Development

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.


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


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.

Kurrajong Kurmond Investigation Area

Consistent inconsistency from Council regarding development

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

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

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

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

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

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

The recommendation that came to Council from staff said

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

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


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

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

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p style="padding-left: 60px;">6.    Council continue processing the planning proposals within the investigation area that have received support via a Council resolution to proceed to a Gateway determination and any planning proposals currently lodged with Council as at 29 November 2016. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. Likely development yield and take up rate 

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

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

  7. Mechanisms to fund and provide supporting public infrastructure. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Grose River Bridge crossing map

About the Grose River bridge and the Redbank development

Grose River Bridge crossing map

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redbank river crossing gazette ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


When development fails the common-sense test


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

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

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

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

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

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


Is the Hawkesbury a Shire or are we a City?

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

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

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

Types of Council across NSW
Types of Council across NSW. (Source)

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

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

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

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

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


The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The Hindu Temple at McGraths Hill

The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill
The proposed Hindu temple, Mcgraths Hill

The proposal to build a Hindu temple in High street in McGraths Hill came before Council at the last meeting and was narrowly approved. The vote was tied six-all and was approved on the Mayor's casting vote. I spoke and voted against the proposal. The councillors who voted for and against the proposal are listed in the following table:

Voted for the Hindu temple

Voted against the proposal

Councillor Barry Calvert (Labor) Councillor Paul Rasmussen (Ind)
Councillor Patrick Conolly (Lib) Councillor John Ross (Ind)
Councillor Amanda Kotlash (Labor) Councillor Emma-Jane Garrow (Ind)
Councillor Lyons-Buckett (Ind) Councillor Peter Reynolds (Ind/Labor)
Councillor Sarah Richards (Lib) Councillor Danielle Wheeler (Greens)
Councillor Tiffany Tree (Lib) Councillor Nathan Zamprogno (Lib)

There is no doubt that this matter has been divisive, and I am aware of the strength of feeling that was expressed at the meeting from the gallery and on social media. However, my job was to examine the application before me and to consider it on its merits.

Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a public meeting at McGraths Hill where the community expressed its frustration at the approval of a development with so many flaws. Only one other Councillor, Clr. Ross, was present.

Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill
Objectors to the proposal meeting at McGraths Hill

I felt quite proud of the civility with which people spoke. These were ordinary people-- tradies, retirees and professionals, voicing well-thought-through concerns about their perception of deficiencies in leadership and of process at Council. Neither race nor religion were mentioned, nor was any bigotry manifested. The most common sentiment expressed was "great idea, wrong spot". Frankly, apart from a very small minority of noisy online ranters who were not even present at the meeting tonight, the stereotype of "objectors as racists" was completely disproven.

This post does not intend to prosecute the argument for or against the development, nor to reflect on my worthy colleagues who were entitled to vote as they chose. We differed in opinion-- and were entitled to. This is the process we engage in.

However, I will say that the purpose of this website is to communicate with the community. Each Councillor must account for the stance they have taken to their electorate, and I was glad to be able to stand among local residents and answer to them. A recording of my (brief) remarks are below:


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.