Food Organics in Green Bin (coming in the distant future)

At the moment many Ku-ring-gai households are just chucking their food scraps in the red bin and believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing. Red bin waste is sent to Woodlawn where this mix of organic and non-organic material is used to generate electricity and re-habilitate an old mining site. And back in 2017, the EPA valued the Woodlawn concept so much that when I inquired about holding a separate composting trial for Ku-ring-gai, I was discouraged by the EPA as it would cause the Woodlawn bioreactor to cease working to spec.

Somehow things have changed and now in 2022, the EPA’s position is that all councils must implement FOGO (Food Organics and Garden Organics) thrown into the green bin by 2030. Ku-ring-gai is not yet ready to implement this and while some people at other councils have been critical of the delay, I don’t think the criticism is well thought out or justified. There is currently very limited capacity in NSW to support FOGO; it requires facilities that have not yet been built, so Ku-ring-gai will join in when the market develops and the capacity is there. FOGO will likely come at an increased cost to ratepayers due to the complexity of dealing with food contamination in green waste, and in the interim our practice of capturing organic emissions to generate electricity is quite a reasonable one.

There will also be new practices that come along with FOGO, especially for apartment dwellers. At the moment it’s sufficient for many apartments to have red, yellow and blue bins. In the future we will have to add the additional green bin and the concentration of predominantly food organics (only) will be particularly smelly.

Lindfield Village Hub Confidentiality and Communication

Earlier this week the councillors were given an update on the Village Hub and I am satisfied with recent progress. Having said that I want to talk about confidentiality and communication as they both affect the way that the public perceives the project.

At the moment much of the project remains confidential because it is against the public interest for particular details to be released. We are negotiating with potential developers to see which one can give us the best design at the best cost, and it is inappropriate for them to see each other’s designs and costings. If developers knew what each other were proposing, they would work less hard to produce a good design and/or offer an inferior price, and it is ultimately you as the ratepayer that loses out (by tens of millions of dollars).

However the project has been plagued throughout its life with poor communication which I believe has been less frequent and detailed than it could be. Members of the public are keen to hear what’s going on with Council’s biggest project to date (biggest in size, biggest in cost, biggest in success and/or failure) and for council to sometimes not provide an update for well over half a year is disappointing. Also, sometimes council votes on village hub-related matters but all of the file attachments are flagged as confidential. And in the absence of regular communication, members of the public start to speculate in unhelpful ways.

What’s frustrating for me as an individual councillor is that I’ve done the best that I can to improve project communication. With the mode of communication, I asked for more information to be made available on our website and this has been done. I also asked that council provide a regular project status report on major projects and initiatives, and this has also been done (but unfortunately with content that is bare minimum rather than informative). But I also believe that sometimes council has been excessive in marking project-related documents as confidential and I have sometimes voted in dissent to excessive confidentiality.

In recent years, Support Lindfield sought for confidential documents to be made public through a freedom of information process (which any member of the public has the right to do). It somehow ended up in the legal system and the tribunal decided that 5 out of 47 documents should be released (i.e. not confidential). The cost of the legal action from council’s side was close to $80,000, and while it is unfortunate that so much money had to be spent to defend the confidentiality of these documents, I think that the costs could have easily been avoided had council been more transparent with the project and had council made various reports available to public when they obviously should have been. By applying the confidential flag to any and every document regardless of its content, public trust had been undermined. And while we have a former-mayor actively trying to cast poor light on this incident with Support Lindfield, I think it’s ironic that she fails to realise that this incident would not have occurred had communication been more transparent under her leadership.

I’ve noticed that things have improved under the two more recent mayors and I will continue to advocate behind the scenes for information to be made available where appropriate. The information about the project will be available through council’s website, through items reported in council meetings, and through messages from council’s spokesperson (the mayor). I’m not going to say anything beyond what information has officially been released.

Net Zero Champions

Ku-ring-gai Council is searching for residents to become Net Zero Champions, people who are willing to promote good practice in the community. In a recent webinar it was mentioned that:

? Perhaps the most effective way for each of us to make an impact is to ensure that our superannuation is invested in ethical options. In the local government sector, I know for example that Active Super is committed to sustainable investments while delivering good returns.

??? Other participants were of the view that vegetarianism was the best way to reduce our impact, noting the immense amount of water and emissions that go into meat production. While this is true (and probably good for our health), the presenter admitted that it may be a practice that is difficult for most people to adopt.

??? There was a lot of talk about solar and batteries at home, but personally I feel that even more important is the careful selection and placement of trees.

For more information, watch the recording of our information session.

Tree Canopy

There’s been a lot of talk this month about the role of trees and the value that they provide to our residents.

Trees provide us with fresh air, shelter from the sun, and a home for our wildlife. During major storms, trees also play a role in mitigating the impacts of flooding as they reduce the amount that instantly hits the stormwater system.

At Ku-ring-gai, tree canopy covers 45% of our residential land though it’s a little bit lower in Roseville Ward. Sydney’s stats are lower at 23% with the state government is targeting 40% long term.

Apartment blocks have a reputation for reducing tree canopy but if it is done right, the impact is only temporary. In the attached image, we see a block of 31 apartments across the road from Lindfield Public School. At one point there was significant land clearing to establish these homes but we are now at a point where tree canopy has grown back to over 40%. I think most councillors are committed to policies which will help increase canopy over time while making us more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Thoughts on Racism, Conflict and War

In the coming months there will be further talk about economic sanctions, boycotts, lethal aid, armed conflict, and war. And I can’t help but notice that in both our printed and social media there appears to be people out there who are (consciously or subconsciously) promoting a universal hatred of anything and anyone Russian. While I understand the sentiment, I think it may be taking it too far.

The actions of a leader do not necessarily infer anything about the values of the people they seek to represent. If ScoMo holds up a lump of coal in parliament, would you want the International Community to think that all Australians are the same? If our Premier, Mayor, or even I as your lowly councillor do something silly, do you think that we therefore speak and act on behalf of all of you?

Yes the people of Ukraine need our support and yes there is a time and place for appropriate economic sanctions, but I also hope that we can still treat Russian and Belarusian people here in Ku-ring-gai with respect and not make assumptions about their values. They are probably just ordinary people like you and I, hoping to live a harmonious life here in Australia without people giving them a hard time about things that they may or may not agree with. I know I’ve personally been given a hard time on occasion for my appearance, country of birth (a British Colony), or for false rumours that other petty people in politics or in the community have raised and it’s quite disrespectful, painful, and not fun at all. So I hope that we can reach out to other residents and treat them with respect rather than just make assumptions about their values.

Local Government NSW Special Conference

This week we had councillors across NSW meet to exchange ideas, discuss policy, and agree on State and Federal advocacy matters. Key themes were financial sustainability, climate change and resilience, housing stress, domestic violence, reconciliation, and the impact of recent economic developments to the delivery of council services.

I was encouraged to see eight Ku-ring-gai Councillors engaged and attending the conference this time around (usually there’s only 2 or 3 of us). Hopefully we will bring some ideas back to benefit our residents here in Ku-ring-gai.