Administrator's Message

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

A few weeks ago I wrote about my role in respect to important matters on public exhibition or out for comment. I said that I would limit my input to correcting the record or matters of clarification.

Today’s column attempts to do that in regard to the draft Mona Vale Place Plan, currently on exhibition, and the Golf Course Review.

A letter to the MD earlier this week started with "Dick Persson and the Northern Beaches Council want to turn Mona Vale into another Kings Cross…" Well, for the record, the draft plan for Mona Vale currently on exhibition was 100 per cent developed by staff of the former Pittwater Council under the direction of Pittwater elected councillors. All the work was done before the merger. My only role has been to put their work on public exhibition.

To this end, I convened a meeting last Saturday to help local residents better understand the plan. More than 150 people attended. Given the strong concern expressed about the proposed height of some of the buildings, I agreed to extend the consultation period for another month.

In regard to the Golf Course Review, work is well underway and Council will release a discussion paper later this month to commence community engagement on this important issue.

Not only will it report on the current situation with all 13 northern beaches golf clubs, including the seven owned by the public, it will include an audit of the existing playing fields, their current usage levels, and comment on other available land (including the possible use of school ovals). It will also include figures about the volume of people playing golf as well as the other sports which requested the review.

This review is in response to calls from sporting groups as well as an acknowledgement by some golf clubs that they will not be viable in the long term. It is also a more strategic approach to the long term management of public open space.

I cannot stress enough that Council is listening and intends to work closely with the community and stakeholders.

No decisions have been made nor will be made until a thorough and informed consultation process occurs, which is likely to extend into late 2017 when an elected Council will be in place.

Dick Persson AM

Last week I mentioned that conducting citizenship ceremonies is one of the most enjoyable parts of my role as Administrator.

Another of the most enjoyable parts of the role is interacting with many of the hundreds of community groups and their leaders who make such an important contribution to the wonderfully rich quality of life enjoyed by people lucky enough to live on the Northern Beaches.

The three previous Councils, and now the Northern Beaches Council, work closely with most of these groups to provide assistance wherever possible. One of the important ways this is done is through our community grants program.

At Tuesday night's Council meeting I had the pleasure of formally approving grants to 28 local groups of between one and two thousand dollars. While these grants are relatively small, they play an important role in helping groups improve their service delivery and so providing greater community benefit.

A run-through of the groups receiving Council grants reveals an amazingly diverse range of activities. I won't list them all here but will mention some of the activities to illustrate the point:

A number of community bands; a number of community garden projects; domestic violence services; art support projects; indigenous and European history projects; men's shed; playgroups; hobby clubs; youth, seniors and disability support programs and so on.

The Council small grants are important to the ongoing operations of many of these types of community service organisations, but so is the range of other support provided by Council staff.

As part of the merger program the NSW Government has provided one million dollars for community grants as part of its Stronger Communities Fund. Round 1 closed this week and I look forward to working with local State MPs to select the recipients.

There will be a second round opening on April 3 next year. Please contact Council or refer to our website if you need more information about this grants program.

Dick Persson AM

I've often said that one of the most enjoyable functions of this job is conducting Citizenship ceremonies. This week has been particularly enjoyable because I conducted two ceremonies on consecutive nights, firstly in the old Manly Council chambers, and then in the Mona Vale Memorial Hall.

These events are full of joy, with a healthy mix of pride. Often we see four or five members of the one family come forward to collect their new Citizenship Certificates. There is no need to prompt them as they pose for photos, with wide beaming smiles the order of the day.

Talking to the families, it is heartening to hear them talk of the reasons why they have chosen to make Australia their new and permanent home. I suppose there are no surprises here but it does make you reflect on how lucky we are.

Next Saturday I will be convening two major public engagement sessions in the Mona Vale Memorial Hall. Both involve issues that have involved residents working with Council staff over a long time.

The first session will begin at 1pm with a presentation from staff who have developed a parking plan for Church Point. Rather than bring it to a regular Council meeting which limits the number of people who can speak to the proposal, I thought it would be better, given the importance to the residents of the area, to arrange a separate meeting so that more of these very concerned residents could have their say.

The second session will begin at 4pm and will allow people to get further information about the draft Mona Vale Place Plan that has been on exhibition for three weeks. This is a complex plan and at the Council meeting where it came up I was asked by one speaker to arrange a special meeting where people who had absorbed the detail have a chance to ask further questions of the report's authors.

This meeting is to provide that opportunity and I look forward to hearing directly from the many interested people.

Dick Persson AM

I thought I would use this week's column to present the facts as I see them in regard to the issue of charges for some of the swimming clubs using the Andrew Boy Charlton Swimming Centre.

Firstly, the fee being requested includes a 50% discount on the fee charged to schools and other clubs seeking to have exclusive use of all or part of the pool. For the Manly Swimming Club this represents about $3 per week for a three and a half hour session. The club also charges about $3 per week for membership.

The fees proposed are slightly lower than those that apply to the clubs using the Warringah Aquatic Centre. Interestingly, these clubs charge their members about double the membership fees of the Manly Swimming Club. No doubt to cover the Council charges.

There is no evidence of any kind supporting the claim that the three clubs had an 'agreement for life' that no fee would ever be charged. To the contrary, Manly Council passed a resolution in 2010 agreeing to a fee waiver for a three year period, a clear repudiation of the “for life” claim. The resolution of Manly Council was adopted by nine votes to one and was supported by the then Mayor.

That same 2010 resolution called on the clubs to increase their memberships to enable them to pay the 50% discounted fee.

Manly Council Deputy General Manager, Ms Beth Lawsen, wrote to the clubs in October and November 2015 advising the clubs that if they were seeking to have exclusive use of lanes for free they would need to produce their financial statements to support a hardship claim.

The clubs refused to do so, arguing that Council had no right to the information.

I have met with Club representatives and heard their case directly. Based on information currently before Council it is my view they have no case.

They are simply being asked to pay a ratepayer subsidised fee for exclusive use which is the same that applies to other not-for-profit swimming clubs.

Swimming club leaders have talked of a boycott unless they get their way. I sincerely hope this does not occur and that their members return to their sport as soon as possible.

On another note please be aware that the date and time for the community meeting for the Mona Vale Place Plan has changed to Saturday 29 October, 4-6pm to be held at the Mona Vale Memorial Hall in Park Street, Mona Vale.

In today's column I would like to clarify a number of issues about Council processes. Particularly about matters that are approved by Council to be placed on public exhibition for community consultation.

Some matters are required under the Local Government Act to be formally placed on exhibition (usually for between 28 and 40 days) before a final decision can be made. This process ensures the community has the opportunity to have their say before the matter is brought back to Council. In these situations the final Council paper usually provides a summary of the responses and often highlights the issues that have been accepted or not.

Of course as soon as a matter is put on exhibition the debate begins. In our case it is usually played out in the letters pages of the Manly Daily. Unfortunately this often leads to errors being presented as fact. Manly Daily news stories, on the other hand, are usually more accurate and reliable.

For a Council to put a draft proposal on exhibition it is likely the majority of Councillors agree with it to some significant degree. That doesn't mean they don't consider the community responses, or that they never change their mind.

In many circumstances the Mayor may choose to argue the merits of the draft proposal.

With a Council under Administration the Administrator is in a slightly more complicated situation. Because they are the final decision maker it is difficult for them to argue for one side or the other without people feeling there is no point in expressing their opinion during the consultation phase.

Some good examples highlighting this predicament involve some of the issues currently on exhibition.

Take the draft Mona Vale Place Plan for example. This was a plan prepared by staff of the old Pittwater Council over a number of years, and involved extensive community engagement. The draft Plan contains some contentious elements which are now under fire, with some of the comments/claims being made in the letters pages being wrong or factually incorrect. The community is getting very little information about many of the positive elements of the Plan.

Some other matters currently on exhibition are the Entitlements for Councillors, the Coastal Erosion Policy, the Golf Course/Sportsfield Review and the Manly Swimming Centre Fitness Centre fees and charges.

As Administrator I won't be getting into the community debate, other than to correct the record about my own views and statements.

My request to residents interested in these types of issues is to go online to the Council website, or obtain the documents from one of our Customer Service Centres, and read the policy documents to form your own opinion.

Readers of Thursday's excellent and balanced Manly Daily coverage of the Warringah Golf Course issue would be aware that the Northern Beaches Council is about to embark on a major community consultation process over the best way to use this Council-owned land into the future.

This issue is due to come before the next Council Meeting on 27 September.

Warringah Council had previously determined to keep the land (part of District Park) as an 18-hole golf course and was heading towards putting it to open tender for a new 20-year lease. It was trying to link the golf activity to other uses in District Park.

Since my appointment as Administrator of the new Northern Beaches Council in May, I have met regularly with a wide range of groups, particularly those responsible for organising and managing sport across the Northern Beaches.

At every one of those meetings I heard the same story - "We do not have enough sporting fields to meet the demand, especially that coming from the growing interest for more female participation". At each of those meetings, when I pointed out the prohibitive costs of buying new lands for sporting fields, they responded with a request that the Council review its allocation of Council-owned open space to golf. I am talking about the leadership of the Sporting Union, of Cricket, of AFL, of Soccer and of rugby codes.

Council owns seven golf courses and there are another six in private ownership.

Of course members of Warringah Golf Club and the many golfers who play, as members of the public, will be upset that the previous plans have been put on hold and may not happen. As a member of two public course golf clubs I can imagine how they feel.

This is a very big decision and Council will ensure a very thorough and informed community consultation process occurs before any decision is made. This approach is supported by the previous Mayors of Warringah, Manly and the Deputy-Mayor of Pittwater, along with the other members of the Council Implementation Advisory Group.

I noticed some commentary on social media about this being a plan to allow residential development on these lands. I can assure readers this is absolutely untrue and will not happen.

At the end of the community discussion on the best way to use this Council-owned open space, the only options will be either (a) an 18-hole golf course, (b) a 9-hole course with 5 or 6 paying fields or (c) no golf, with 10-12 playing fields plus 2-3 hectares of new parklands.

I hope all involved in this discussion do so respecting the points of view of each of the participants. I assure everyone that is the approach I will take.