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
I hope you all enjoyed Australia Day and took the opportunity to attend one of Council's five Australia Day events. Hosting more than 30,000 people, the day was a huge success and it was great to see the whole of the Northern Beaches coming together to celebrate.
One of the many things that makes the Northern Beaches such a wonderful place to live is the outstanding contributions made by so many people across such a diverse range of activities. It was wonderful to meet the Australia Day Award nominees and I would like to extend my personal congratulations to the nine winners, and on behalf of the community acknowledge the great work of all the Australia Day Award nominees.
With our glorious summer weather and spectacular beaches, I have no doubt that Council's one beach parking sticker has been greatly used across the 40 plus beaches from Palm Beach to Manly.
As a direct result of the merger the Northern Beaches Council has saved the community $4 million in annual savings, which go directly into the Merger Savings Fund to directly benefit the local community. We will continue to look for ways to deliver better programs and services in 2017, whilst looking for cost efficiencies.
Northern Beaches Council's website has an interactive map that displays 300-plus Council projects, valued at $137 million. I am pleased that this work is being delivered in addition to our $32.6 million injection into 'Connecting our Community' major infrastructure projects. Council's commitment to the Northern Beaches unique environment is also evident as we continue to proactively protect and manage our waterways and natural resources.
I encourage you to keep informed about what Council is delivering and 'What's on' across the Northern Beaches by signing up to Council's monthly eNews newsletter at northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/contact
My position on Manly Vale Public School remains the same. I have serious concerns about the JRPP decision to approve the $22.7 million plan to extend the school across bushland to accommodate 1000 students on the site. I encourage you to make your own representations to the State Government.
I would like to wish you and all of the community a happy and safe New Year.
Dick Persson AM
When the NSW Government created the new Northern Beaches Council it provided us with $15 million through its Stronger Communities Fund to build projects and fund community organisations that would in fact 'build stronger communities'.
Yesterday I convened a special meeting of Council that formally approved a range of exciting new projects. As a result, the Premier and I were able to announce a list of capital projects and community grants which will be of tremendous benefit to Northern Beaches residents.
Sydney's iconic Northern Beaches will be connected by a spectacular coastal walkway and cycleway stretching from Palm Beach to Manly through this capital works funding. We will do this by filling in all the missing links, creating 36 kilometres of all-weather walk and cycle paths.
This coastal walk will be used by locals and visitors alike and will quickly become one of the world's great coastal walks.
The package of initiatives also provides funds for the construction of two new all-abilities playgrounds, upgrades to many of the playgrounds across the Northern Beaches to make them more inclusive, as well as $4 million for upgrades of sporting facilities and Surf Life Saving Clubs.
Grants to a diverse group of 25 local service providers, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 were also announced. These groups include Lifeline, Manly Women's Shelter, Sunnyfield, as well as many sporting clubs, environment groups and groups supporting those less fortunate in our community.
In addition to the Stronger Communities Grant, Council is also pleased to partner with the NSW Government's B-Line project which is funding the cycleway project because it creates better access to the B-Line service to be introduced later next year. The Council will also be contributing funds from savings already achieved as a direct result of the merger.
All in all, these initiatives will receive $32.6 million to link our communities through walking, cycling and play.
This package of initiatives has involved great input from staff from the three former councils, our four local State MPs and former Mayors and Councillors. Everyone has been excited by the common theme of uniting our community. As you absorb the full details of this announcement, I hope you will agree that it makes a constructive contribution to making our community stronger.
As this is my last column for the year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.
Dick Persson AM
Whenever I attend community functions I regularly receive unsolicited compliments about Council staff and how helpful they have been.
I know many residents tend to see councils as the level of government that just does roads, rates and rubbish. Some others think that is all we should do. But many others, particularly those involved in their community through not-for-profit community organisations, really appreciate the partnership they have with Council, and the tremendous support they receive from Council staff.
Some recent examples were from a programme that teaches mostly single senior men to cook. I attended their end of year function and they went out of their way to thank a number of Northern Beaches Council staff for the support given.
I also met with the organisers of the Forestville Art Show who were full of praise for the support they receive in setting up the displays every year.
Today I received a letter from the Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon to thank the seven Council staff who had worked with a number of community groups to make last Saturday's Wheely Big Bush Walk such a success. The Walk was a special function organised for International Day of People with Disability and arranged for a large number of residents who need a wheelchair to enjoy a bushwalk type experience, which so many of us take for granted.
The Council provided gazebos, food and drink at four locations and staff members to work with volunteers on those stations. Council staff also provided chairs and tables along with special mats to assist wheelchair people move across the grass at different locations. They were also involved in the design and construction of the Narrabeen Lagoon multi-purpose trail that gave so much enjoyment to so many on the day.
This fantastic effort was achieved through a partnership approach between the Council and a number of volunteer community groups. It is one of many hundreds of examples where these partnerships make a real difference to the quality of life in our wonderful area.
I'm sure all readers would agree this is just what they want from their Northern Beaches Council.
Dick Persson AM
I suspect many readers will have mixed views about the two big planning announcements this week. Wednesday night saw the release of the Draft Structure Plan for the Northern Beaches Hospital Precinct, which includes rezoning proposals for the new Frenchs Forest town centre, and yesterday we had the NSW Government release the long-awaited Draft Plans for the Ingleside area.
Both plans provide exciting opportunities for new and affordable housing, more local jobs for residents desperate to avoid long commutes and opportunities to provide a broader choice of housing type for people looking to downsize or enter the home ownership market.
Both Draft Plans also bring an increase in population, a move many feel threatens their local amenity and will increase already high levels of traffic congestion.
I can’t cover all these issues in one column, but would like to touch on a couple of key aspects.
I know some will ask why we need to replace the High School and the Warringah Aquatic Centre. The answer is while they both have life left in them, the swap allows the new town centre to be built in by far the best place. The increase in the value of the school site will ensure taxpayers and our ratepayers will not bear the burden of these changes. To build the town centre away from the Hospital would have been a poor outcome both in financial terms, and in terms of creating a vibrant and thriving urban environment.
In terms of population growth, the truth is that councils are not in control. If a council tried to defy the State Government in terms of growth it would likely lose its planning powers. But it also has to be acknowledged that the State Government is also not in control. The Federal Government sets population policy and combined with natural growth, Australia has a growth rate almost double that of many comparable countries. Economists argue this growth is vital to our current levels of economic growth. Most would accept this is a complex issue.
Sydney is growing at a rapid rate, largely because of employment and lifestyle opportunities. The NSW Government has to plan for this growth which involves sharing the growth across the metropolitan area.
The Northern Beaches is allocated much less than its pro rata share because of the acknowledged transport issues. All a council can do in this situation is make sure local planning is done as well as it can be. I believe this has been achieved with the Draft Plans for Frenchs Forest and Ingleside.
Dick Persson AM
The NSW Government and the Northern Beaches Council, and formerly Warringah Council, have been working since August 2013 on a Structure Plan to deliver a new Town Centre for the Frenchs Forest area.
The new hospital makes this a great opportunity to create an exciting new centre, with new jobs in an expanded medical precinct, as well as new residential opportunities close to shops and transport. Of course, all this will bring thousands of jobs to our region.
I am pleased to advise that the draft Structure Plan will come before a special meeting of Council next Wednesday evening. These plans have taken much longer than expected, a fact that has been particularly frustrating for many residents living around the hospital or roadwork building activity. I reported in previous columns that while I understood their frustration and anger, the most important thing is to 'get it right', particularly when the final decision has such a long-term impact for so many people.
My aim in this column is to explain the process that lies ahead.
The draft plans will be released at the Council Meeting (this is the usual approach with major rezoning), so residents will not be aware of any detail before the Meeting. It is important to note that the only decision likely on the night will be to release the draft plans for an extensive exhibition immediately through into late February.
The proposals are large and complex so Council staff will be available to assist residents at drop-in sessions during the first half of December. Interactive discussion and copies of the plan will be available from Council's website from Thursday 1 December, as well as in hard copy at our customer service centres. Around 1,000 residents who have registered their email address on Councils project page will also receive an update advising them of the meeting's outcome. The exhibition will also include a series of workshops and further drop-in sessions to ensure the community are closely considered.
After the exhibition period, planning staff will prepare a further report to Council in March next year. This extended exhibition period will allow all interested parties plenty of time to form their opinions and make submissions before a final decision is made.
This new centre is a rare opportunity to plan something from the beginning, allowing the major focus to be creating a place that becomes a destination in its own right. The proximity to the hospital, with its large workforce and many patients and visitors will provide a strong foundation for new businesses looking to establish there.
Dick Persson AM
The draft Mona Vale Master Plan prepared by the former Pittwater Council has met with a very mixed reception, but clearly there is strong community concern about some elements of the plan. I believe Pittwater Council tried very hard to run a 'best practice' community engagement process, and many people have spoken very positively to me about the process.
It is also clear, however, that many others, most of who did not take up the offer to get involved, are now wishing they had.
At the meeting held three weeks ago in the Mona Vale Community Centre, I responded to their concerns by extending the exhibition period for a further month to ensure everyone had time to lodge a submission. This was met with a generous round of applause.
That period would leave the draft Plan on exhibition until mid-December and with the time needed to consider submissions it would be well into the New Year before the matter would come back to Council.
Despite the fact this draft Plan was developed totally by the former Pittwater Council staff, some groups continue to try and link it to the merger. Under these circumstances, I feel it is impossible to have a sensible community discussion about what is a very important planning issue. It is not my place to comment on the politics around forming the Northern Beaches Council, but I am not prepared to have the draft Mona Vale Place Plan used as a tool to attack the new council when it had nothing to do with it.
Given the above, I have decided to bring an Administrator's Minute to next Tuesday evening's Council Meeting proposing to withdraw the draft Plan in its current form and re-start the engagement process to ensure everyone interested is properly included. This will take some time and will enable the next version to be dealt with by the new Council, to be elected in 2017.
Earlier this week I met with leaders of the Friends of Freshwater to listen to their ideas about improving their village. This group has worked over a long period to build networks, lobby MPs and raise funds. Their work in Soldiers Avenue is inspirational and I will do my best to advance this and some of their other projects.
I also visited the 'new' Warringah Mall to play a small role in the re-opening of the beautiful Dolphin Fountain sculpture. It has been 10 years since I visited the Mall and it is hard not to be impressed with the renovation. The 'place-making' really works and is worth a visit.
Dick Persson AM
It seems my weekly columns are becoming regular ‘fact check’ pieces to correct the record of the previous week’s news, particularly concerning errors included in letters to the editor.
Let’s start with the issue of charges to the swimming clubs. I set out the issues from Council’s point of view some weeks ago. Since then Council made a compromise offer to the leaders of
the Clubs in a meeting convened by the local member, Mike Baird.
The General Manager, Mark Ferguson, left the meeting under the impression that if council made the offer to further reduce the charge by 50% in year one, and then by 25% in year two, with fee parity in year three, it was likely that the clubs would return to the pool.
Mr Ferguson set out the details in an email to the Club Presidents that day. They sought clarification that this proposal did not ‘lock’ them in to a three year contract. Mr Ferguson gave that clarification verbally and in writing immediately. The clubs are not compelled to use the pool in the second and third year if they do not wish to pay the agreed fee.
Despite these events, we still see members of the club writing letters to the Manly Daily claiming Council is trying to lock them in for three years. The Council has attempted to find a compromise but keep equity with the other fee-paying clubs. Hopefully common sense will prevail.
The second issue concerns the letters about the proposed rezoning in Frenchs Forest, in areas surrounding the new hospital. Readers would be aware of letters from residents who say they
were “led to believe” the area would be rezoned.
Other than the abandoned State Significant Site Study released by the Department of Planning in 2010, the only document that I have seen prepared as part of the current Structure Plan process draws a large circle around the whole precinct to identify an “investigation” zone. It is made clear that this does not mean a rezoning will occur.
I was not involved when all this commenced some years ago, and I cannot find any evidence of any such undertakings being made by any Council spokesperson. I invite residents to forward any information to the contrary.
Dick Persson AM