Council opposes building work on Sundays and public holidays

Council opposes building work on Sundays and public holidays

In the July 21st Council meeting, Council passed my motion asking the NSW Government to withdraw aspects of its COVID changes allowing building work on Sundays and public holidays. The motion also raised issues with the Government’s “Planning System Acceleration Program”.

The full motion (given below) was passed with 8 councillors in support and one against. The motion refers to recent changes in law by the NSW Government to government and council rules because of the COVID pandemic, passed on 24th March this year. Most of these changes were necessary and important. However, in some ways they have created precedents that take power away from councils, leaving the door open for significant overdevelopment, bypassing Council controls and community concerns.

I heard about community complaints regarding noise on Sundays. No doubt, some builders face substantial pressure while ensuring compliance with COVID social distancing and and potential delays. However, the impact of unrelenting noise on the community while spending more time at home is equally great. The NSW Government has not given the community an end date for this major change.

In addition, the Government’s Planning System Acceleration Program continues the trend of recent Coalition and Labor governments of centralising development controls in the hands of the NSW Government, at the expense of local council decision-making on development. Given the challenge of the COVID-19 virus, efforts to maintain jobs in the construction sector are worthwhile. However, changed government rules create the net effect of putting unprecedented power in the hands of the NSW Planning Department (DPIE) and the Minister.

Background (published on the Council agenda with the motion)

The NSW Government has recently passed legislation which allows the construction industry to work on Sundays and public holidays. However, the use of this provision has extended far beyond its beginnings as a measure in dealing with the COVID virus. Substantial complaints are emerging from local residents in Canada Bay, and especially in Rhodes, concerned with noise on large and small construction sites.

The NSW Government has also initiated the “Planning System Acceleration Program” to “cut red tape” and fast-track development, apparently including three sites from Canada Bay. This motion highlights the importance of Council’s decision-making role in coordinating development.

Motion

That Council:

  1. Affirms that planning decisions should be community led and that local councils are best placed to make decisions about planning that is appropriate for their local area and constituents.
  2. Notes that the COVID-19 related amendments to the EP&A [Environmental Planning and Assessment] Act, which allow the Minister “to authorise development to be carried out on land without the need for any approval under the Act or consent from any person” could potentially be applied to developments other than hospitals, ICUs, morgues, or other directly COVID-19 related works, because of the ambiguity of the wording of clause 10.17(5)(b) regarding works “necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of members of the public”.
  3. Writes to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces the Hon Rob Stokes MP and the Premier Gladys Berejiklian to express its opposition to the recent changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act which grant the Minister unprecedented powers to override planning decisions made by local councils.
  4. Requests that in light of complaints from neighbouring residents about ongoing disturbances, the Minister revoke the permission granted to the construction industry to operate every day including public holidays.
  5. Seeks assurance from the Minister that Council’s ability to conduct due diligence in line with community expectations will not be impeded by the recently announced “Planning System Acceleration Program” to fast-track assessments of State Significant Developments, rezonings and development applications.

Council passes motion for 100% renewable electricity by 2022

Council passes motion for 100% renewable electricity by 2022

Canada Bay Council has passed Councillor Charles Jago’s motion for 100% renewable electricity. The motion was seconded by (Liberal Councillor) Michael Megna, and passed unanimously. Cr Jago introduced the motion with some minor amendments to the version shown on the agenda paper. The proceedings of Council’s meeting which took place yesterday (23 June 2022) are shown at https://www.facebook.com/canadabay – this includes Cr Jago’s introduction to the motion and the discussion on it.

The purpose of the motion was to reduce Council’s carbon emissions because of the need to reduce climate change, and follows on from Council’s motion declaring a climate emergency in September 2019. In addition, the motion seeks to support companies providing renewable electricity, who have decided not to be involved in the production or use of coal or gas. The logic here is the same as that for the motion passed by Council in April 2018, to give preference to investments with organisations that do not invest in fossil fuels. (Both of these previous motions also passed unanimously).

Yesterday’s motion will take effect following Council’s contracts for fossil fuelled electricity with Origin Energy which expire at the end of June 2022. These are through the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC). A separate continuing contract (also with Origin through SSROC) for renewable electricity covering 20% of Council’s electricity needs will continue until 2030. To implement the motion, Council will need a new contract covering 80% of its electricity needs as renewable electricity.

The text of the motion was as follows:

That Council:

Notes the following:

  1. Council currently purchases electricity through contracts with Origin Energy through SSROC (Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils). Council purchases 20% renewable electricity on a contract which runs to 2030, with an additional renewables tender expected in 2023. Council purchases the other 80% as fossil-fuel-sourced electricity on contracts which expire on 30 June 2022.

  2. Council currently has a target of net zero emissions by 2030, as detailed in Council’s recent Environmental Strategy (1).

  3. According to the CSIRO, AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) and other sources, renewable electricity costs are now generally lower than fossil-fuel based electricity and falling (2,3,4,5).

  4. Council declared a climate emergency in September 2019, and intends to take all practical steps possible to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

  5. The councils of Randwick, Ryde, Inner West, Waverley and Canterbury Bankstown have recently passed motions opposing fracking by Origin Energy.

Recommends the following:

  1. That Council commits to securing 100% renewable electricity at the earliest possible opportunity, and by 1 July 2022 at the latest.

  2. That, to the extent possible and in accordance with Council’s resolution in April 2018 to give preference to investments with organisations that do not invest in fossil fuels, Council will give preference to electricity vendors who primarily provide electricity through renewable sources, and avoid vendors that engage in fracking.

  3. That Council seeks to work with SSROC to establish similar policy in its electricity procurement arrangements.

  4. That staff report back to Council on the options for achieving this as soon as practicable.

Background (this was circulated with the Council agenda)

Cost-effectiveness and urgency of renewable electricity

Currently in the wholesale electricity market, renewable electricity is cheaper than fossil fuel, even including the cost of “firming” to cover for gaps in renewable supply (2,3,4,5). Both Sydney and Newcastle Councils achieved substantial dollar savings in transitioning to 100% renewable electricity (6,7). We are now at the right time to commit to 100% renewable electricity.

Council currently has a target of net zero emissions by 2030, as detailed in Council’s recent Environmental Strategy (1). However, electricity is the easiest form of emissions to reduce, with highly cost-effective zero-emissions products in the market. Other emissions will be harder to reduce, so we need changes now on the emissions that we can eliminate.

Origin Energy – Northern Territory fracking program

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”, or unconventional extraction of gas), occurs with the injection of a fluid comprised of water, sand and various chemicals at high pressure into an underground rock formation in order to open fissures, allowing trapped gas or crude oil to flow through to ground level for gas or petroleum production. Fracking has substantially opened up new supplies of gas, but has also raised enormous problems. Key concerns include contamination of natural water sources, massive water usage, the spread of carcinogenic chemicals used in the fracking process, earth tremors, and a substantial increase in “fugitive” gas emissions through the ground.

The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory (8) found that life cycle emissions from Origin’s NT fracking would increase Australia’s annual greenhouse emissions by up to 38.9 Mt CO2e (million tonnes of CO2 emissions equivalent) every year.

This would represent 7.3% of Australia’s 2019 domestic emissions (9), or 39% of all of Australia’s transport emissions (9), or more than three-quarters of all generation by NSW coal-fired power stations (10). Other reports suggest even higher emissions figures (11). In any case, the scale of this program’s emissions would undermine all other efforts by Australia to reduce its greenhouse emissions to meet its climate obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Some suggest that “natural” gas represents a “transition fuel” away from coal. However, recent research says that gas generally produces proportionally greater CO2 emissions than coal, when “fugitive emissions” are taken into account (12).

Origin Energy’s NT fracking program is also against the wishes and interests of the Aboriginal owners of the land (13).

Finally, the Northern Territory has much better economic options available to it using renewable energy (14,15).

References

  1. Environmental Strategy: Our Sustainable City, City of Canada Bay Council (2020), p7 & 32.
  2. New CSIRO, AEMO study confirms wind, solar and storage beat coal, gas and nuclear, RenewEconomy, 6 Feb 2020
  3. Australian power prices forecast to fall by 7% by 2022 as cost of renewables drops, The Guardian, 24 Feb 2020
  4. The cost of generating renewable energy has fallen – a lot, World Economic Forum, 7 May 2019
  5. How Falling Costs Make Renewables a Cost-effective Investment, International Renewable Energy Agency, 2 June 2020
  6. 100% renewable energy deal struck for the City, City of Sydney, 22 October 2019
  7. City awards 100 per cent renewable contract, City of Newcastle, 22 October 2019
  8. Final Report of the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory, April 2018, p 228.
  9. National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: September 2019 Quarterly Update, Australian Dept of Industry, Science, Energy & Resources, Feb 2020.
  10. List of coal-fired power stations in Australia, Wikipedia, updated 16 April 2020.
  11. How the Beetaloo gas field could jeopardise Australia’s emissions target, ABC, 29 Feb 2020.
  12. Gaslighting on emissions: IEEFA says burning LNG “worse than coal” for climate, RenewEconomy, 9 March 2020.
  13. NT Traditional Owners protest against fracking at Origin Energy’s AGM, NITV (SBS),1 6 Oct 2019
  14. NT government backs 10GW solar and storage plant, biggest in world, RenewEconomy, 20 July 2019.
  15. Sun Cable’s solar and battery mega-project may be first of many, RenewEconomy, 28 May 2020.

Note: A previous version of this motion contained a provision that for Council to specifically avoid entering any further contract with Origin Energy, for the reasons given in the background above.

Temperatures rising in Sydney Olympic Park

Temperatures rising in Sydney Olympic Park

If you think it’s been getting hotter around here – you’re right! Records of average temperatures in Olympic Park (the nearest weather recording station to the City of Canada Bay) show that average annual temperatures have increased from 22.7 degrees in 1998 to 24.5 degrees in 2019, an increase of 1.8 degrees in 22 years. In the same period, the number of days over 30 degrees has increased from 43 days to 60 days. That’s virtually doubled the number of days we get over 30 degrees!

Climate change has started, and will get a lot worse.

These figures (from the Bureau of Meteorology) have been smoothed to show the trends using five year rolling averages – the red figures. The raw figures in the charts (in blue) show an even greater change.

 

Review of Canada Bay Local Environmental Plan (LEP)

Council has now agreed to update its Local Environmental Plan (LEP). This major document controls all development across Canada Bay. Council will update it because the previous version from 2013 is now out of date. The key agenda concern for all councillors was to minimise the impact of the NSW state government’s dodgy low rise medium density policy, which allows much looser control over low-rise medium density buildings like dual occupancy buildings, “manor houses” and terraces, within housing zones that already allow multiple occupancy dwellings like apartment buildings.

As of mid July, 50 councils across NSW (including Canada Bay) have been able to defer the application of the low rise medium density policy. The update of the LEP – from the council’s point of view – aims to minimise this new policy of the state government, and similar policies which may arise. The state government, for its own reasons, also wants LEPs updated, and has offered funding to councils for this to occur. The state government must approve each LEP before it takes effect. The update will take about two years, because it requires consultancy to produce a number of substantial documents, and because of the complexity of the LEP document. The process also includes community consultation. Council will produce four background study papers as part of the LEP update:

  • Housing and Employment Study
  • Social Infrastructure Strategy
  • Local Movement Strategy
  • Sustainable Development Strategy

Beyond dealing with low rise medium density, there are potential advantages in revising the LEP. In particular, it could allow some useful changes with environmental benefits. Similarly, more community-oriented provisions in the LEP or DCP can give better community outcomes.

In regard to the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code

The Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code if applicable in Canada Bay would not allow developers to put manor houses or terraces into places with zoning that does not allow apartment buildings. (I understand that’s due to our Local Environment Plan (LEP) or Development Control Plan (DCP).

However where it applied it would bring other substantial problems, especially with much looser controls on dual occupancies, but other things as well. It also substantially widens the role of private certifiers on those medium density developments.

The period of the extension on introducing the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code may only be one year. Obviously this gives some breathing room, but does not solve the long-term threat. Obviously a two-year period to revise the LEP is longer than a one year postponement on the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code, so that leaves a huge gap, during which a lot of buildings would get approved creating precedents which would undermine any action a year later. Probably our best response would be to try to create pressure for longer-term changes through pressure in the next state election, due in March next year. It appears the State Govt wants to reduce that pressure with their one-year postponement.

 

 

The NSW government controls planning panels, but renames them “local”

One little thing I discovered this week: the NSW government controlled “IHAPs” (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) across Sydney all have now been renamed “Local Planning Panels” – by a direction from the Minister for Local Government. Here we see a great example of Orwellian “doublespeak”, with the panels staffed predominantly by people recruited and appointed by the NSW government, with a chair appointed by the government, and now a name chosen by the government. Not very local, except for one little thing: the government makes the councils foot the bill.

According to Wikipedia, “Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.”

George Orwell invented the term in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. Memorable phrases from that book include the slogans:

  • War is peace
  • Freedom is slavery
  • Ignorance is strength

You may think I am exaggerating. I say: the government does not believe in democracy for local government. So they have set up procedures which take away the most significant decisions formerly made by councillors. They have the power to do this, because the Australian constitution does not recognise local government as an independent sphere of government.

The government uses deceptive, misleading language to describe the planning panels, which are local to the extent that they make planning decisions about specific localities.  Yes there is a single local representative on the panels, who has no power to oppose development which the community does not want – unless it meets the state government’s highly prescriptive rules.

 

Bus services in the Inner West have been privatised

Bus services in the Inner West have been privatised

As of the 1st July, bus services in the Inner West have been privatised. On that day I went to the rally at the Leichhardt bus depot against the privatisation, and in support of support of drivers who are now losing pay and conditions. The privatisation breaks an express promise by the NSW Coalition that buses would not be privatised. We have already seen a large string of bus stops removed across Canada Bay on a dubious basis – all getting ready to help the operator make more money. Unfortunately, this will get worse.

More on dealing with development approvals

Most people reading this page will be dealing with some kind of development application that they support or don’t support. Hopefully this page will help you.

First of all, don’t send your objection to a councillor thinking they will be able to listen and get the application rejected at a council meeting. That’s because councillors no longer have a decision-making role on development approvals (which in my view undermines local democracy).

If you have an objection, send it to council staff. Council will then normally contact you about it.

If the development is contentious, then the Council staff will refer their report and recommendation on the DA to the “Local Planning Panel” (previously called an Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel [IHAP]) for Canada Bay. If the development is not seen as contentious, Council staff will determine the outcome. However, the following matters require referral to the Canada Bay Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel:-

  • DAs relating to development previously determined by the Panel
  • DAs where the owner or applicant is the Council or a Councillor, a member of a Councillor’s family, a member of Council staff who is involved in exercising Council’s functions under the Act, or a State or Federal Member of Parliament, a relative within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1993 of any such person/s. DAs for minor works such as internal alterations and additions to retail/office premises, advertising signage etc are excluded from this requirement.
  • DAs that receive 10 or more objections from 10 or more different households.
  • DAs seeking to depart by more than 10% from the development standards contained within the relevant Local Environmental Plan, but not where the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment has given concurrence to the contravention of the development standards or where the concurrence has been assumed.
  • DAs associated with sensitive developments such as designated developments, residential flat buildings assessed under State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65 – Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development, demolition of heritage items, licensed places of public entertainment (eg., clubs, hotels etc), sex services premises or restricted premises, and DAs accompanied by a Voluntary Planning Agreement under Section 93F of the Act.
  • Modifications of existing development consents under Section 96 and Reviews of Determinations under Section 82A of the Act that meet the abovementioned criteria. Note: Any Section 82A Review of a Determination arising from an application previously determined by the Panel shall be determined by different members of the Panel to those who made the original decision.
  • All Planning Proposals are required to be referred to the Panel for advice.
  • Council can elect to refer any other planning or development matter that is required to be determined by the Council to the Panel for advice.

More information on government policy for planning panels.

You can also call Council’s Strategic Planning team on 9911 6555.

Dealing with the panel

Unlike the DAs previously determined by councillors in open meetings, the IHAP’s meetings are mostly closed to the public, although they must publish the reasons for their decisions.

However, can still have the opportunity to address the IHAP at its meeting, for which you will need to register in advance.

How the NSW government has changed the rules

The NSW Government’s new legislation excludes councillors from making decisions on DAs. The excuse is to stop corruption. The “solution” is to remove the democratic influence of councils, with the NSW government grabbing control and planning laws made even more developer-friendly than before.

Up until now, DAs which were controversial were passed from council staff to the councillors. The decisions were made in an open council meeting, where people for or against a development had the chance to speak. But now, because of new NSW state government law, our councillors will no longer have any role in these decisions. Instead, they will be made by planning panels called IHAPs (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) – all across Sydney and Wollongong.

In most cases, the outcome would be the same. But in some cases it would be different, because elected councillors are concerned not just about following planning rules, but representing the community’s best interest. For that, they are accountable to the community, and can be later voted out of office if enough people disagree with them.

This is the latest example of the NSW state government taking power away from democratically elected local councils, and imposing their own rules. Not only that, but the extra bureaucracy adds more costs to councils for all its expenses. Then on top of that: if somebody appeals to the Land and Environment Court against any of their decisions, the council (who had no say in the decision) has to foot the legal bill.

Who asked for this backward step? The real estate industry. The Planning Panels / IHAPs are called independent, but the state government effectively controls them.

If you are concerned about this, learn about what the state government has done and continues to do about planning laws. Yes, I know it’s complicated. That’s why they have gotten away with this – up until now.

I hope this helps explain the current situation.

 

Councillor Charles Jago
Canada Bay Council

Parramatta River Catchment Group workshop on World Water Day

Parramatta River Catchment Group workshop on World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. I went to a workshop held in Rhodes with the Parramatta River Catchment Group. The workshop gathered broad input on the work and plans focusing on different aspects of the health of the Parramatta River. Their motto: make the Parramatta River Swimmable again! But more broadly, dealing with a wide range of factors affecting the health of the river, including the animals and plants that make it livable for us. For more info, see http://www.parramattariver.org.au/

Invasion Day rally and march – Australia Day is on the wrong day

On 26 January, I went to Canada Bay Council’s citizenship ceremony in Rhodes. Then I went to the Invasion Day rally and march. I think Australia Day could represent a great way to celebrate all the good things Australians have to offer and enjoy. Of course, the current date doesn’t work for Indigenous Australians, so we need to change it.

Many people say that, by itself, changing the date will not be enough. That’s true. We also need to do more to respect Aboriginal people through: 1) coming to terms with past history, and 2) improving action on practical issues affecting them. In regard to the first point, we Australians as a nation have never fully dealt with our history. By coming to terms with Aboriginal culture and rights, Australians could grasp a larger view of who we are as a nation. Aboriginal culture has a lot of wisdom that our money-obsessed material culture could learn from. But the widespread denial of negative aspects of our history makes it hard to do that. A treaty would be a really helpful symbol. The Uluru Statement from the Heart offers a useful way forward, if our country’s leaders could listen to more of the people.

In regard to the second point – improving practical actions with Indigenous people – taking action to stop imprisoning so many of them would be one of the most important things to do.  But before we can hope to achieve much of all this, Australians in general need to do more to listen to Indigenous voices.

(Adapted from my original Facebook post)