and her pride in the work of Fitzgerald was plain.

So there's a better reason why a newbie politician like me should go to photo ops like these. It's not about me. It's about giving some recognition to people and organisations who plug away doing worthy things with less thanks than they deserve. Did you know about this hidden gem in our local community? I didn't, and now I have a better appreciation for it, and for the staff and board who work so tirelessly for its betterment. Worth standing there for a photo.

fitzgerald-launch-2


Where I'm coming from

This is my first post, and I wondered how I might begin. A bout of spring cleaning supplied my answer.

As I was digging around in my shed, by happy coincidence I found a flier that I used when I first ran for Council in 1995. I was 22.

1995-zamprogno-campaign-flier

Good god, in 1995, I had a pony tail. Stop it. Stop laughing.

I cringe a little when I look back and think of how earnest and callow I was back then, but I also feel some pride that the things that mattered to me, and upon which I was prepared to advance myself for public office, have not changed all that much in the intervening decades.

And here's something I forgot existed: Part of the web page I created for my next run in 1999:

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Cringe. I am. A lot of high-minded, rather snarky rhetoric not particularly backed by life experience. But again, some premonition of things that are still important to me now:  a concern for preserving the semi-rural amenity of our district, a seeking of balance between the contending forces  of progress and conservation in our district, and a strong belief in making our elected leaders accountable. Missing, perhaps, was an appreciation of the benefits of a growing, thriving economy, the advantages of limited development accompanied by proper planning, or a knowledge of how local realpolitik works.

This is a snapshot of where I come from.

Here's another: I was deeply influenced during my childhood by growing up in part at my grandparent's property at Glenhaven, nearby in the Hills District. My personal heritage spans the Hills and the Hawkesbury in equal measure. Seeing Glenhaven built out begninng in the 1980s, and seeing it lose its semi-rural aspect in the name of progress broke my heart. I have written about my childhood experiences growing up there in several articles. Here's one, A Bouquet for Jacarandas, and another, Abandoning the Cubby. Those links are to my personal blog, where I have occasionally made political commentary, but now all my political posts will be here. Yes, I have eclectic tastes.

The two greatest influences upon me, politically, were my grandfather Harry Holland, and former Hawkesbury Mayor, Doctor and friend, Rex Stubbs. Both were deeply invested in their communities and exemplified the kind of common sense needed in public life. Both have passed from us, sadly, and I miss them both terribly. But my hope is to deliberate and act in such a way as would have made them proud. I remembered my late grandfather in this article, written 20 years after he died, and about Dr Rex Stubbs in this piece I wrote when he died in 2010.

If, in public life, I ever show an inclination to be untrue to the convictions I gained in my youth, or from those who mentored me, please remind me.

-Nathan Zamprogno