Last week, Council launched a Discussion Paper about the future of Northern Beaches Council sportsfields and golf courses and I outlined some of the issues requesting people read the Discussion Paper on Council's website before participating in a public debate.
Sadly there was little evidence that some of the contributors on social media have bothered to.
Just to reiterate some of the key findings:
- We have a serious shortage of sportsfields that is getting larger and will reach over 40 sportsfields by 2031 unless we take action
- The sportsfields are already seriously overused at well over the 35 hours per week recommended to keep them in reasonable condition
- The review showed we have around half the sportsfields per head compared to a number of comparable councils
- The review showed we have more than double the number of golf courses per head compared to the rest of Sydney
- The fact that many sportsfields are ‘empty’ during the week does not mean they are underused. Fields need some time to recover, schools book them during the week and sports groups have access to them for training after 4pm
- Many sports are rejecting hundreds of kids and adults wanting to play a sport due to a shortage of fields
- The review confirmed golf is declining and has been doing so for over 10 years.
The Paper identifies and costs lots of possible actions, including more synthetic grass, more lighting to provide more training opportunities and more efficient use of existing fields.
It also concludes that without the conversion of some current Council land from golf to other sports there will be a continuing shortfall, even after adopting many other actions.
To those claiming I have gone back, or “reneged” on my commitment to leave the final decision to the elected Council, I have not!
This is too serious an issue to put on the backburner. After hearing the community views I will put a draft strategy out for comment. I will then adopt a final strategy for the next 15 years.
Council is planning to get on with field improvements and synthetic fields as soon as possible. However there will be no action taken to implement any of the controversial elements. The Strategy will set the path forward to address the shortfall in fields and it will be a matter for the incoming Council to determine whether to proceed when they return in September this year.
They will have a well-argued and costed set of options, along with my recommendation, to guide their decision making and address this serious issue for the community.
With this in mind, I look forward to receiving your submission on this important Discussion Paper.
Dick Persson AM
In August last year, I agreed to a request from the Sporting Union, representing most of the sports active on the Northern Beaches, to review the perceived shortage of sportsgrounds and the use of Council owned golf courses.
Today, I am releasing that review for public comment and debate. Of course the debate kicked off last year when I deferred going to tender for the 20-year lease of Warringah Golf Course. It prompted an emotional response from club members and many of the golfers who use and love the course.
Dozens of letters were written to the Manly Daily. Unfortunately, the review had just started and there was little concrete information to inform what is
a very important issue facing the whole community. This report now provides that information. The report is clear about many things:
- Sporting groups were right. We have a serious shortfall in fields.
- Most of the current fields are deteriorating from overuse.
- We have around half or less the number of fields per head compared to some similar councils.
- The current shortfall will get much larger over the next 15 years.
- Sporting groups are saying no to thousands of kids and adults wanting to play.
- This figure is increasing, as more females want to participate.
- We have double the number of golf courses compared to the rest of Sydney
We can improve this situation through a range of efficiency measures, including artificial grass on more fields, installing more lighting for training and smarter use of some fields, but this will not go anywhere near to closing the gap.
We will benefit from new fields as Warriewood and Ingleside are developed, but again, not enough to close the gap.
One approach is to just put this in the too hard basket and say "bad luck" to those who can't find a place to compete or train, "bad luck" about the serious problem of growing childhood obesity.
The current shortage leads to current practices in some sports, where female teams lose their Sunday field allocation if the weather cancels the boy's Saturday game - and it is shifted to the Sunday.
While we have half the number of playing fields per head as other comparable areas, we have double the number of golf courses compared to the Sydney average.
When you make your submission, please read the report and deal with the issues logically, respectfully and fairly. This is a big decision that affects the whole community.
Dick Persson AM
Transport issues for the Northern Beaches have dominated the news for some weeks now. I have put forward the Council’s position in a number of columns and news stories. Putting forward a Council position is quite safe ground for me because the three previous Northern Beaches councils had identical views on the key transport issues.
Regular readers will have noted my emphasis on public transport solutions as the number one priority for dealing with commuter travel times. Well I have some good news. Council was briefed on the tunnel proposal this week by senior managers from Transport for NSW and they were very clear that their intention is for the proposed tunnel to provide dedicated bus lanes that can take the double decker BLine busses.
I encourage everyone to visit www.rms.nsw.gov.au and search “Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link” to see the details of the project including the fact sheet, concept plans and the artists impressions showcasing the use of buses in the tunnel.
Regular readers will also recall my expressed desire to avoid ‘Merger’ politics, but recent public statements about the BLine are impossible to ignore.
The BLine is a $500 million plus investment to provide the Northern Beaches a modern, new, regular reliable bus service. This initiative had the full and strong support from the previous Pittwater Council, along with the support of Warringah and Manly Councils and all the local State and Federal members.
The BLine will provide more frequent and reliable bus services for people travelling between the Northern Beaches and the Sydney CBD, allowing them to catch a bus every five minutes southbound in the morning peak and northbound in the afternoon peak; and every 10 minutes at other times of the day. All who know anything about transport agree that getting car drivers to change their behaviour involves providing a more attractive public transport alternative. Northern Beaches Council is fully committed to working with the NSW Government to make this work as well as possible.
Given all this, it is disappointing to see one of the leading ‘spear carriers’ against the Council merger now denigrating the BLine, claiming that it “stinks” as a public transport solution in a letter to the Manly Daily. The letter goes on to attack the local member, which is clearly the motivating factor behind this extraordinary and illogical attack on the biggest public transport investment ever made in the Northern Beaches.
Dick Persson AM
Next Tuesday evening the Council Meeting will be held in the Council Chambers at Manly from 6.30pm. There is a fairly crowded agenda, with some items likely to see strong public interest and there will also be the usual opportunity to speak on any topics of concern during the Public Forum.
I will be providing a report on the responses to my December letter to the Prime Minister and NSW Premier regarding the need for a national approach to coastal erosion through offshore beach nourishment. I will table the responses received which were very disappointing indeed.
A proposal to explore an option of dredging at Middle Creek to alleviate flooding of Wakehurst Parkway will be considered, with a recommendation to fund a study.
Off -leash areas for dogs always brings lively discussion. Last year I declined to overturn the long held policies of the three previous councils that banned walking dogs on our beaches. In doing so I committed to have the new Council carry out a review of the adequacy of existing off-leash areas. This has been completed and the report will be presented at the Meeting. Council will also consider a Draft Affordable Housing policy.
If you are interested in these issues or others you can access the full Agenda and the papers on Council’s website as well as watch the Meeting live from there if you cannot attend.
Many residents have been asking when the reports provided to Council on the Manly Oval Carpark and Whistler St re-development will be released. While there are still some legal matters in play, I will be considering the release of these documents at the April Council Meeting.
Incorporated not-for-profit community groups can apply for funding under the second round of the Stronger Communities Fund Community Grants Program from Monday 3 April. Funding is for community projects that fit within our identified community priorities such as the natural environment, sustainable transport, art, culture and heritage, community safety and inclusive communities. Attending one of the information sessions will give your organisation the best chance of being successful. For further information contact Council’s Grant Office on 9970 1628 or 9970 1104 or visit the website.
Finally, our SHAPE 2028 workshops begin this week. This is your opportunity to shape the Community Strategic Plan which will provide the blueprint for Council decision making over the next 10 years. There are still spaces available so go to yoursay.northernbeaches and register. It would be fantastic to see some younger faces in the room to represent the views of the future of the Beaches.
Dick Persson AM
The NSW Government held a special Community Cabinet meeting at Freshwater Surf Club on Thursday.
The Council’s General Manager, Mark Ferguson and I attended, along with a hundred or so community and business leaders, and used the opportunity to raise a number of important local matters with the relevant Ministers.
We went to the meeting with three priority issues:
- We stressed the importance of providing a rapid bus transit service linking Brookvale and Dee Why through to Chatswood. This initiative was costed at around $70m some years ago and some of the work in that costing has been carried out as part of the current roadworks around the new hospital. We argued strongly that transport strategies needed to focus on improving public transport options were integral to improving peak hour commuting.
- We pointed out that traffic problems on Mona Vale Road to Terrey Hills were unacceptable and would be far worse when the Ingleside development commences. We lobbied for a clear commitment in the forthcoming State Budget for the Mona Vale Road widening works to be funded in total by 2020.
- I raised the future of Brookvale Oval with the Premier directly, pointing out that moves set in motion by Mike Baird seem to have stalled. The Council supports the transfer of Brookvale Oval to the State Government if it is to be redeveloped into a major sporting stadium and provide a long-term home for the Manly Sea Eagles. We also used the opportunity to press relevant Ministers on a number of other, but still important local issues:
- Community concern about the failure to provide underground wiring around the new hospital precinct.
- The need for more leadership from the NSW Government in dealing with the massive challenge of coastal erosion from increasingly strong storm events, as well as future threats from sea level rise.
- My strong preference to locate the new school over the current carpark adjacent to the Warrringah Aquatic Centre (WAC) and avoid its demolition. We pointed out this would also have a much lesser impact on the surrounding bushland than locating it on the actual site of the WAC.
We felt we received a good hearing on all these issues but only time will tell if we made progress.
Dick Persson AM
This week I had the pleasure of hosting a Northern Beaches Council breakfast to celebrate International Women’s Day, with over 200 guests attending.
We listened to an inspiring talk from Ms Josephine Cashman, a young indigenous woman who spoke passionately about the need to overcome the disadvantage of indigenous women in remote communities.
In welcoming everyone I took the opportunity to pick up on the key International Women’s Day message from our Governor General, His Excellency, The Hon David Hurley AC DSC (retired). “Nominate more women for awards in our honours system”.
After he made the call I checked the figures for the last awards on Australia Day and they revealed that men were awarded Orders of Australia at almost twice the rate as women (475 to 252). This was not really a surprise because it has been openly discussed in the media for many years.
The big surprise was discovering that women received less than a third of the nominations (252 to 651). Sometimes individuals feel a bit powerless when trying to do something about significant problems like climate change or the plight of indigenous women in remote communities, but improving the representation of women in our Australian Honours system is something individuals can do something about. Just take a few hours to nominate someone who you know makes a real difference in the community through their outstanding community service.
To find out more about making a nomination just go to the website at www.gg.gov.au/australian-honours-and-awards or phone (02)6283 3533.
While on the topic of outstanding women, I attended two farewells this week for two senior women who are retiring after decades of service to their community. Both featured in Wednesday’s Manly Daily.
Beth Lawsen retired as one of Northern Beaches Council’s Deputy General Managers. Beth had been at Manly Council since 1990 becoming one of their Deputy General Managers in 2012. Beth managed to win and maintain the respect of everyone she dealt with. Her focus was always on achieving the best possible outcomes for those doing it tough or for the community as a whole.
Also, Jacqui Smith retired as the Manager of the Manly Community Centre after 32 years of ‘coalface’ work with homeless people and others in great distress. On behalf of the whole community, thank you both for your great public service.
I get to meet a lot of residents in this role. When talking about their community most refer to the physical beauty and amenity of the area, with bush and beaches most often referred to. This is backed up by all the surveys and formal community engagement carried out by the council. The natural environment is by far the most valued feature of the whole Northern Beaches area.
On the other side of the equation, the most negative thing residents talk about is also widely held traffic congestion, and most people feel it has been getting progressively worse, not just during peak hours, but on weekends too.
Not surprisingly, how to respond to this does not have the same level of agreement. People who mostly use their private vehicles favour road and tunnel options.
Interestingly those with traffic and planning expertise favour further improvements to the public transport system.
Since I came to the Northern Beaches as Warringah Council Administrator in 2003 there has been unanimous agreement amongst the four SHOROC Councils about the top priority for improving transport flow and commute times.
To this day the number one priority for the Northern Beaches is still a bus rapid transit system from Dee Why to Chatswood. This is supported by most, if not all, transport and planning experts and supported by technical data about journey patterns and traffic solutions.
Like the soon to be opened B-Line, the Dee Why - Chatswood rapid bus system would provide the best value for whatever money is available from the Government. Done well it can provide the speed and capacity of light rail and would deliver passengers quickly to Chatswood where they would transfer to the existing train network to take them on to their respective work destinations.
It would provide us with a much more flexible public transport system and both open up alternative job opportunities for residents in Macquarie Park, Chatswood and beyond as well as enable key workers to catch fast public transport into the Northern Beaches.
The current Council, as with the three previous Councils, is not against a tunnel. It just strongly favours the east west bus link as the most urgent and effective priority.
At this point there has been no discussion or consultation with the Northern Beaches Council by any part of the NSW Government about alternatives evidently under active consideration.
Hopefully this will occur before any decision is made and announced.
Dick Persson AM
Long ago I learned it’s not possible to please everyone, particularly in a role like mine. Nevertheless I would like to share with you a story from last Monday evening.
I arrived at Glen Street Theatre to conduct a Citizenship Ceremony for 150 new Australians. As I’ve said before, by far the best part of the job.
Council staff had thoughtfully reserved a parking space near the entrance by placing a sign with my name and position attached to an orange bollard. I noticed someone else had gone to the trouble of attaching their own handwritten message - “We’ve lost our library – save our Aquatic Centre”.
Council has spent $6.374 million building a new, state of the art library that is due to open in June. However, the old library is and will remain fully operational until then. The project has followed extensive community engagement, which showed very strong community support for the creation of a new 'Cultural Hub' that integrates the Glen Street Theatre and Library across from the new shopping centre and restaurant precinct and I look forward to meeting locals at the opening soon.
Maybe the anonymous note writer might attend and look through the new Library. I would love to show you around.
Now about the Aquatic Centre. I know there are genuine concerns about this project, and I would like to make some things clear and give some assurances.
The Council has to provide for a new Town Centre to support the Hospital. The questions of where and how big are currently out for community consultation, but there can be no argument that the best location is adjacent to the new Hospital. The best site is the current school site, but for it to be made available there has to be an alternate school site.
The plan to locate the school on the Warringah Aquatic Centre site is totally dependent on the creation of a new pool facility, of equal amenity, being provided at no additional cost to Council. The up zoning of the school site should generate more than enough value to pay for the new school, the new Aquatic Centre and deliver a modern, vibrant Town Centre in the best location.
I know you can’t please everyone, but I encourage everyone to know the facts. As with the library, if the swim centre goes it will be replaced with a modern brand new one.
Dick Persson AM
Last Thursday's Manly Daily reported the outcome of the meeting I had sought with the Minister for Education, Rob Stokes to explain why Council did not support the recently approved proposal for re-building Manly Vale Public School. Mr Stokes had also met with the Manly Vale School P&C and Principal to hear their side of the argument.
It is very disappointing Mr Stokes decided that the disadvantages of further delay outweighed the advantages of hitting the pause button to allow a rethink on the project. There is no doubt the school needs re-building, and there is no doubt the local population changes dictate the need for greater capacity in the area, but I remain convinced we have the wrong design for the location.
Having worked with Mr Stokes in his previous role as Planning Minister, as well as a local MP, I know he would not have let this situation develop if he had been involved at an earlier stage.
Building a new school is one of the best things a State Government can do for a local area. It should be done in such a way that it is welcomed by all of the community and has minimal impact on our unique environment.
That this project is strongly opposed by such a large group of locals represents a significant failure on behalf of those in the Department of Education responsible for it.
Hopefully they learn from it.
A number of projects were announced last year that will enhance the Northern Beaches area. However it is integral to the success of these projects that we hear from the community.
Some of the projects still open for feedback include the Hospital Precinct Structure Plan, Ingleside Precinct Structure Plan, Palm Beach Parking Demand Management Strategy, Marine Parade Works, Brookvale Park Playground Upgrade and Balgowlah Plaza Revitalisation.
I encourage everyone to visit the Northern Beaches website to see the projects and provide feedback so that all viewpoints are taken into consideration before any decisions are made.
Dick Persson AM
Current media speculation about possible changes to the policy dealing with council amalgamations has received a mixed reception. Given the history of the policy this is to be expected. Of course it is not my role to comment or to take part in a public debate. I will however, provide regular up-dates to the community about progress being achieved and I will correct the record if false claims are made about the merger or the performance of the integrated council.
As Administrator of the Northern Beaches Council my job is to deliver an integrated, fully functional organisation by the next election, currently scheduled for September this year. Along with the Council’s General Manager, Mark Ferguson and a talented and committed management team, I believe we are well on-track to do just that.
With everyone back to work following the Christmas break, we are very focussed on delivering the many projects that we have on our books. A number of these are to do with building the new organisation, like integrating IT systems, developing an integrated budget for the new financial year and integrating fees and charges policies.
The majority of our work continues to be focussed on delivering services and improvements to the community that will enhance the area , like the Dee Why Town Centre, the major re-zoning of the Frenchs Forest area, delivering the Church Point Upgrade, the new Coastal Walkway linking Manly and Palm Beach, new all-abilities playgrounds and so on. Council will also continue to support local community groups with the next round of the Stronger Communities Funds Grants being offered in April.
If there are changes to Government policy, the politics that will inevitably be played out in sections of the community will not distract me or the General Manager from the very significant tasks at hand. Residents can be assured the Council will continue to deliver across the spectrum of our operations. Our staff are both talented and committed and will deliver, no matter what challenges are placed before them.
Dick Persson AM