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.

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Planning-and-development/Projects-and-current-works/Lindfield/Lindfield-Village-Hub

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THaA83NmGtc

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.

Help us find a new home

Larry and Leo are both domestic and extremely affectionate cats that have been looking for a new home since December.

I visited the Ku-ring-gai Pound today where Kristy, our Veterinary Nurse, showed me around and shared about Ku-ring-gai’s process of rehoming dogs and cats. Council drops off lost animals and do their best to contact owners who have up to 2 weeks to come and collect. After this period, the pets are up for adoption. (Some pets also come in because their owners are no longer able to look after them.)

If you know anyone who may be interested, please share this with them.

For more info and the list of available pets, please visit

https://www.thornleighvet.com.au/ku-ring-gai-pound/

New Commuter Parking

I’m working in the city today so tried out the 105 commuter parking spots at the new Lindfield Village Green. Arrived at 8am and only three parking spots were in use, I think this is in part due to Covid and also the fact that not many are presently aware of this option.

It was also great to see a kid (and mum) enjoying the water play on the ground floor.

What do YOU think council’s priorities should be these next 10+ years?

The Community Strategic Plan sets our priorities for the council term and covers traffic, footpaths, playgrounds, etc. but there may be gaps which you believe deserve greater attention.

Climate change adaptation? Better community consultation? Affordable Housing? These are themes that other councils emphasise but they don’t get as much (direct) coverage at Ku-ring-gai.

There’s an initial survey that is due this Friday 18 February.

https://krg.engagementhub.com.au/ourkrg

Checking out The Canopy

As councillors we can learn a lot from what other councils do well. This evening we visited The Canopy at Lane Cove Council and it seems to have it all.

✅ 500 parking spaces
✅ Green space with performance area / screen (currently playing Nadal vs Medvedev)
✅ Children’s playground, sandpit, and shade
✅ Street Dining
✅ Two major supermarkets
✅ Electric vehicle charging
✅ Pedestrian Bridge

With the Lindfield Village Green completing next month, we will get a mini version of this although I know residents would like to explore making it even better (with shade and play equipment). We’ll explore the possibility late in the year.

The Lindfield Village Hub will provide us a greater opportunity to do this and as a start, Ku-ring-gai has poached the person responsible for delivering The Canopy in Lane Cove to also deliver the Hub in Lindfield.

Addressing Delays in Processing Development Applications

It’s not a surprise to some that Ku-ring-gai is the slowest council in Northern Sydney when it comes to processing Development Applications, and as a councillor I get contacted a few times a year from residents who are disatisfied with the process. The usual story is either that they had submitted their DA a few months ago and haven’t heard from council since, or that after several months they finally are contacted by council only to be told that unanticipated additional reports (traffic, acoustic, geo, landscaping, etc.) are required, adding further to the delay.

In these situations there’s not much that we as councillors can do to directly influence the outcome because it is an operational matter under the authority of staff, however, if the majority of the governing body this council term is open to reviewing the process, setting appropriate performance measures instead of moving goalposts when things get too hard, and identifying improvements (e.g. re-engineering the process, triaging certain DA’s to earlier identify issues, improving the system to allow residents to track progress, or allocating greater budget) then we can be on the way to restoring Ku-ring-gai’s reputation in this space.

In the past I’ve asked these process improvement questions on an annual basis but the usual response has been no, not needed and not interested. Which is really weird and I hope the new council will be better.

Yes there is also the explanation of an increase in CDCs resulting in an increase in the complexity of DA cases, and you can see some limited evidence of that in the data below, however I don’t think it tells the full story and it doesn’t explain why the other councils are so much better than us. Anyway, this is one of the areas where I’ll be talking to councillors behind the scenes to test if there’s more appetite to explore doing it more efficiently without unnecessarily dropping standards.

Ku-ring-gai’s Community Strategic Plan

At the start of each term, councils across NSW consult with the community to create a 10+ year ‘Community Strategic Plan’ (CSP) which frames and guides all decisions made at council.

I’ve had a look through Ku-ring-gai’s two most recent CSP’s and while they are above average compared to our peers in Northern Sydney, there’s still a lot that can be done to make it a more meaningful, effective and inclusive document.
Some of the early stage improvements include:

  1. Considering whether we are focussing on the right objectives. Are some priorities not high enough (or absent) while others over-emphasised?
  2. Incorporating a more inclusive community consultation process (similar to Willoughby) and ensuring that the objectives that we settle on represent the diverse needs of residents across the LGA.
  3. Encouraging more active engagement and representation by the full governing body (similar to Hornsby) rather than just the Mayor.
  4. Including a more direct link between specific objectives and the actions required to achieve this (Lane Cove does this, but there are even better ways of communicating it on a page).
  5. Directly tying metrics, performance targets, actions and ownership to each objective (similar to the long-term strategic plans that I see in the corporate world).
  6. Stating how the community can be involved in producing a better outcome (similar to Hornsby).

It’s going to be a quiet month and while we aren’t yet technically councillors until 11th Jan, I’ll be brainstorming more suggestions to make the CSP process better this time around. I would love to be in a position in June 2022 to say that out of all the 128 councils in NSW, Ku-ring-gai’s CSP is the best, and if we can get there then I think it’s something that Ku-ring-gai’s residents and council staff should be proud of.

After the CSP is finalised, the challenge is to then stick to the plan, monitor performance, and tweak the course if circumstances change.

Council Rate Increases from July 2022 – June 2023

Here’s some good news or bad news, depending on how you want to see things.

The rates that you pay are set by IPART (the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal) and in the last decade the increases have on average been at 2.46%, a tad above inflation.

For the 2022-23 period, IPART has decided (with a new calculation method) that Ku-ring-gai’s increase (excluding waste levy, land valuations, etc.) will be limited to 0.7%. It’s good news for those who don’t like paying rates. It’s bad news for council in that 0.7% is certainly less than the cost increases that we expect from providing services, upgrading our infrastructure, and paying our staff. Things are going to be tight next year. Ultimately there will have to be some sort of cost cutting or efficiency measures, and while you do save some money you will probably also get less for what you pay.

Roseville Station Lifts

At the last election, many residents asked for lifts at Roseville Station and I said that while it was a State Government matter, I would advocate on their behalf for both lifts AND increased frequency of train services at Roseville and Killara.

The Roseville Station lifts opened earlier this month and our residents enjoy the improved level of accessibility for the elderly, for those with prams, for those lugging suitcases, etc. Other upgrades include a safer train platform, better toilets, and a much more attractive garden setting. Train services were also increased significantly pre-covid, we thank the State Government for these upgrades, and Killara Station is next on the list.

Designing a Mountain Bike Track in Lindfield

With COVID Lockdowns and the Tokyo Olympics, kids have shown renewed interest in mountain biking and building their own ramps, berms, jumps and pump tracks. Unfortunately the activity is often unauthorised and sometimes conducted in environmentally sensitive or dangerous areas so council has historically gone in and put things to a halt, which is very discouraging for the kids involved.

A more recent trend with Councils across Sydney is that we are now actively engaging with the mountain biking community to build authorised tracks in an environmentally sensitive and safe manner. Earlier in the year our Council built a fantastic track at the back of Golden Jubilee Field in collaboration with the biking community, and yesterday our Council held a workshop with ~25 kids and their parents to explore what they would like to see happen at Little Soldiers Memorial Park Lindfield.

Mitch and I attended the event and were encouraged to see Council working consultatively with the biking community to work towards a design. Kids were given the opportunity to design their own tracks and present their ideas to the wider group. We also spoke about what it means for the mountain biking to be good neighbours to other users in the area (e.g. tennis, netball, cricket and bushwalkers), incorporating safety features in design, which areas were ecologically sensitive, and how to leave a positive legacy for future generations.

I spoke with organisers after the event to also confirm that discussions were actively being held with other user groups as part of the consultation process.

We would like to thank both the Council staff and community members from the Tryon Trail Crew for organising this workshop.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Policy

Did you know that our neighbouring councils all have public EV charging infrastructure plans in place? Willoughby partnered with ChargeFox and introduced theirs in 2015. Ryde partnered with Exploren and introduced infrastructure this year. Hornsby and Northern Beaches have also recently introduced plans.

But at Ku-ring-gai we have yet to adopt a plan, and that makes it difficult to encourage uptake for those who don’t have the luxury of charging at a home garage. Ku-ring-gai did recently change its Development Control Plans to require future apartments to provide charging conduits, but that doesn’t do anything to address the needs of existing apartment dwellers.

The only publicly accessible charger in Ku-ring-gai is in St Ives Shopping Centre so in September I went to check it out. It was pretty cool, the first hour of charge was free and it charged the car six times faster than charging at home when plugged into a regular wall socket. But we need much more of these to promote a serious level of uptake, not just at retail locations but also on public land.

If elected we will start the process of developing an Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Plan. We will also seek to put the charging infrastructure to tender, exploring whether or not any of the current suppliers are able to provide infrastructure at a price that is acceptable to us as ratepayers.

Maintenance of Sporting Facilities

I recently met with Ed Ferguson from Northern Suburbs Football Association to discuss the recreational needs of our residents as well as the role that Council plays in providing for these needs.

A challenge faced by all sporting codes is that playing surfaces wear out from regular use and extreme weather, and they do not last forever. In recent months council has invested in returfing or upgrading Wellington Oval, Tryon Oval, and Acron Oval for Football, Cricket and AFL. Council has also upgraded the Roseville Park Pavilion used mainly for Tennis, and the Roseville Park Oval will be returfed and upgraded in early 2022.

We also discussed Primula Oval in West Lindfield, and the prospects of upgrading to a hybrid surface which is 95% natural grass reinforced by a 5% artificial frame. Hybrid technologies can substantially increase the durability and playtime of pitch, however are expensive and council needs to assess the cost/benefit as well as the funding.

Council spends ~$4.3m on sporting facility improvements each year, with staff typically proposing a funding allocation that evenly spreads the benefits across the entire LGA and multiple sporting codes. Sometimes there is scope for councillors to prioritise one initiative over another, and staff recommend funding adjustments for the following year. However $4.3m doesn’t go very far so it’s difficult to promise everything straight away, and there is benefit in seeking State/Federal Government support as well as additional fundraising.

During this election season I also find it bizarre that some incumbent candidates are claiming that they delivered this and that project when most of it comes from standard operational staff recommendations for which councillors give final approval. I mean yes, we as councillors did approve the final plans so in a sense can claim credit, but unless we played a personal role in steering a particular outcome I’d feel uncomfortable leading residents to believe that we were responsible for it. Unfortunately most residents will not have the opportunity to do their research so will take these claims at face value.

Life after Bowling for Bowling Green Sites

I recently asked some friends and councillors in Willoughby about what they did with their bowling greens. Is selling off such land something that all councils do, or is Ku-ring-gai more of an exception

Artarmon Bowling was acquired by Willoughby Council in 2016 with a condition of purchase that it remains a community facility. There is a Parklands district including community garden, open space, outdoor exercise area, and children’s playground. The clubhouse itself is work in progress, and is set to become community rooms and family BBQ.

https://www.haveyoursaywilloughby.com.au/artarmonbcsite2019

Northbridge Bowling similarly is now a cafe site (though currently looking for a tenant) with community hall, garden, and open space.

By way of contrast, Roseville Chase Bowling was acquired by Ku-ring-gai in 1955 and Gordon Bowling was acquired by Ku-ring-gai in 1953. In the Declaration of Trust for each bowling site, it says that each site “shall and henceforth be held by Council as a public reserve“. But right now the staff recommendation is to prepare to sell off both sites for development.

Neither site has been sold off yet and it remains as a decision of future councillors. But an important question to ask is that if our neighbours at Willoughby are doing just fine with retaining their bowling greens as community land, then why is Ku-ring-gai considering sale to property developers? Can’t Ku-ring-gai balance its books some other way? I have internally sought for a review of operational costs this term, but there has been limited appetite to look for different ways of doing things. There is also the question of whether Ku-ring-gai should be selling off land that under a Deed of Trust has been set aside as a public reserve.

Lindfield Deserves a Better Library

Lindfield has a tiny 300sqm library. Now 300sqm is better than nothing at all but the reality is that many residents don’t even know that it exists and for those that do, many prefer to go to Chatswood Library or Gordon Library to get a range of books, find some space away from a crowded home to study, or hang out.

I was visiting another part of Sydney six months ago and absolutely loved their library. So spacious, modern, inviting and it even came with a good-sized theatre to the side. I told their mayor (Khal Asfour, Canterbury Bankstown) that I was jealous, and that I hoped that one day we can do something just as good in Lindfield.

What prompted their library project was a fire that had unfortunately destroyed the old building. Hopefully we don’t need anything that dramatic to get the Lindfield Village Hub’s 2400sqm library + community centre going, and there have been some signs that we can make meaningful progress in coming months.

Lindfield Station Footpaths

One of our council’s strengths is responsiveness to requests that affect residents near our train stations.

Last week I received feedback that on Lindfield Avenue South of the train station there was significant overgrowth making it difficult for pedestrians to use the footpath. Sometimes it was so bad that they would have to do the limbo, and as we know the nature strip on the side isn’t too walker friendly either.

I passed the feedback onto council staff and within a day they were out there chopping off the overgrowth, making life much better for our residents.

The nature strip is another story… it’s well eroded at parts and it is going to be addressed as part of the Lindfield Town Centre Public Domain Plan that I expect will be approved by council early next year. Under that plan, a much nicer footpath will go where the nature strip currently is, so that residents can get straight onto a level footpath the moment they step out of the car.

Pedestrian Safety in Killara

Right now there are no pedestrian crossings across Lindfield and Werona Avenue between Lindfield and Killara Station, and this makes it difficult for less able-bodied people or parents pushing prams to get across the road. Fortunately our Federal Government under the safety-related Black Spot program has funded the conversion of these lights at Werona x Stanhope to support pedestrian crossing, making life much safer for our Lindfield and Killara residents. The pedestrian lights should be coming within the next seven months.

Lindfield Pedestrian Bridge

While my kids love our fantastic library at Gordon, what they love even more is the pedestrian bridge. It’s a safe way to cross the six lane highway while watching the cars, buses and cyclists pass by.

Back in 2018 we voted that a pedestrian bridge is highly desirable at Lindfield and subsequently the 2020 Local Strategic Planning Statement also implied (but not specifically called out) a bridge.

It wasn’t possible to include the bridge in the 2021 Lindfield Village Hub Planning Proposal as it could only cover council owned land, but at the October Ordinary Meeting of Council (which failed to meet four times) I was hoping to strengthen the wording so that any design for the Hub should interface with a future pedestrian bridge. This is coming back again for the November Ordinary Meeting of Council, which is scheduled for Tuesday 16 November.

Wheelchair Accessibility near Roseville Station

11 days ago a resident contacted me after an incident where her son’s wheelchair got stuck on Pacific Highway due to a lip in the ramp. They were in a bit of a panic because of the six lanes of traffic but fortunately another resident was nearby to help.

Given that it is right in the middle of the town centre and next to the train station, this sort of accessibility issue wasn’t ideal. I raised the matter with council staff and it looks like they’ve fixed it on the station side with a gentler ramp and no lip. A similar fix appears to be underway on the shop side today.

Congratulations Willoughby!

I congratulate Willoughby Council for joining the UN’s Cities Race to Zero which involves the recognition of a climate emergency and taking steps to reach net zero by the 2040’s or sooner.

Ku-ring-gai too was to debate and consider joining this initiative in the October Ordinary Meeting of Council but unfortunately we did not have enough councillors to proceed on four occasions despite the meeting being available on Zoom.

The latest that I’ve heard is that this along with many other items will be moved to the November Meeting of Council. That’s great news though I expect that for some items such as certain tenders over threshold, we won’t be able to vote on them until February due to the caretaker period.

https://www.hkpost.com.au/news/willoughby-city-council-accelerates-emissions-targets-by-joining-cities-race-to-zero

Roseville Station Footpath Success

You are looking at the happiest ward councillor in Roseville. 🎉🎉🎉

Back in August 2017 I received a phone call from a lady complaining about the footpath immediately outside Roseville Station. It was a high traffic area but paved with really crappy bitumen. Uneven, rocky, large pools of water in the rain, and very unsafe. She had spoken to both of the Roseville Ward councillors before my time (including the mayor) and neither of them were able to produce any outcome, so she hoped that I could make a difference.

I’ve been trying to get this fixed for the last four years and there were technical reasons for the delay, but to my pleasant surprise when I walked past this morning at 1:30am on the way to inspect another issue, I saw that work has been underway. No more crappy and dangerous bitumen, we now have the proper asphalt footpath that our residents deserve.

Tonight’s Vote: Basketball and Netball Facilities

I recently visited The Glade at Wahroonga to check out its fantastic outdoor basketball facilities. All five hoops were in use with various groups walking from afar to catch up with their friends and stay physically and mentally fit.

Unfortunately we don’t have anything like this in the Roseville, Lindfield and Killara area. The closest is at Allan Small in Killara and even then it’s only two hoops so if the big kids occupy them then the little kids have no chance to play.

Tonight I am putting forward a motion to increase the number of hoops in the area from 5 to at least 12 and I’ve targeted some quick win options which should have a low impact on surrounding residents such as Tryon Road and Lindfield Library. The target is set but ultimately it is up to council staff to propose the final locations and report back to council by March 2022.

The vote will also cover the topic of provision of netball facilities in Lindfield. At the moment the options for netball training are limited and it’s not helped by council implementation of its booking system, where sometimes tennis bookings boot netball off the only courts they have access to when there are plenty of other under-utilised tennis courts in the area.

Green Hydrogen vs Blue Hydrogen

Today the NSW Government announced plans to invest up to $3b in the Green Hydrogen Industry. So what is Green Hydrogen and why is it important?

We currently rely on fossil fuels such as petrol and gas to power our transportation, domestic and industrial needs. Burning fossil fuels increases our carbon emissions as well as some carcinogens so it’s not that good. But if we burn pure hydrogen gas, the otuput is clean water as opposed to carbon dioxide and it’s much better for the environment.

So why aren’t we using hydrogen now instead of fossil fuels? That’s because the technology to create hydrogen has not yet reached significant commercial scale and it requires further investment.

Creating hydrogen involves the splitting of water molecules (H2O) to hydrogen and oxygen. Energy is required as part of the electrolysis process, so that’s where Renewable Energy (Green Hydrogen) or Fossil Fuels (Blue Hydrogen) come into play. Note that Hydrogen by itself isn’t necessarily that great; what we really want is the Green Hydrogen that comes from Renewable Energy.

There are some technical challenges to conquer before Green Hydrogen reaches commercial scale so it is very encouraging to see the (Liberal) State Government commit to this $3b investment. Some of the biggest questions remain such as whether we have sustainable water sources to create the hydrogen (a bit difficult during a drought unless we use seawater) and whether we have enough excess renewable energy during the daytime to produce the hydrogen.

Green Hydrogen is just one of the technologies which will help us achieve Net Zero as soon as possible.

Lindfield Village Hub Update (Good News)

I know the incredible frustration that members of the public feel when the council papers talk about the Lindfield Village Hub but the entire thing is marked as confidential. In fact sometimes in the past when I do not genuinely believe that the entire paper should be confidential, I have protest voted against the call for confidentiality.

However on this particular occasion of the October Council Meeting, I wholeheartedly believe that the report should remain confidential. The report describes some of council’s negotiations with potential interested parties, offers some hope that the project can be viable, and reflects on how the recent downturn did have a short term impact on various parties’ willingness to participate. Some more information has been made available on the council website, which I will copy and paste below.

PURPOSE OF REPORT: To update Council on the outcomes of the ongoing LVH procurement negotiations and to outline next steps.

BACKGROUND: On 20 July 2021 Council considered a revised market engagement strategy for the LVH project. Having considered the strategy, Council resolved to continue negotiations.

COMMENTS: The initial stage of the negotiations has now been undertaken, with a number of proposals received. Analysis of the proposals suggests that a viable commercial outcome for the project may be possible. The results indicate a significant turnaround from the offers received during the 2020 tender and post tender negotiations.

RECOMMENDATION:
That Council:
A. Note the significant improvement in market conditions, sentiment and commercial responses since the 2020 tender and post tender negotiations.
B. Continue to progress negotiations.

The Missing Footpath and the Temporary Solution

For over forty years the residents of Roseville Chase have been asking for a footpath to be installed at Babbage Road and it’s not difficult to understand why. On one side we have a cliff face and on the other side we have a narrow ledge. This road is the only way in and out of the area and without even a nature strip, all residents (including our school children) have no choice but to walk on the road to access the shops and public transport.

Council’s annual spend on new footpath construction is approximately $1.0m pa however due to the technical complexity of building this particular footpath (involving relocation of critical infrastructure), the cost (of at least a quarter of a million), the relatively low volume of users, and its distance from shops, transport hubs, schools and aged care, this particular footpath upgrade has consistently been low in the footpath priority list. I have been lobbying internally each year for this footpath to be built but it is ultimately an operational decision that is usually outside the influence of councillors.

This area is also known to have high speed vehicles and residents genuinely fear that one day someone walking on the road (not by their own choice) will get hit. I raised the issue with council staff and asked surely, there must be something that we can do at reasonable cost. If not a footpath, then at least some speed cushions to encourage vehicles to slow down around the bend. Staff consulted with local residents on potential locations for speed cushions and based on their feedback, the location of three sets of cushions and concrete barriers was established to encourage people to drive with care.

It’s sad that we had to resort to this (instead of a footpath), but it’s what could be achieved at low cost for now. I will continue to lobby internally for a footpath but for the time being I know that our residents are just a bit safer.

Greengate Park Killara

Undoubtedly one of the best parks in Ku-ring-gai for children under 2, we revisited this place recently (observing social distancing) and saw it with new eyes.

The lawn and path is fantastic for bikes and scooters. The upper terrace is great for social groups and badminton. And the shelter above the picnic area even provided a private space for teens (though I’m not sure if they’re meant to be up there)!

The land for this park was originally purchased from private owners with developer contributions under our Open Spaces Acquisition Strategy, and our council staff have done a fantastic job of making full use of the site.

Overflowing Bins in Lockdown

During this lockdown residents have discovered some of our hidden gems such as Echo Point Park, Roseville Beach and Swain Gardens.

With increased use also comes increased demand for bins. I’ve asked council staff whether we can increase the collection frequency and/or increase the number of bins available for use. So far they have agreed to increasing the frequency to Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Another Win: Greater Transparency on Unauthorised Works

At Ku-ring-gai we officially have hundreds of developments each year. Most of these developments, whether they be a driveway or fencing upgrade, a building extension, or a knockdown and rebuild, are supported by the following processes.

  1. Development Application (including DA’s, MOD’s and Reviews)
  2. Council Certified Application (including Complying Development Certificates, Construction Certificates and Occupation Certificates)
  3. Privately Certified Application (including Complying Development Certificates, Construction Certificates and Occupation Certificates)

Council’s DA Tracking website allows residents to search for records in relation to the above. However one common problem for residents has been the topic of unauthorised works and the absence of documentation that supports it.

Once allegations of unauthorised works are raised, council officers will investigate and if appropriate, serve the landowner with a notice of intention to stop, demolish or remove the works. At this point the landowner sometimes has the option of fixing up the structure to conform with the rules and receive retrospective approval in the form of a Building Information Certificate.

These Building Information Certificates for unauthorised works did not use to be available on Council’s DA Tracking Database but after several negative experiences by our residents, I politely asked council staff whether we could do anything to improve transparency on the matter. And as of last month, residents can now look up the DA Tracking Database to confirm the existence of recently issued Building Information Certificates.

Ku-ring-gai Council – eProperty – Production – DA Tracking Application Search (nsw.gov.au)

Please note however that while the database includes all of the supporting documents for Development Applications, the other processes (certified applications, building information certificates) are not readily available from the database. It was technically too difficult to achieve. If residents want to access the supporting documents for these then they will need to lodge a GIPA (Government Information Public Access) application. More information about GIPA applications is available here.

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Council/Access-to-information/How-to-apply-for-access-to-information

All Playgrounds to Reopen from Saturday 21st August

Yesterday the State Government provided new guidance urging councils to keep playgrounds open where possible, and today our council staff made the decision that all playgrounds will reopen from this Saturday.

Please note that under public health orders, no more than 2 people should gather (excluding members of the same household) and that we should continue to observe social distancing, good health and hygiene practices.

Personally I’m still reluctant to send my children to playgrounds if I can at all keep them entertained in the home, in the yard, or at other local walks and ovals. Delta is easily transmittable. However the number of cases in Ku-ring-gai is relatively low and like many other things in life, it is up to each family to make their own risk-based decisions on the risks vs. mental and physical health benefits.

For more information refer to the following links.

https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/COVID-19-guidance-for-councils-on-FAQs-17-August-2021.pdf

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Council/News-and-media/Latest-news/Important-information-about-COVID-19

Lindfield Village Hub Planning Proposal [Part Two]

This week we received over 80 submissions to the public exhibition and while I can say that I agreed with what residents have been saying about the priorities and potential delivery path of the Lindfield Village Hub project as a whole, I’d also say that none of the submissions talked about the Planning Proposal itself (which is about land rezoning) and the submissions may therefore end up not addressing any of the land zoning issues that are opened up by the planning proposal. To explain, think of the Lindfield Village Hub project as two workstreams.

Workstream one covers the financial and project delivery elements including questions such as:

  • Who will council partner with to design and construct the hub?
  • Council does not own land for a pedestrian bridge. Does any potential partner help deliver one at an acceptable cost?
  • Is Council able to afford building the hub?
  • Should the hub include commuter parking and if so, is the State Government committed to fund it at a reasonable cost?
  • Which elements of the hub should council retain vs. which elements should be privately owned?
  • Should funds from the old Lindfield Library go towards funding the new library?
  • How should we fund the future operations and maintenance of the hub?

The issues with workstream one are being addressed behind the scenes as part of a separate process.

Workstream two is unrelated to, but separate from, the first work stream. It covers the land use and zoning of council-owned land with questions such as:

  • Should the heights be increased from seven storeys to nine storeys?
  • Should we add an additional residential tower to the site, thus reducing the 3,000 sqm green space previously promised to residents?
  • Do we wish to build the library and community facilities at the current anticipated size of ~1,200 sqm each?

The Planning Proposal is in relation to workstream two and I’ve covered it in more detail in the previous post.

The 80+ emails cover workstream one and not the Planning Proposal so how could they make things worse? Council staff could say “we received over 80 responses to the planning proposal and not one objected to the reduction in park size”.

If you want to make a submission please make sure that it’s about the Planning Proposal, not unrelated matters.

Lindfield Village Hub Planning Proposal

Several residents have asked about the Lindfield Village Hub Planning Proposal which is currently on public exhibition until 27 August 2021. At 1,288 pages, residents have said that the material was difficult to understand and did not know whether the Planning Proposal should be a cause for concern.

The short answer to this is that the land for the future Lindfield Village Hub is currently zoned for seven storeys but in order to improve the economic viability (and success) of the project, council is proposing to rezone the land to support nine storeys. The increase of two storeys requires a Planning Proposal.

I am personally comfortable with single-digit storey heights as it means the proposed buildings will be no taller than the buildings on the other side of the Pacific Highway. However what I am uncomfortable with as a councillor is that the Planning Proposal creates the possibility of a northern tower that encroaches land which was previously intended as green space under the 2015 Master Plan. The 2015 Master Plan provided for 3,000 sqm of ‘green open space’ however in more recent years the language has shifted to ‘plaza, park and open space’ to draw attention away from the anticipated reduction of green space.

In the future, Council will choose a delivery partner to design and construct the Lindfield Village Hub. It is my hope that we can choose a delivery partner who has the means to make the project happen with 3,000 sqm of green space to meet the recreational needs of our local residents.

In other news, the State Government announced last month that it had finalised negotiations with Council to deliver 135 commuter parking spaces for the Lindfield Village Hub. This announcement provides more certainty for Council as it seeks to progress with delivering the community facilities.

I have more to say about the Hub but will leave it for another post. In the meanwhile, if you want to check out the Planning Proposal you can do so via the following link.

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Council/Your-say/Planning-Proposal-and-site-specific-DCP-for-Lindfield-Village-Hub-site

Nine Playgrounds Reopening on Friday (as a trial)

Last month Ku-ring-gai Council was one of only two councils in the Sydney metro area to close its playgrounds despite the absence of a public health order to do so. The decision by staff to do this was a conservative one made genuinely in the interest of our residents’ physical health, and in the context of ambiguous stay at home orders.

After some feedback from local residents, councillors and MPs, council staff have reassessed the situation and have decided that from this Friday (6 August), nine of Council’s playgrounds will be reopened to the public as part of a two week trial. These playgrounds will be cleaned and entry will require a QR code scan. Towards the end of the trial and depending on the situation with Delta at the time, council staff will then consider what to do next (e.g. open more playgrounds, leave as is, close the playgrounds again).

The nine playgrounds are:

  • Queen Elizabeth Reserve – West Lindfield
  • Dukes Green – East Lindfield
  • Gordon Recreation Reserve – Gordon
  • St Ives Showground – St Ives
  • Putarri Avenue Reserve – St Ives
  • Bicentennial Park – West Pymble
  • Kissing Point Village – South Turramurra
  • Cameron Park – Turramurra
  • Wahroonga Park – Wahroonga

This news will be of great relief to some parents, especially those whose kids are stuck in apartments and going nuts. Having said all that, I’d like to remind everyone that we still have orders to remain 1.5m apart while exercising (if not in the same household). The Delta strain has also proven to be quite infectious and has a greater impact on young people than its predecessors so even as a parent, I’d be cautious about sending my children to these playgrounds. Keep an eye on the latest COVID sites, remember that there’s usually a week-or-so delay before the sites pop up on the case locations list, and make a risk-based decision as to whether or not you want your children to be out at these playgrounds (as opposed to running around an oval or walking around the neighbourhood).

Everyone, take care.

⚠️ Reporting (and Fixing) Problems with Council Facilities – Another Happy Resident 😊

You can report issues through to council directly (kmc@kmc.nsw.gov.au / 9424 000) or reach out to one of your councillors.

When residents contact me, my usual approach is to go out to meet the resident, see the issue for myself, and discuss the likely options and outcomes. However during a lockdown it’s been more difficult and we limit the interactions to online.

In the picture provided, one of our residents reported last week that there was a slippery wooden bridge at Queen Elizabeth Reserve, West Lindfield, and that she had seen a few kids nearly slipping off their bikes and scooters.

I passed the details onto council staff and during the same week they went to the site, pressure washed the bridge, and sanded it to provide more grip.

Our resident then reported that it was much better and I passed the positive feedback back to our council staff.

🌏 Journey to Net Zero 🌲

I support Ku-ring-gai’s aim for Net Zero by 2040 and 100% renewable by 2030 (aiming for 2025) but why not aim for sooner? For electricity, it helps to look at real data to understand the challenges we need to overcome to get there.

This chart depicts yesterday’s power generation and demand for the National Electricity Market (NEM) which comprises all of Australia’s States and Territories except for WA and NT.

Australia is now at a point where ☀️ renewable energy is often cheaper to produce than fossil fuels, and and there’s going to be much more market-driven investment in renewables in the coming years. Yesterday we were at 40% renewable energy at noon when the sun was brightest.

However the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind is not always available so we can’t rely on renewable tech along to get us to Net Zero. At midnight, renewables only contributed to 17% of our needs.

So how do we access electricity at the times when we can’t reliably generate enough from renewables? In the short and medium term this comes from fossil fuels, which provided nearly three quarters of our energy needs yesterday. And in the long term we hope to plug that gap through 🔋 energy storage; we hope to generate excess energy during the day then store up enough to last through the night. That’s a lot of energy storage!

Energy storage will come through a range of technology options which we have yet to fully master including lithium, green hydrogen and pumped hydro. There are various Australian firms innovating in this space and I’m sure Australia will get to Net Zero, though not within this decade.

Having said that, Ku-ring-gai Council will get to Net Zero earlier than the rest of Australia because we are already working on specific initiatives such as improving the efficiency of our assets, street lighting and fleet while also collectively sourcing renewable energy at reduced rates with other Sydney metro councils.

There’s a lot more that can be discussed on this matter so if you’re keen I’m happy to catch up sometime.

COVID-19 Closure of Council Services & Queries Regarding Closed Playgrounds

Council has closed the library, pool, and a range of other indoor community facilities in line with public health orders. Our sports ovals and customer call center remain open.

However at this stage Ku-ring-gai is the only council in the Sydney Metro region to have actively closed off our playgrounds. Some of our residents have found this strange, especially given the general support for outdoor exercise in small groups and also the school holidays, so yesterday I asked council staff to provide clarification on this matter.

At this stage I can say that there are some differences in interpretation of the public health order and our staff have reached out to the State Government for further clarification. In the meanwhile, staff have taken a precautionary approach by closing the playgrounds given the higher transmission rates of the Delta variant.

Personally I’m not informed enough to make a call on whether this is ‘right’, however I haven’t personally been encouraging my children to touch anything whilst out on the daily walk.

For the latest status on service & playground closures, refer to the link below.

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Council/News-and-media/Latest-news/Important-information-about-COVID-19

Public Facility Upgrades

🚽 Have you ever tried to use a public toilet and thought ‘eww this place is gross’? Each year Council upgrades some of its public facilities. Pictured below is an upgrade that happened earlier during the pandemic, where the prison-style toilets at Queen Elizabeth II Reserve were upgraded to something cleaner, brighter, with a functional mirror and energy/water efficient fixtures. It makes for a pleasant and safer experience for our residents at West Lindfield.

Road Safety on Lady Game Drive

I met up with residents a few months ago to discuss safety issues on Lady Game Drive.

To improve visibility of vehicles at the roundabout, the feral hedge was trimmed back.

To make the entry to the roundabout a bit safer for pedestrians, speed cushions were added to slow the traffic (a request for a zebra crossing was declined).

Council also has State Government in principal support to install a wombat crossing (raised zebra crossing) at the school crossing on Lady Game Drive. Next steps with this is to find a source of funding the project, but I hope to see it in the near future.

I want to hear your views on Asset Sales and Wildlife

Here’s a video of a wallaby and her joey at Bates Park, 97 Babbage Road Roseville Chase. It’s quite sweet and there are more videos like this on the Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/kuringgaiparks/posts/780552675940365

Four years ago and just three months before the council elections (i.e. before my time as councillor), council voted unanimously to divest (i.e. sell) Bates Park. You can look it up in the council minutes, 13 June 2017, GB4.

Why does council sell assets? Well the theory is that underutilized assets are sold so that we have the funds to create new assets in areas where there are much greater needs. Some examples from recent years include:

  1. Lindfield Village Green (under construction)
  2. St Ives Basketball Courts (future project)
  3. Marian Street Theatre (future project)
  4. Cameron Park Expansion (required the purchase of 2, 4, 6 and 8 Gilroy Road)
  5. Boyds Orchard Park (which required council purchasing 23, 25, 27, Duff St and 1 Holmes St)

Of course it would be even better if we didn’t have to sell any assets at all because once an asset is sold, it is very difficult for that land to be bought back. But the reality of how councils are funded in NSW is that rates are pegged and set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and the rates that councils collect often fall short of what is actually required to deliver services and assets to the standard that ratepayers expect. This puts councils in awkward positions where they then have to consider selling some assets to create other assets.

But while I understand the rationale behind asset sales and am sympathetic to the financial constraints that most councils face, the question remains. Should we be selling community assets and if so, which ones?

What about Bates Park (which the previous council has already authorized for sale but has not yet been sold)? Should Bates Park be sold? If it’s sold for half a million, is it a worthwhile transaction given the habitat loss for wildlife? What if it’s sold for 5 million? 50 million? Where do we draw the line between sell and no sell? And if it is ever sold, shouldn’t at least some of the money be reinvested in local infrastructure such as the footpath on Babbage Road that local residents have been asking for? [I’ll talk more about this in another post.]

I’m quite conscious that each of us live in homes which used to be bushland, so in some ways you could argue that it’s hypocritical for us to argue that we continue to receive benefit when others cannot. But you can flip it the other way and say that given the significant habitat loss already, should we not seek to protect what remains? Are there some parts of bushland that are more worthy of protecting than others? How many $$$ does an asset need to be worth before it is considered better to sell for development than to retain for wildlife? What if there are endangered species on the site?

Here at Ku-ring-gai, we often talk about heritage value and we go to great lengths to protect heritage. But I find that our views on heritage are quite limited to buildings. The moment there’s an old building of some arbitrary value, we’re quick to wave the heritage flag. But what about flora and fauna? Don’t they have some sort of ecological heritage value?

At this stage I’m not (officially) saying that there’s a specific right or wrong. I’m not picking sides but I want to draw out the issue and hear what you as residents have to say on the matter. Ultimately my job as a councillor is to represent you, and I cannot do my job without hearing what you have to say on matters such as these.

Let me know what you think. My job is to represent you.

Dukes Green Playground Upgrade (East Lindfield Shops)

Last year council asked us what we wanted to see in this playground upgrade and we said a larger fenced area with support for older children, better equipment and inter-generational play.

Council staff have now come up with a concept plan and we have til 7 May to provide our feedback for fine-tuning the design.

To look at the design in more detail and provide your feedback, please visit.

https://www.krg.nsw.gov.au/Council/Your-say/Dukes-Green-playground-upgrade