Dick Persson AM
A highlight of the week was opening the Northern Beaches Girls Get Active Day, organised by Sport NSW and Council.
Council recently became one of the first local government members of the Girls Get Active program which is designed to encourage young women to explore all the sporting opportunities available to them.
There were around 100 girls from four local schools participating. They heard from six elite sportswomen who represent at State and National levels in a range of sports – hockey, netball, cricket, rugby union, surf lifesaving and football.
It was a great success and our sportswomen inspired our next generation of sporting participants. Council plays a huge role in enabling girls and boys, men and women to get active – an increasingly important role helping people keep healthy especially with growing childhood and adult obesity.
An example is the new PCYC that will be opening its doors next week in Dee Why. This fabulous new facility built by Council will provide for social, sporting, cultural and recreational activities for future generations to come.
Council’s commitment to improving sporting facilities is evident with almost $7.6M allocated to sportsgrounds improvements in the Draft Budget and Operational Plan for the next financial year. This includes works for new synthetic pitches at Cromer Park and Lionel Watts and other upgrades at Forestville and Warriewood.
Council will undertake infrastructure improvements for sporting and surf lifesaving clubs to increase accessibility, participation and inclusiveness. There is also funding for sportsfield renewal, sport buildings works and sports club capital assistance programs.
Let’s not forget the spectacular coastal walkway and cycleway from Palm Beach to Manly. There is also extensive investment in our playgrounds with two major new inclusive playgrounds at Manly Dam and Lionel Watts Reserve and we're looking at 40 playgrounds to ensure we create fun, safe and accessible playgrounds for everyone.
Council will continue to listen to the community and I encourage people to get involved.
Every job has its challenges. A major challenge in every job is communication.
As Council Administrator I am constantly frustrated by the difficulty in getting out key messages to Northern Beaches residents.
For example I am still receiving emails about the sportsground study from people who have clearly not read any of the information that Council has provided to assist in informing this important community discussion.
Obviously, this weekly column is one of my most effective vehicles for getting my message to a large number of residents. A few weeks ago I arranged for the same message to be sent to those who subscribe to Council’s e-newsletter to try and broaden its reach.
I also face the dilemma that if I try and correct every error in letters to the editor or in media reporting it comes across as very defensive. So I rarely do.
Today I am making an exception to correct the record in regard to last weekend’s newspaper and TV reporting of the results of a survey comparing community views of the performance of merged and unmerged councils.
Clearly this issue is very important, both for the residents and the 1800 staff who are working so hard to provide excellent services.
The survey referred to was carried out only four to five months after the mergers.
The media reports claimed that merged councils were three points behind non-merged councils in a number of the areas measured. No mention was made that this was within the ‘margin of error’ for surveys and was therefore pretty much meaningless.
The results reported were ‘rolled up’ averages. So when you look at the actual figures for the Northern Beaches Council (NBC) and compare them to the non-merged council average you see a very different picture:
OVERALL PERFORMANCE OF NBC: 65
OVERALL PERFORMANCE FOR NON-MERGED COUNCILS: 58
This clear eight point advantage over the long established councils came after only four to five months of operation for the newly merged council. This story was accurately reported by the Manly Daily months ago.
I have no doubt we have improved since then and I thank our dedicated council staff for their hard work and initiative to deliver such a strong result.
We know that we have further improvements to go and we will continue to strive for excellence.
Dick Persson AM
I thought it best to give sporting fields and golf courses a rest for a few weeks and focus on some positive news about cultural facilities on the Northern Beaches.
Yesterday I had the great pleasure and honour of officially opening the new Library at Belrose, adjacent to the much-loved Glen Street Theatre.
Moving the Library from its previous site to the new space was part of the previous Warringah Council’s clever plan to create a cultural hub at Belrose. In acknowledgement of the leadership and drive to create the project, I invited former Warringah Mayor, Michael Regan to act as the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion.
The idea of bringing together the Library and the Theatre into the one space is inspired. It will create a cultural hub that will bring benefits to both institutions, as well as to the many thousands of residents who will visit the precinct to visit the Library or attend a function or show.
I suspect many readers may not often visit this area, but I want to stress how impressed everyone who attended the official opening was with this modern, state-of-the-art Library. It is a beautiful design, both inside and out. It will provide the most up-to-date systems and equipment, at the same time as allowing easy interaction with the always-helpful Library staff.
I encourage readers to pay a visit, and better still, attend a show at Glen Street Theatre. I suspect many residents, especially those from the previous Manly and Pittwater Councils have yet to do so. You won’t be disappointed.
One piece of information provided in my speaking notes for the official opening really surprised me. The Northern Beaches Council has around 174,300 members of its six libraries. I’m not sure how this compares with other areas, but I suspect it is at the high end of the list.
Clearly we love our libraries and we now have a brand new facility at Belrose called Glen Street Library, that everyone who visits will enjoy.
Congratulations to all involved in envisioning, designing, building and of course staffing this wonderful new cultural asset for the Northern Beaches community.
Dick Persson AM
Next Tuesday night’s Council meeting (6.30pm Civic Centre, Dee Why) will have another full agenda dealing with a wide range of important matters.
One unusual item will canvass the issue of what the Council can do to assist residents in dealing with ticks. Most Northern Beaches residents are acutely aware of the problem because of the quite serious consequences of ‘tick bite’ for themselves, their children/grandchildren and dogs.
I was quite surprised at how much the problem seems to have grown since I left my stint as Administrator of Warringah Council in 2008. Recognising that the issue affected residents across the whole area of the new Council, I raised the question last year of what the new Council might do to try and assist in some way.
I was hoping initially that a significant Council grant may be useful in encouraging the development of tick eradication measures. Regrettably this idea didn’t travel very far because of the complexity of managing ticks across our diverse local environment. It seems we are destined to have to learn to live with ticks for at least the foreseeable future.
We can however make a contribution to closing the gap in our knowledge of tick management. To that end I have been convinced that funding a three-year partnership with a university to research how to better manage the risk of tick encounter and how to better deal with tick bites will be worthwhile.
Given that this issue affects such a large percentage of the Northern Beaches Council area, it is a good project to fund from the Council’s Merger Savings Fund. Hopefully the findings and outputs from this project will benefit all our residents.
So at next Tuesday’s Council meeting I will deal with a report recommending the funding of a PhD research project involving $75,000 over the next three years.
Given that so many residents deal with tick bites now, I have arranged for the Council to provide links on our website to connect people with the best health advice available. I expect this to be available in the near future.
The Council meeting will also deal with the Draft 15 year Sportsground Strategy for the Northern Beaches Council. It is proposed that this Draft Strategy will be placed on exhibition for a further 28 days. The Council paper reports on the extensive community engagement undertaken over the last two months and proposes a way forward for the incoming elected Council.
This year, each Council meeting has been watched by between 160 and 260 people. If you can’t make it to a meeting you can view it online.
Dick Persson AM
I suspect many readers shared my dismay at the images revealed through the media last week of literally millions of items of plastic waste covering the once pristine shores of a very remote Pacific Island.
Public awareness of the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans has been rising slowly over recent years. If you are not aware of the extent, just put ‘plastic and ocean pollution’ in a search engine. There are many, many stories and images showing the extent of this emerging crisis.
While the visual images are shocking on their own, even more shocking is the scientific evidence about micro-plastic particles entering the food chain. We are at risk of consuming them through the seafood and salt we eat, and the consequential heath risks are really very serious.
This issue is slowly, but steadily emerging on the National and State political agenda. Draft legislation to stop supermarkets and other retailers using plastic shopping bags is being developed in a number of States. The recent community engagement forums run by the Northern Beaches Council as part of the preparation of our first Community Strategic Plan have also affirmed the very high community importance placed on preserving our environment. A key question confronting us is, “what can we do at both the Council and individual level”?
I believe the community expects Council to be a leader, both in our operations as a business and also engaging and supporting community action.
What can individuals do? Well a good start is to make a family commitment to start trying to reduce their use. Buying non-plastic shopping bags for the supermarket shop is a great start. I did this earlier this year and have only forgotten to take them with me once. If you need ideas, our sustainability team and waste education team provide fantastic events, workshops and talks for individuals, households and businesses.
I’ve heard calls to ban plastic bags. I’d like to go further – to set a stretch target as a community to wipe out single use plastics from the Northern Beaches. It’s a very ambitious goal, but one I believe is much easier to deliver as one Council. It would have been a nonsense for an individual Council on the Northern Beaches to do this without a unified approach.
With this opportunity in mind, I will be calling for Council to take the lead and develop a plan to both reduce its own plastic consumption (especially through the eradication of single use products) and support the community and business in further reducing theirs. I will also propose that Council further funds community initiatives designed to change behaviours to provide the support needed by grassroots groups in tackling wicked environmental problems.
Maybe we could achieve National best practice for a local council!
Dick Persson AM
Our amazing culture of volunteerism is one of the things that defines Australia. Many think what we have is just ‘normal’ and exists in all other countries. Well it doesn’t. It is difficult to back up this claim, it is a view shared by all who travel widely and deal with the not-for-profit sector internationally.
I was delighted to be invited as Guest of Honour to last week’s opening of the Northern Beaches Volunteer Expo, a major initiative for National Volunteer Week. The Expo was officially opened by Gemma Rygate, CEO of the Centre for Volunteering.
In discussions with Gemma, she affirmed my view that Northern Beaches residents were at the ‘top of the tree’ in terms of commitment to volunteering, both in terms of the number of people involved, and the span of the activities. The Expo highlighted this with 37 community groups having stalls, with volunteers offering encouragement and information to the hundreds of people who came along to learn more. Hopefully many decided to become involved in one or more of the worthwhile causes needing fresh legs to provide the assistance so many need and appreciate.
I take this opportunity to thank the many thousands of Northern Beaches volunteers for what you are giving back and to encourage others who may have the time to become involved. If you would like more information please contact the Council’s Volunteer Coordinator at 9976 1556.
It was a year ago that I received a call from then Premier, Mike Baird, offering me the role of Administrator of a new Northern Beaches Council. I considered it an honour to be asked by the Premier to implement one of his ‘riskiest’ policies in his own electorate. I also was genuinely excited by the opportunity to ‘come back’, at least in part, to the area and community I had grown so fond of during my six years as Administrator of Warringah Council.
I am pleased to report that after 12 months, your new Council is well on track to complete the complex and challenging task of truly becoming one organisation. I am confident all major organisational features of merging three organisations will be completed by the time you go to the polls on Saturday 9 September. Yes it’s only four months away.
I want to also publicly thank the hundreds of staff who have worked above and beyond to make it a success.
Dick Persson AM
A special Council meeting was held last Wednesday evening to consider the Draft Budget and Operational Plan for 2017/18. These documents are now out on exhibition until Sunday 4 June.
One issue that will cause considerable disappointment is the proposed 9.4% rate increase for former Warringah residents. When the State Government announced
the council amalgamations in May last year, the Minister said there would be no rate increases for four years. This claim was not the complete story.
The statement should have said there will be no new increases, apart from those already determined by the Independent Pricing Regulatory and Tribunal (IPART),
or those brought about by changes in property valuation.
In 2014 IPART increased the Warringah rates over a four year period by 3.1%, 3%, 3% and 9.4%. The first 3 years were seen as inflation adjustments, the fourth
(the 9.4%) was to allow the Council to maintain its services. IPART considered the independent polling and determined that while the community did not favour
a larger rise to increase service levels, it did determine the above increases to maintain existing services. IPART’s process is rigorous and they only make
determinations for above inflation increases where it is clearly warranted and community support is established.
There will be no further rate increases allowed for at least the next three years, and the forward projections outlined in the Draft Budget indicate a strong position for the next 10 years.
Another NSW Government decision, to require fire service levies to be collected through Council rating systems instead of through private insurance premiums, has
also required a new property valuation. As with the last one, this will see Council’s overall rate revenue stay the same but will see some rates increase and some decrease, depending on the extent of the valuation change.
The Draft Budget includes many positive proposals, such as the record $114m capital works budget, but it is impossible to cover the detail in this column. I would urge residents interested in their Council to visit Council's website and look at the material and make a submission if appropriate.
Dick Persson AM
Readers may recall I announced last year the creation of a central fund within Council’s accounts to collect all identified recurrent savings from the merger of the three councils. The idea being that these savings would then be used for special initiatives, as a dividend for all residents arising directly from the merger.
The Merger Savings Fund has been established and current estimates have it at around $5.5 million per annum, although it will take a while for it to build to that level.
Next week’s special Council Meeting will consider the proposed Operation Plan and Budget for 2017/18. I will also present some broad proposals for how to spend the Merger Savings for the next three or four years. Of course the in-coming elected Council may decide to change these broad categories, but I have developed them in collaboration with the leaders of the Implementation Advisory Group (Michael Regan, Jean Hay and Kylie Ferguson) and have their strong support.
On Thursday I met with the members of the Council’s Arts and Culture Strategic Reference Group, Chaired by former Warringah Mayor Michael Regan. Having met with a number of them over recent months I was able to confirm my support for a number of the initiatives they have raised. I announced these would be included in what I would present to Council next week.
The decision to fill in ‘the missing links’ in the coastal walkway between Manly and Palm Beach has received very strong support across the entire Northern Beaches community. This project provides a great opportunity to include a major public art program. I will be proposing a period of planning to make sure we get it right, then four years of funding of $500,000 per annum. Council will procure as much as possible from the Northern Beaches resident artists.
I am confident this initiative will deliver great enjoyment to all who use the coastal walkway, but also a great boost to the local arts community.
Many residents would be aware of the tremendous success of the Creative Space established by Warringah Council in 2014. This investment has provided a great boost to the local arts community and many have called for a similar facility to be provided in the northern area of the Council.
With this in mind Council is planning another Creative Space in the Avalon/ Newport area, with community consultation and planning work to commence immediately. These initiatives, along with the public art commitment for the Coastal Walkway, represent a strong statement by the Northern Beaches Council of the importance of arts and culture to the broader community.
Dick Persson AM
My last two columns have focused on the 15 year Sportsground and Golf Course review. As expected, release of the Discussion Paper has generated a stream of correspondence. This is what was hoped for.
I would like to move off this topic for a while, but before doing so I want to deal with the issue of me “deciding to continue with the project”. To be clear (again), I will not be making any decisions that will affect anyone’s tenure. In fact only last month I extended the Warringah Golf Club lease for two further years, ensuring their long-term future would be determined by an elected Council. By me adopting a Strategy all implementation decisions will fall to the next Council - they will be free to love it or leave it.
Next week’s Council Meeting falls on the Wednesday (due to Anzac Day) and will be held in the Mona Vale Memorial Hall, from 6.30pm. The following week there will be an Extraordinary Meeting to consider the release of next year’s Budget and Operational Plan, commencing at 7pm in the Dee Why Chambers. Members of the public are always welcome. You can also follow meetings live on the internet.
Following on from any Council Meeting a number of items go on exhibition for feedback. It is through this consultation process that Council is able to establish the community’s views on a particular topic. At the moment we have a number of items open for feedback on Council's Your Say page (yoursay.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au), like the Shape 2028 Community Strategic Plan. This Plan will help guide Council decision making for the next decade so I encourage everyone to make a submission on this and the other projects you will find online there.
Through community consultation Council is also able to help shape what the future of the Northern Beaches will look like, a perfect example of this is the new and greatly expanded Walter Gors Park in the Dee Why town centre. Last week I had the pleasure of opening this park and if you haven’t had an opportunity to visit yet, look for a chance to take the kids or grandkids soon. It is truly a fantastic space, with something for people of all ages. Take your table tennis bats and ball, take a picnic or food to cook on the barbeques, or just enjoy sitting under a tree watching the community enjoyment as they embrace this new place.
I was involved in the former Warringah Council decision to dedicate five Council-owned houses to create this major park for the town centre. I want to acknowledge the great job of Council staff and former Councillors to produce this amazing outcome. This is something the local community really needed, and judging by the huge number of users, is already really embracing.
Dick Persson AM
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