• Tony Bosworth

Council look at tipping Heritage into Waste

At this week’s council meeting, independent and Greens councillors and a single Liberal pushed back against an idea to dump the Heritage sub-committee and make it part of a waste and environmental sustainability sub-committee.

Heritage issues, such as those surrounding old Windsor Bridge, might not be discussed in a specific heritage sub-committee if council committee amalgamation plans go ahead. Pic: Paul Caleo

Heritage expert Michael Edwards told the council meeting the Hawkesbury Heritage Advisory Committee was, in his opinion, “by far the most productive, efficient and hard-working heritage committee” in the country.

“The committee is of enormous value,” said Mr Edwards, “with leading experts who give expertise worth thousands of dollars for free.”

He put a figure of around $10,000 on the services the experts – which include scientists, heritage architects, historians, and planning experts - give for free and he said merging Heritage with another sub-committee would “water down that focus”.

Mr Edwards said Windsor, Richmond and Pitt Town were all areas of great heritage value and were steeped in history, so a heritage committee had a definite value to the Hawkesbury.

Council have been looking at their extensive sub-committee structure and the specific committees for some time – and taking on board public feedback - not least because there are 17 different committees and each has to have council staff resources to prepare agendas, minutes, and arrange meetings, so running them is costly.

Independent councillors pushed back against the idea of a decision being taken on Tuesday evening, saying the merging of Heritage in particular was being pushed by other councillors without adequate discussion. Previously, it had been agreed the heritage committee’s future would be best decided by the incoming council next year.

The proposal suddenly put before Tuesday’s meeting would see amalgamation of several committees, but the sticking point with councillors was Heritage, which it was suggested would go in with the Waste sub-committee.

Cllr Danielle Wheeler called for the proposal to be deferred, saying Cllr Barry Calvert had only tabled it an hour and a half before the council meeting.

“It’s a significant departure from what we have [previously] discussed,” said Cllr Wheeler. “This really does feel like a decision taken on the fly. Since when has waste and tourism been combined – what a fun bus trip that would be. We have been chewing on this for a couple of years and I’m appalled by the inclusion of heritage with two other committees. We haven’t discussed this at all.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett said it was clear that a group of councillors “had caucused, but some of us haven’t seen this before”.

“I think this is very poor. It’s poor governance to take decisions without including all councillors.”

But Mayor Patrick Conolly said the “item was on the business papers…and this has been going on since 2019”.

Cllr Pete Reynolds said it was “quite ridiculous for you to say we can consider his matter in an hour. It can’t be a decision taken on the run. Other people [councillors] have caucused and we are facing a fait accompli.”

The intervention which tipped the decision in favour of referring any changes to a future meeting came from Liberal Nathan Zamprogno who said heritage was a redline for him and he would be voting for deferral of the matter to a future council meeting.

In comments after the meeting Cllr Zamprogno said: “The proposal, as it was moved, sought to abolish our Heritage Committee. Our Heritage Committee, which I’ve been a member of for four years, carries a disproportionate weight for council. HCC doesn’t employ a full-time Heritage Officer. The members of this committee are a rare and special fraternity of heritage wisdom. We’re very fortunate to have them give their knowledge to us around the year, completely gratis. Put it this way – if we had to pay for their advice, we couldn’t afford it. The work this committee does fills a huge gap that would be impossible to fill if the committee was dissolved – and the motion before me sought to do just that. It sought to amalgamate its function into a committee with no community representatives and which shared billing with Waste and Environmental Sustainability – fairly poor bedfellows.

“So, when the vote came, and despite my support for committee reform generally, I voted for a deferral so we could talk as a group of 12 about a better outcome that both permits reform, and protects our unique Heritage (and this committee). I expect the matter will come back to council before Christmas.”

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