- Posted by Ian Mutton
- On February 18, 2019
- Luna Park
If we want to make our community a better place in which to live – we need to be careful when electing politicians
Dear Fellow Resident,
I want the best for north Sydney and that’s not ever going to be achieved by politicians whose visions are shrouded by clouds of nostalgia and nickel & dime thinking.
I was a candidate in the NSW by-election in 2017 (brought on by the then State member’s resignation) and later for Council in 2018.
Why? Partly because I felt the State Government was running rough-shod over our community (it still is) and partly because I wanted to give back to the community that has delivered so much to us all over the years.
I was unsuccessful in the NSW by-election. In 2018, I was elected to North Sydney Council representing the Wollstonecraft Ward.
As a Councillor I also sit on Council Committees:
- The Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee which provides assistance on risk management, control and governance matters and has external accountability;
- the Governance Committee which deals with the administrative and policy functions of Council, including the Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework; and
- the Performance and Remuneration Committee which deals with senior staff employment arrangements.
Being elected to Council has been a real “eye-opener”
- we have a lot of community consultation but not much community engagement – see my website https://www.ianmutton.com/ and the regular Newsletter that I email to interested residents.
- We have a state member that represents her party but is out of touch with our community.
Let me explain with examples of a few challenges which we are currently facing.
Parking has become a nightmare. Council’s current policies are making it worse.
Council’s policy limits the number of parking spaces in new development to, on average, one parking space for every two apartments.
- We have an apartment building boom going on around us.
- Every new development adds to the shortage of parking spaces.
The position is made worse by new major projects being undertaken with limited or no parking.
I’ve triggered a review of the Council’s policy on car parking
2. Council’s funding in the near term
I had always thought North Sydney Council was in a good financial position.
I‘d not appreciated that:
- between 2016 and 2018 Council’s capital reserves had been run down from $80m to $30m;
- even with the run down in capital reserves, there remained a significant backlog of maintenance needed on infrastructure;
- by 2018 Council was operating at close to break even.
Most ratepayers want services kept at present levels and infrastructure maintained. To deliver Council needs to:
- build capital so we can meet our funding requirements in the short term; and
- put in place a more equitable approach to raising funds in the longer term
North Sydney Council is a major undertaking. Arguing, as some Councillors have, services and infrastructure can be maintained by cutting costs sounds good but ignores the reality. Taking a nickel and dime approach to Council’s finances is absurd.
I supported Council’s decision to seek State Government approval for a short-term rate variation that will see an increase in rates over the next 5 years by about $3 per week for the 74% of ratepayers who pay the minimum rate.
The longer-term funding needs to be addressed now.
3. Council’s funding in the longer term: Development Contributions – a more equitable system
Development contributions are levies on new developments collected by Councils to ensure the costs of additional infrastructure needed to support new homes and commercial buildings are borne by the developer and not the community. The Planning Minister controls and regulates the contributions.
In a cash grab and show of reckless indifference to our community, the State Government exempted itself from paying any development contribution in respect of developments over the Crows Nest and North Sydney Metro stations.
It’s bad enough that the State Government pot-marks our suburb with developments that it approves with total disregard to our planning codes, but to make our community bear the full cost of funding for the required additional infrastructure is madness.
The State Government should not be allowed to get away with ignoring our planning codes and then making our community pay the costs.
4. Adherence to local planning codes
Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) and Development Control Plans (DCPs) are an integral part of the NSW planning system. The State Government requires each Council to have an LEP (guides development, planning decisions and protect natural resources) and a DCP (provides detailed planning and design guidelines to support the planning controls in the LEP).
The major developments now occurring in our area, in view of their size, are controlled by the State Government and not by Council. Time and again our local planning codes are ignored resulting in gross over-development in St Leonards, Crows Nest and North Sydney. It is imperative that the State Government be held to account and mandates these developments to adhere to Council’s LEP and DCP.
Michael Daley, NSW Leader of the Opposition announced on 12 February 2019 that if Labor wins the March 2019 NSW State election, then planning approvals will go back to Councils and be in line with their respective LEP’s. It was not that long ago that former Premier, Barry O’Farrell said much the same thing.
5. Protecting North Sydney from ignoble treatment by the State Government
The State Government plays loose and fast when it comes to planning. Not only does it exempt itself when it comes to “taxes and levies” (Metro stations) but it is quick to ignore our community when it comes to the planning process.
Just a few examples:
Bayer building. Have you ever wondered how it came to be that a
skyscraper was approved to be built in the middle of a residential
area on the eastern side of the Warringah freeway?
- The approval was the product of State Government intervention.
heights and densities. Have you wondered how developments with
excessive heights and densities such as Mirvac’s St Leonards
development and the proposed developments above the Metro stations
- The State Government declares them as State Significant and approves them.
- Luna Park. Have you wondered why Luna Park is not required to obtain approvals for new additions?
- The State Government (with the support of our local member) decreed that, unlike everyone else in NSW, Luna Park should not have to comply with the planning approval process. An astonishing approach considering that three months earlier the Minister for Planning had argued in Court against removing the planning controls and had won the case.
- Also how does the removal of planning controls protect a heritage asset?
Park. Have you ever wondered why the agreements between the operator
(Multiplex, a subsidiary of the international developer) and the
Government are kept secret?
- The State Government agreed to an inclusion in the agreements that they should be kept secret.
The State Government has become a law unto itself – it needs to be made accountable.
6. The Beaches’ tunnel.
The tunnel has the potential to remove much of the traffic from our local streets. We need to work to realise this potential.
We need to take control of our streets; to avoid more of our quiet streets being converted to roads for through traffic from the northern beaches.
With the opening of the tunnel measures must be taken to take traffic off our streets and force it to use the tunnel.
Good air treatment systems for both tunnel users and those living nearby in North Sydney are paramount for success. We as a community must insist the State Government looks beyond the initial investment cost towards the long-term health and environmental benefits.
We need to look to Norway and Japan, who are regarded as world leaders in this area, learn from their experience and adopt international best practice in air treatment.
7. North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool – a neglected Sydney icon
The Pool is riddled with “concrete cancer” and it’s shabby. Back in 2013 Council commissioned concept options for its renovation – eight options were developed, and a community consultation process launched.
Five years of planning and consultation was met with some Councillors calling for still more consultation.
There comes a time when decisions need to be made. I strongly support the decision of the recently elected Council to proceed with one of the lower cost options.
The Pool has huge heritage value and is used by people from all over Sydney. Our next challenge is to get both the Commonwealth and State Governments to fund the renovation, or at the very least, a major portion of the cost.
8. Development Approvals – conditions are forgotten or “removed”
Given the amount of community consultation that surrounds the granting of Development Approvals, I thought that the conditions attached to Development Approvals would be sacrosanct. Regrettably I was wrong.
Back in the early 1990s, Noakes shipyard in Berrys Bay was given approval to expand its operation. Several conditions were imposed – two were notable:
- Build a public jetty
- Build a walkway around the back of the yard to make an easy connection between Waverton Oval and Sawmillers Reserve.
Now some 20 years later, I wonder … where is the public jetty and the walkway?
I investigated and discovered that Council simply ignored the failure to build the jetty and some years later quietly agreed to cancel the condition requiring the walkway.
I believe that conditions are imposed on Development Approvals for good reason and should not be varied without a rigorous public enquiry.
I am now pressing for the public jetty and looking at how to get the walkway. Next, I’ll press for a review of how Council ensures compliance with the conditions imposed on Development Approvals.
9. The Sydney Harbour HighLine – visit www.sydneyharbourhighline.org.au
This is the vision of a walking trail and linear garden (an extension of the Lavender Bay Parklands including Wendy’s Secret Garden) connecting Balls Head Reserve, Waverton Oval, Sawmillers Reserve, and the Lavender Bay Parklands in a mosaic of harbourside parks.
A Committee (sponsored by the Premier) was set up in 2017 to examine the vision and prepare a report. The Sydney Harbour HighLine Association and Sydney Trains were members of the Committee chaired by the local member.
The report, including an application for funding, was prepared and delivered to the State Government in December 2018.
There is a huge degree of interest in this project which will provide a spectacular harbour walk to the benefit of North Sydney residents.
The Premiere enthused over the HighLine; she set up a Committee chaired by the local member to examine it. The Committee prepared a report with designs and costings – that’s the last we heard from the State Government and our local member on the HighLine.
It’s just not good enough. The time has come for the State Government to announce full funding for the project prior to the March 2019 election.
10. Wendy’s Secret Garden – visit www.wendyssecretgarden.org.au
Wendy’s Secret Garden is a treasured gem in our community.
However, it is a park with a use-by date. It is leased by State Rail to North Sydney Council for 30 years with a 30-year option. I believe the future of the garden should be secured with a lease in perpetuity.
Wendy’s Secret Garden is one of NSW’s most popular tourist attractions. Wendy Whiteley has contributed and continues to contribute many millions of dollars towards the establishment and maintenance of the garden. The State Government in a miserly display of support encouraged the setting up of a Trust Fund to help meet the ongoing costs of maintaining the garden – it contributed an unbelievably small amount of $30,000.
The time has come for the State Government to make a meaningful contribution to cover the costs of maintaining the garden with a $5m contribution to the Trust.
We can all work to make North Sydney a better place to live. The coming State election is an ideal time to be heard.
If you would like to learn more and keep abreast of these issues, you can subscribe to my monthly Newsletter by sending me your email address. In addition, if there are issues which you would like me, as your Councillor, to investigate, please contact me.