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  • Dick Persson

Read the Administrator’s Message for his updates on new recreational facilities and libraries, development of the ambitious coastal walkway from Manly to Palm Beach and big picture issues that affect the Northern Beaches.

Saturday 16 September 2017

A message from the Chief Executive Officer

This is an exciting period for the Northern Beaches, as Council enters a new phase with the election of 15 new councillors at last weekend’s poll. 

Counting is still being finalised as this column goes to print, but congratulations to all successful candidates elected from a very large field of more than 80. Our new councillors will provide an active contribution as the governing body, representing the collective interests of residents, ratepayers and the local community.

The next steps in that process will be the inauguration of the elected councillors and then those councillors electing a Mayor and Deputy Mayor at their first meeting on 26 September. The Mayoral term will be for two years This will be an historic event and I encourage the community to attend the meeting or watch it live via the Council website.

I would like to pay tribute to our Administrator Dick Persson AM, who has served Council and the people of the Northern Beaches with great distinction over the past 16 months. His term with us ends on 26 September and I know Dick is looking forward to spending more time with his grandkids and less time commuting. Thank you, Dick.

Council’s new Customer Relationship Management system was launched last week. It allows the community to report an issue to us anytime via an online portal or mobile device. Customers who register are also able to track their reported issues, ensuring better transparency and the best possible customer service.

And speaking of our customer service team, I am really pleased to announce that they have been named as a finalist for Team of the Year, Customer Experience and Customer Service Strategy at the 2017 National Local Government Customer Service Network Awards.

Mark Ferguson
Chief Executive Officer

Saturday 9 September 2017

It’s time to say goodbye.

Today’s election represents the end of the first stage of the formation of the Northern Beaches Council. While my term as Administrator doesn’t formally finish until the first meeting of the newly elected council (September 26), my role until then is largely limited to ceremonial responsibilities and assisting residents with Council issues.

This week I had the pleasure of opening the new boardwalk and road at Church Point and representing Council at the Battle for Australia ceremony organised by the National Services Association at the Dee Why Memorial. Tomorrow I will be at Stony Range to open their Spring Festival.

Each of these three activities highlights what I have most enjoyed about the last 16 months as your Administrator. Meeting with people who are giving up their time to make the world, even their small part of it, a better place. Representing the Council has brought me into contact with literally thousands of terrific and, in many cases, inspiring people.

I have enjoyed the multitude of challenges posed by forming the new Council. I have been supported by an amazing team of senior managers and dedicated staff, all of whom have put in significant extra effort and hours to fulfil their normal duties as well as working on merger related committees and reviews. I want to single out our CEO, Mark Ferguson, for particular mention. Mark’s task of building a new culture for the Northern Beaches Council was never going to be easy. Many staff of the three former Councils had served for lengthy periods and had developed appropriate loyalties. I congratulate Mark on behalf of the whole community for the success to date. No doubt new challenges will arise as the new Councillors take up their roles.

In terms of my own future, the truth is there are no work related plans and I am not actively seeking out new opportunities at this stage. I suspect it is good for me to be active and stimulated, but as many readers of grandparent age know, spending time with my four grandchildren, all under five, will be stimulating and enjoyable. A bit more golf and fishing will also be very welcome.

Thank you to all the people who have sent best wishes and letters of appreciation. I hope to be invited back for the odd opening, and to stay in touch with the many new friends I have made.

Dick Persson AM

Saturday 2 September 2017

A few months ago I mentioned in this column that the merger was on track and Council was functioning well. Needless to say one ‘fan’ wrote a letter to the Manly Daily stating that I “would say that wouldn’t I”. Well no, I wouldn’t say it if it were not true.

For the record, every two weeks I have a meeting with our CEO, Mark Ferguson, and the head of our Transformation and Performance Unit, Mark Jones, to work through the progress of the 70 current transition projects. Our Project Management Office and integration progress has been identified by the NSW Premier’s Department as one of the best performing of the 22 merged councils and we regularly assist other councils seeking advice about how to improve their approach.

The report tracks each and every project, and identifies any issues which are causing a project to fall behind or at risk of missing its deadline. Of course many projects are already completed. This list includes some relatively small (but still important) projects like telephone system integration, and many larger ones like fees and charges, permanent organisational structure, IT data centre infrastructure and the 2017/18 Operational Plan.

Many others are on track to be completed by the end of the calendar year such as our development application referral service, events management strategy, harmonisation of emergency management systems and Community Strategic Plan.

Some projects are a little behind schedule or due to an expansion in the project scope will require more time to complete, e.g. car park management, staff accommodation and ranger patrol services. None in this category will cause a major problem and will still be completed in good time.

In terms of other accountability measures, I presented a report to last week’s council meeting titled Stronger Together, Administrator’s Report to the Community. I won’t try and summarise it here but you can access it through the new Council website. It is a good summary of the new Council’s main achievements.

At the risk of encouraging another ‘fan’ letter to the Manly Daily, I believe the integration of the three previous councils into one Northern Beaches Council is on track to become the benchmark in terms of performance. This is largely due to the skill and hard work of our Council staff and managers.

Dick Persson AM

Saturday 26 August 2017

Only 14 sleeps until the Council election. How time flies.

I suspect some voters only realise there is an election coming when they see the ‘how to vote’ signs and placards start to appear. Of course this election there will be a few things that are different when they enter the polling stations.

The biggest difference is of course that they will be voting for councillors in the new Northern Beaches Council. I suspect not even the most apathetic of voters has missed that point.

For voters in the former Warringah and Manly areas, another big difference is that they will not get a chance to vote directly for the Mayor, something they had been doing for some time. Because Pittwater Council never put this question to its voters via a plebiscite, the Local Government Act prevents a newly merged Council from doing so until a vote is taken by all the voters in the new Council.

The other obstacle to a directly elected Mayor is that the Local Government Act also sets a limit on the maximum number of councillors at 15. Electing a Mayor directly would increase the number to 16. This means any future move to adopt the direct election model would also need a vote to change either the number of wards or councillors per ward (e.g. four wards with three councillors or five wards with two councillors). Only then would it be possible to add a directly elected Mayor and fit under the statutory upper limit of 15.

A surprisingly large number of people have been asking my advice about who they should vote for. Of course it would not be appropriate for me to respond with any names or groupings. But what I have been suggesting is that they vote for people who are committed to making the new Council a success. And that with candidates who have previously served on a Council, to only support those who have shown that they can work cooperatively with the other Councillors across the wide range of issues that a Council makes decisions on. This may not be easy to establish but if you ask around it will soon become clear who fits this criteria and who doesn’t.

Remember to vote on Saturday 9 September. Check Council’s website and local publications for information about where you can go to vote, and if you will be away that day you can find out about pre-poll voting at votensw.info.

Dick Persson, AM

Saturday 19 August 2017

How ironic that dog issues hound me (sorry) from the beginning to the end of my term.

My second council meeting saw 100 or so dog owners angry that I would not overturn the ‘no dogs on beaches’ ban adopted by the three previous councils. I should declare that I am a dog lover and have had a dog all my life. In fact, I acted as my Council dogcatcher for two weeks as a student working over the summer holidays. I caught one dog and he lived at my place for the next 12 years. True story.

The controversy over dogs swimming in Lagoon Reserve on weekends and public holidays sprang out of a review of off-leash areas. This was a ‘pro-dog’ initiative I took to make sure we had enough off-leash dog walking areas.

I accepted most of the recommendations from Council staff, including spending $400,000 over four years to make them safer, and not approving three new areas because the noise from barking would disturb neighbouring residents.

Staff had recommended restricting swimming in the mornings on weekends to give nearby residents some relief. My honestly held view, after considering all arguments and submissions, including video recordings and personal visits, is that more protection is warranted, so a dog swimming ban has been imposed for weekends.

I have received emails from some who think it’s wrong to favour the smaller number of neighbouring residents over the greater number of petitioners who support the status quo.

The point is, there is a much greater impact on the lives of people living above this day-long barking fest, as against the inconvenience of people who had found a nice place to give their dog a swim on weekends. While I appreciate their feelings I must confess a degree of disappointment that these correspondents appear totally uninterested in the impact on these near-neighbours.

While thousands of dog owners would like to give their pets a beach swim, the fact is there appears to be a much larger number who oppose letting dogs onto our beaches. Maybe this needs to be considered by the incoming Council.

In the meantime, it is unreasonable to burden a small number of residents with the impact of owners from far and wide bringing their dogs for a beach swim at Lagoon Reserve.

Off-leash walking and beach swimming has not been banned at Lagoon Reserve. It will still be open for off-leash walking and swimming fi ve days per week. It will also be open for off-leash walking on weekends. Just not swimming in front of the playground.

This is called a compromise.

Read the more detailed outline of this decision

Dick Persson, AM

Wednesday 16 August 2017

While it is clear Lagoon Reserve is valued by a very large number of dog owners wanting to give their dog a good off leash walk, it has also become a destination for owners wanting to give their dogs a swim.
 
Having visited the area as well as considering submissions including video recordings from both dog owners and neighbours upset by dogs barking, I formed the view that the issue is really about whether this area has become an unapproved beach for dog swimming.
 
There is no doubt the area between Pittwater Rd and the playground should remain an off-leash dog walking area, the question is more, “Was it intended for the area in front of the playground to be a beach for dog swimming?”
 
The Council sign adjacent to the playground includes a notice prohibiting dogs from beaches. While some may argue this is not intended to cover the Lagoon Reserve beach only 10 metres away, the intention was always to apply to both the Lagoon Reserve beach and the coastal beach a few hundred metres away.
 
Given its proximity to residential houses, this area would not be chosen by any Council as a dog/beach swimming area if the Council decided to relax its ban. It is fair to say it has become one inadvertently by the failure of the former Manly Council to enforce its signposted ban.
 
It is important to remember that the three previous councils had all adopted zero tolerance policies for dogs on beaches. Therefore it is not surprising that dog owners keen to ‘swim’ their dog are flocking to this location in increasing numbers, particularly on weekends and public holidays. With this comes over-excitement, boisterous playing and barking in a confined area. Certainly barking levels increase significantly once a ‘pack’ forms.
 
The build-up in numbers over time, particularly on weekends and public holidays, has created a serious noise problem for residents located on the other side of the Lagoon. I appreciate that while this group involves far fewer people than those in favour of no restrictions, the level of impact on their lives is very much greater, with most weekends and public holidays producing almost constant all-day noise from barking dogs. I dispute the claims by some that they have never heard a dog bark.
 
It is clear that a good number of dog owners are either unaware of this noise impact or are of the view that the neighbouring residents should simply put up with it. In conversations during my site visits, I had a number of dog owners say, “Well they should not have bought a house there if they don’t like it”. This to me is not a valid argument. One resident has lived there for over 40 years.
 
Local residents everywhere on the Northern Beaches should be able to enjoy relative peace and quiet in their homes during weekends and public holidays. By restricting the area adjacent to the beach to on-leash for weekends and public holidays they will at least have two days peace.
 
The area will remain fully off-leash during the week, which I believe represents a fair compromise between dog owners and residents. Dog owners will still be able to use the area seven days a week, just not for swimming on the weekends.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Now that we are less than a month out from elections, Council has moved into what is referred to as caretaker mode. This means no major decisions that would limit the actions of a new Council such as committing to major expenditure or senior appointments.

Having said that, a lot happened during last week, with two very big announcements.

At the extraordinary Council meeting last Tuesday night I adopted recommendations to establish a Charitable Trust to allow tax deductible donations to help pay for a major concert/performance space in Mona Vale. Another decision was to authorise the preparation of a business case looking at the feasibility of building such a centre.

The idea was brought to me by the local member and Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, the Principal of Mona Vale Public School, Greg Jones, and Head Teacher of Creative and Performing Arts at Pittwater High School, Dr Martin Hardy. The idea being that Council would build a major concert performance centre on land made available by the public school in the heart of Mona Vale.

The case is compelling. The Northern Beaches has no such space, yet has thousands of active musicians, both young and old. If the business case holds up, I am confident there will be enough philanthropic support to match Council funds to make it happen. It will be a major boost for arts and culture on the Northern Beaches.

The second major announcement was Council’s decision to purchase the Pasadena at Church Point. This eyesore, in its burnt-out state, has been raised with me as often as any other issue. So many people have requested that Council buy the site and turn it into a ‘headland’ park.

Again, Rob Stokes came to the fore as Council needs to partner with the NSW Government to raise the funds to buy this large private property on the waterfront. I had been discussing this with Mr Stokes for a number of months and he had also raised the desirability of us acquiring the site for parkland on many occasions. Last week he contacted me to advise that our advocacy had been successful and if Council was willing to buy the site, by resumption if necessary, he could secure the necessary funds from the State Government.

It was easy to say yes to that offer. Deal done and announced.

Making these two wonderful announcements, knowing how much joy they will bring to so many, and for decades to come, made it hard for me to stop smiling all week. I suspect the life of an Administrator doesn’t get any better than this.

Dick Persson, AM

Saturday 5 August 2017

As the countdown to the September 9 Council election marches on it is pleasing to see completion of some of the complex issues facing Council and the community during my 16 months as Council Administrator.

Last week I wrote about the final outcomes of the 15 year Sportsgrounds Strategy. This week I am pleased to report on the progress of the long-awaited Hospital Structure Plan, setting out Council’s position in regard to property re-zoning to give effect to the creation of the new town centre adjacent to the new Northern Beaches Hospital.

Given the massive implications for many residents living in or around the hospital precinct I organised a special meeting of Council to deal with it. I also organised a two-hour presentation and Q & A session before the formal Council meeting to ensure everyone understood the plan, and that people wanting to express a view had the opportunity to do so.

More than 40 people spoke on the night, and it should be acknowledged that most were very unhappy with the plan because their land was not earmarked for a re-zoning.

I was proud of Council staff for the very professional way they handled themselves. While many speakers were upset, many acknowledged this fact. After three hours of listening I finally adopted the plan with a couple of small amendments.

The matter has now been referred to the NSW Planning Department for further consideration.

I believe the revised plan, with its greater floor space ratios, will deliver an even better outcome in terms of the nature of the new town centre.

The revised plan continues to press for 10 percent of floor space to be made available for affordable housing, with a 15 percent figure being set for the centre of the new development.

Another feature of the revised plan concerned the future of the Warringah Aquatic Centre (WAC). Previous consideration of demolition of the WAC attracted the largest number of submissions. The revised plan leaves the WAC where it is. The new high school will be built in the area behind the WAC and the existing baseball infrastructure will be fully protected.

A new precinct plan will now be developed for the whole WAC area.

Thank you for all those who participated in this overly lengthy process. I suspect final judgement will not be possible until the project is completed.

Dick Persson, AM

Saturday 29 July 2017

Last Tuesday evening, Council met in Mona Vale Memorial Hall with a busy agenda attracting an audience of around 80 people. Among the agenda items was the proposed 15 year Sportsfield Strategy which has been out for community consultation.

The community engagement process attracted many submissions, with a number of clear messages for the Council. There are strong concerns about the possible conversion of any part of Warringah Golf Course; however there is also a clear message that residents want the Council to ensure we meet the community’s demand to play sport and provide enough good quality playing fields and that conversion should only be considered as a last resort.

After 12 months debate and consultation, the approach adopted is very much a compromise, where Council will only consider golf course conversion for half the course as a last resort. We will do everything possible to meet the current shortfall (namely 21 fields, increasing to 41 over the next 15 years by other means), including the use of artificial surfaces, increased access to school ovals and purchase of new land in the new release areas of Warriewood and Ingleside.

During the discussion I presented a photo provided to me by a parent showing his nine year old daughter’s weekend soccer pitch. It was absolutely bare, with no grass in sight. I used this to illustrate to the many letter writers to the Manly Daily who think there is no problem, and to highlight that there is no capacity to use grass playing fi elds for more than 25-35 hours per week. At the moment 90% of our fields are used for many more hours than this recommended benchmark, and many of them are seriously worn thin half way through the winter season. The fact that people drive by and see a sportsfi eld unused at a point in time, does not mean there is no real shortage.

Following the adoption of this compromise strategy, the same 20-year tender for the golf course and District Park has now been released, as was planned by the former Warringah Council. The only difference is that the tender will only offer 20 years for the southern nine holes and four times five year leases over the northern nine holes, to be executed if the Council is satisfi ed it does not need the land to meet the playing field shortfall.

The tender will also cover the District Park facilities, including the bowling and tennis facilities, with the hope of seeing the formation of one sporting club for all the sports located there. The final decisions on this tender will be made by the in-coming elected Council later this year.

Thank you to all who have participated in this important community discussion.

Dick Persson, AM

Saturday 22 July 2017

There are many features of the Northern Beaches that are truly extraordinary. I suspect there are only a few people who have had the opportunity to get to know all or even most of them.

Among the best of these extraordinary features are areas of beautiful bushland. Some are very well known, such as Manly Dam War Memorial Park, Katandra Sanctuary and North Head. And of course we have large areas of natural bushland in and around the state and national parks.

I suspect most readers, particularly residents from the northern and southern suburbs of the Northern Beaches, would be surprised to hear that one of these ‘jewels’ exists right in the heart of Dee Why. That’s right, Dee Why.

This week I accepted an invitation from the committee that helps the Council manage the Stony Range Reserve. This 3.3 hectare reserve is actually a Regional Botanic Garden and is truly extraordinary in so many ways.

It has a collection of native plants that is hard to believe. It has an amazing rainforest gully that evokes the feeling one usually only experiences in northern NSW. It has a tranquillity that surprises you given its proximity to the hustle and bustle of Dee Why. It has walks for all ages, including children. And most importantly, it has a group of dedicated volunteers who turn up every week to ensure the gardens are not just maintained, but continuously improve.

If you appreciate gardens and bushland please put Stony Range on your list of places to visit and take the family. There are BBQs and picnic tables as well as many places to just sit, read a book or reflect on the natural beauty surrounding you.

Next Tuesday at Mona Vale will mark my last Council meeting before we enter the caretaker period. There are some important issues including the Northern Beaches Sportsground Strategy and Strategic Implementation Plan for consideration.

I know I can speak for the whole Northern Beaches community in expressing shock and sadness at the tragic death of Justine Ruszczyk in Minneapolis last weekend. Many Council staff knew Justine and members of her family, including her brother Jason who works at Council.

To Justine’s family and close friends I would like to express our condolences during this unbelievably sad time.

Dick Persson AM

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