Libs set to flex their muscles on land clearing, Warragamba, rates, and potential land use controls
On the agenda at this coming Tuesday’s first Council meeting of the new term are a whole raft of issues which will show just how much control the Liberals have over Hawkesbury Council.
We could ultimately be looking at a major rates redistribution which will likely see those on acreage paying significantly less, while those on standard home blocks will be slugged more to make up for the shortfall. It happened just over a decade ago, for a short while. The motion, put up by Cllr Sarah Richards asks Council staff for a briefing to explain to councillors the impact of moving to a 50% base rate for residents.
Liberal independent councillor Nathan Zamprogno is a firm believer in rejigging this because he says the current system – which essentially sees those on acreage paying more in rates than those on a normal town block – amounts to “class-warfare”. He told the Post this week, “I would go so far as to say it was based on class-warfare, suggesting that people on acreage must be wealthy and therefore could pay more. But some are retirees.”
We’ll see what happens with that but this call for a briefing is the first step in a process towards likely change.
In a motion put forward by Liberals Patrick Conolly, Jill Reardon and Sarah Richards, the aim on this one is to opt into a major land-clearing policy for fire protection which could potentially see 15,800 hectares of the Hawkesbury cleared – that’s according to data from Council’s own staff of a worst case scenario - in the shape of the Rural Boundary Clearing Code. When opting into the Code was voted on in October by full Council that direction was rejected after a somewhat rancorous debate, with a majority voting for consultation with the community before deciding whether or not to opt into the Code, and asking for additional information, but that could well be rescinded this time around and Hawkesbury opts in, allowing some landowners to clear 25m boundaries of vegetation round their properties. We covered the original story in detail here.
Bilpin's Martin Tebbutt has been pushing for years for permission put 25m fire breaks in at his property - his wish may move a step closer after Tuesday...
Warragamba Dam wall
This Mayoral Minute from Patrick Conolly will push for a majority of councillors to overturn the previous Council’s opposition to the raising of Warragamba Dam wall and if carried it will make Hawkesbury a stand-alone among other local councils – chiefly Penrith, Wollondilly, and Blue Mountains - who are against the wall-raising plan.
Hawkesbury Council has no control over the dam wall-raising discussion – it’s a State issue - but a majority vote in favour would send a message this council is for it. While one of the wall raising’s greatest supporters is independent Nathan Zamprogno, he stresses it has everything to do with flood mitigation and nothing to do with more potential development in our region, which could be possible if the wall is raised.
Councillors likely to pass resolution supporting raising of Warragamba Dam wall...
Pulling back the Local Environment Plan
The Liberals are also attempting to pull back the Local Environment Plan, which many councillors – including at least one Liberal – thought had gone on to the State government after being voted through by councillors last year. Turns out it is still with Council and will now be going before its own Hawkesbury Local Land Panel for ‘observations’.
The LEP forms part of a suite of strategies which in part inform the Council when it comes to development and zoning, for example. It sets the zoning and lot sizes and other land use controls.
Liberal councillors Conolly, Reardon and Paul Veigel will push at Tuesday’s meeting for the attempted pullback of the LEP to stop it going to the State government just yet, with the Mayor saying in his motion, “I believe the resolution was premature”.
The Liberals want the draft LEP to also be seen by the LEP/DCP reference group of industry experts, so “members of the group can provide feedback directly to councillors”.
Those members include developers, architects and planners, so if the motion to pull back the LEP succeeds, they could give their opinion on Council’s zoning and development parameters.
Interestingly, Liberal councillor Sarah Richards' domestic partner, property magnate Matthew Bennett is a member of the reference group, so presumably she will excuse herself from voting or taking part on this one.
Do the Liberals have the numbers?
Most likely they do. Voters elected 4 Liberal councillors at the December 4 election, plus independent Liberal Nathan Zamprogno (we call him that because while he stood as an independent after being dumped by his party, he still retains Liberal Party membership), and independent Les Sheather who ran a startlingly similar campaign to the Liberals, even putting up oversized billboards at the same time during the election campaign, and he had a similar slick social media presence. He is a known supporter of raising the Warragamba Dam wall, indeed he ran a short-lived Facebook page on that very topic last year.
There are also 2 Labor councillors who voted on many occasions in the last term with the Liberals, and one of them, Barry Calvert, is now Deputy Mayor. He was voted into that position last week – he defeated challenger Nathan Zamprogno – thanks in part to the votes of 4 Liberal councillors. Yes, that’s right - the Liberal Party member – Zamprogno – got no Liberal votes when he put his hand up for Deputy Mayor, while the Labor candidate received every Liberal vote. Confused?
Talking of Cllr Calvert – ex-Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett is putting a motion up for a Council committee review. Cllr Calvert was the architect of the relatively new Council committee structure which saw new committees ditch local representatives and experts in favour of just councillors. The new structure – which is not used by any other council in Australia – had a bumpy birth last year with independents and Greens councillors fighting hard but ultimately failing to stop it happening.
Cllr Lyons-Buckett wants a councillor workshop organised to “review the efficacy, transparency and accountability of the committee system”. Will she get her wish with this one? We’ll have to see…
Bonuses for Council staff?
Also coming up at Tuesday’s meeting are two motions from new councillor Eddie Dogramaci of the Small Business Party, both of which look doomed to fail.
The first calls for a minimum quarterly $100 bonus for each Council staff member – excluding the well-paid executive team – as a thank-you for their work. It’s an interesting one because the rate peg imposed on Council by the State government – of a 0.8% increase for the Hawkesbury - almost certainly means Council staff will get a very small pay rise this year, likely below the rate of inflation. But in a Council Management response to Cllr Dogramaci’s motion, they point out were the bonus idea to go ahead it would cost around $130,000 a year, and that’s not possible given Council’s lack of surplus, and they say they already look at annual pay rises.
$100 quarterly bonuses for Council staff? No too likely...
Business people encouraged to move to the Hawkesbury?
In a separate motion, Cllr Dogramaci is calling for the Council to encourage business people to come and live in the Hawkesbury and he’d like to see a new Economic Investment and Tourism Committee set-up to help with this. Of course we need to see what happens Tuesday, and it could be an interesting discussion, but there’s little chance of this one getting traction either because Council management says it already, “provides a range of activities directed towards the business community”.
And Cllr Mary Lyons-Buckett is putting a motion up which is decidedly less political but important from a community perspective – she wants to see Council arrange a meeting with representatives from local Community Halls to discuss potential sharing of resources, information, procurement and opportunities to access grant funding. She’d also like a register of contact details across all Halls, plus a list of facilities across each.
She says, “community halls lie at the heart of our communities. They offer a vital role in offering services and facilities year round, but specifically in times of emergencies.”
The next Hawkesbury Council meeting is this Tuesday, January 25 at 6.30pm at the Council Chambers, Windsor (you need to register first if you’d like to attend in person) or you can watch the meeting live on YouTube.
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