GREENS CALL ON COUNCIL TO STAY STRONG ON MERGERS

Wed 11 November 2015

Marrickville Greens Councillors called on Inner West mayors to respect the resolutions of their Councils and continue to stand up against forced amalgamations, after the Councils adopted near identical resolutions that claim to resist amalgamations and to submit merger options under protest – with a view to them only being implemented if the Baird Government forces the issue.

Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said, “It’s clear that the vast majority of residents in the Inner West want their Council to stand alone and not merge and that’s the position that Marrickville Council took last night.”

The Greens voted against submitting a ‘Plan B’ merger for a Marrickville-Ashfield-Leichhardt Council, as the Greens believe that Councils should not be merged without a vote of affected residents.

Clr Ellsmore said, “The Greens are concerned that the Labor Mayors for Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield have given the Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole, the impression that our Councils wish to merge, when the resolutions adopted by all three Councils last night explicitly opposed any voluntary amalgamation.

“Local Councils belong to their residents, not Premier Mike Baird. The community should decide on any merger.

“The Liberal Government would like nothing more than to abolish progressive inner city Councils like Marrickville and Leichhardt. It is these Councils that have stood up to WestConnex and will look out for the communities’ interest as the State Government pushes for open slather for development in significant ‘growth corridors’ through the Inner West.

“It is deeply disappointing that Labor Councillors have backed a Plan B merger option and are actively promoting it in the media.

“Only last month they were making strong public statements they would stand up and fight for their Councils. What has changed?

“The Liberal Government does not have the power to sack financially sound and successful Councils like Marrickville, and they have created bogus size and scale criteria to create an excuse to merge Councils. The Greens will continue to fight against forced amalgamations and the right of communities to determine the future of their Councils,” Clr Ellsmore said.

The Greens were successful in amending the motion to conduct a community consultation on the proposed plan B merger with Leichhardt and Ashfield Councils. A copy of the motion passed is below.

More information:    Clr Sylvie Ellsmore 0403 977 213

The formal statement from Marrickville Council outlining Council’s position can be found here: http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/en/council/newsandnotices/mediareleases/ashfield-leichhardt-and-marrickville-to-submit-joint-merger-preference/.

The Greens encourage residents to make their voices heard by:

For more information see the Save Marrickville Council campaign page.

Motion passed

10 Nov 2015: C1115 Item 1 MAYORAL MINUTE: COUNCIL’S RESPONSE TO IPART ASSESSMENT AND THE NSW STATE GOVERNMENT’S ULTIMATUM TO COUNCILS

 

THAT: 

  1. Council reinforce to its community, staff and the NSW State Government that its preferred option is to stand alone and is fundamentally opposed to forced amalgamations;

 

  1. Given the legal predicament we now find ourselves in and the ultimatum issued by the NSW State Government, submit a first merger preference for Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield Council and a second merger preference for Marrickville and City of Sydney Council by 18 November 2015;

 

  1. Council signal strongly to the State Government that it will:
    1. immediately withdraw its merger preferences if the State Government does not proceed with forced amalgamations;
    2. not support an Inner West Council amalgamation proposition comprising Marrickville, Leichhardt, Ashfield, Burwood, Strathfield and Canada Bay Councils under any circumstances;

 

  1. Council urgently undertake a community engagement process to inform residents of the latest developments. The community engagement process must highlight that Marrickville Council’s ongoing preferred option is to stand alone, and provide a genuine opportunity for residents to consider and provide feedback on the potential benefits and risks of an amalgamated Marrickville-Leichhardt-Ashfield Council, including through a survey and community information sessions; and

 

  1. A report be provided back to the first Council meeting in 2016.

 

Crunch time – Help save Marrickville Council

On 10 November 2015 an Extraordinary Marrickville Council meeting will be held to determine whether Council should “volunteer” to amalgamate as part of a new mega inner-west Council.

The Greens think residents should decide what their local councils look like. The Greens call on Labor and Liberal Councillors to stand up to the Liberal Government and vote for no mergers without community support!

Make your voice heard and sign the Petition to Save Marrickville Council.

If you live in the Marrickville Local Government Area you can also email councillors@marrickville.nsw.gov.au to raise your concerns about amalgamation directly with all of your local Councillors.

What is proposed for Marrickville Council?

Despite community opposition, the Baird government continues to push ahead with its plans for forced amalgamations across NSW. The NSW Government has told Marrickville Council it should amalgamate into a mega inner west Council, because it has been assessed as “unfit” by IPART.

The IPART Assessment of Councils found Marrickville Council to be a financially strong Council, but “unfit” because it too small. 71% of Sydney Councils – including City of Sydney – were found “unfit” because they are too small. Small Councils (the government claims) create too much “red tape” for government and developers.

The State Government had originally proposed that Marrickville Council merge with five other Councils to create a mega inner west Council with a population of 400,000. With none of the inner west Councils supporting this option, IPART has now suggested a merger of 3 or more Councils for Marrickville.

 

2015-11 Merged inner west Council image from website (3)

Crunch time – 10 November 2015 Extraordinary Council meeting

On 10 November 2015 the elected Marrickville Councillors will debate whether to put a voluntary merger option to the NSW Government.

Despite the State Government not having the power to sack Councils, some Labor and Liberal Councillors have suggested that Marrickville Council must consider voluntarily merging. They have proposed a merger between Marrickville-Leichhardt-Ashfield or potentially other Councils. See the Labor and Liberal proposals contained in the 10 November 2015 Council papers here.

If Council “volunteers” to merge, more powers are triggered for the Minister to suspend Council if he wishes. A public process may be held to consult with residents –  but the Minister does not need to listen to residents if they reject the proposed merger option!

This could mean no elected Council to stand up on issues like WestConnex and an uncertain future for the services and support that Marrickville Council provides.

Elected Councillors need to stand up for the residents who voted for them. The Councillors of Marrickville were democratically elected to serve their constituents and the Greens believe all Councillors should stand up to empty State Government threats.

What’s wrong with amalgamations?

Local Democracy – The Greens believe the community should decide what their Councils should looks like. Nearly 75% of residents voted against merging when consulted about amalgamations in 2015. Residents have asked Council to remain independent.
The Greens believe any new proposal to change Council boundaries must first go to the community to receive their support. The Liberal Government has set a deadline of one month for new merger options – no community consultation is proposed.
Services – The people of Marrickville appreciate the services and advocacy delivered by Marrickville Council. Marrickville Council spends more of its income directly back on residents than any other Council in NSW.
There is no evidence that services improve when councils are amalgamated. In fact, specialised services that our community loves so much, such as Council run-childcare & community festivals, will be threatened.
More efficient? – Local Councils aren’t wealthy, but they are – actually – very efficient. They have to be. Over the last few years State and Federal Government have withdrawn more and more grant funding across the board, and asked Council to pick up the slack. This includes, for example, cutting Meals on Wheels funding, reduced funding to maintain roads, and charging new fees for the use of public school buildings for subsidised childcare.
Under the amalgamation plans most estimated savings are proposed by “efficiencies” that involve sacking or outsourcing staff, or reducing services to the lowest common denominator across the merged Councils.
Cost – The cost of amalgamations will be many millions of dollars, rates are likely to increase (as happened in Victoria, Queensland and Auckland) and individual ratepayers will inevitably get less access to their local Councillors if mega-councils are created.

Does Baird have the power to sack Councils

No. Legal advice has been released which clearly shows that the Liberals need new legislation to sack Councils. This is why they are pushing the “voluntary” option. Read detailed legal advice on the website of David Shoebridge MLC.

What is IPART and “Fit for the Future” anyway?

IPART is the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. It sets special rates variations for councils
and is not independent of Government. The State Government asked IPART to assess all Councils as
to whether they were “fit for the future”, in terms of financial sustainability and size.

The Greens believe that the recent IPART report into local councils involved a flawed process that gave a rigged outcome. It recommended that of the 152 statewide councils, 103 councils merge, even though the vast majority were assessed as being financially ‘fit’. A NSW Parliamentary Inquiry has recommended that the government reject IPART’s findings.

Want to know more?

Save Marrickville Petition http://www.jennyleong.org/marrickville_council

Marrickville Council’s website http://yoursaymarrickville.com.au/amalgamations-and-marrickville

No Forced Amalgamations website which includes a summary of the business modelling undertaken by each of the six inner-west Councils  https://noforcedmergers.wordpress.com/

Save Marrickville Council campaign page with details of the community consultation undertaken to date https://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/issue/save-marrickville-council/

Save Our Councils statewide community campaign http://www.saveourcouncilsnsw.com/

Taking a stand against secrecy in planning

This is a story about what you can get dragged through when you challenge the system to stand up for what’s right.

It starts with a unsolicited proposal from the developer Meriton, who approached Marrickville Council with an offer to negotiate a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA).  The proposal was for Council to receive $5 million in return for supporting Meriton going from 10 storeys to 20 storeys, with a corresponding increase in density, at their Lewisham Towers development.

When I tell most people the proposal there response is generally “That’s a bribe. That can’t be legal?” 

However, it is legal.  On 6 May 2005 the NSW Labor Government made these kinds of offers legal by legislating Voluntary Planning Agreements into the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

Lewisham rally-TheGlebe

Local residents rally against the Lewisham Towers proposal

It’s no coincidence that this was at the height of developer donations flowing to the Labor Party.  Between 2003 and 2007, the NSW Labor Party received  $8,223,322 from the property sector.  Meriton itself was one of the more generous donors, giving the Labor Party $226,050 during that period.

The proposal was presented to a Councillor briefing on 27 November 2012.  We shared the information with a few people after the meeting, but thought the proposal so outlandish that it wouldn’t go any further.

I was wrong.  On the evening of Friday 7 December Councillors received a ‘Supplementary Business Paper’.  It was marked ‘confidential’ with a red cover and contained the Voluntary Planning Agreement proposal from Meriton with a decision as to whether Marrickville Council should enter into negotiations with Meriton.

Usually councillors receive the meeting papers on either Wednesday (or Tuesday night) leaving almost a week to read, consult and consider the agenda items before the Council meeting at 6.30pm the next Tuesday.

I was surprised that Council was seriously being asked to consider entering into a Voluntary Planning Agreement of this nature with such little notice and confused as to why the matter was deemed confidential by the staff preparing the report.

I emailed the Director of Planning, Ken Hawke at 12.23am 8 December 2012 asking:

“Can you provide more details on why the report on Meriton’s offer over the Lewisham Towers is confidential?”

I did not receive a response from Mr Hawke until 2.20pm 10 December 2012.  The response stated:

“Meriton advised that they submitted their offer as commercially in confidence,We accepted this argument, hence the item being confidential”

I believed this respond to be inadequate.  It is a central pillar of local government that planning matters are conducting in public.  There is a high risk of corruption on planning assessment because developers can make very large profits through decisions such as re-zonings or increases in height and density.

VPAs have been identified by the Independent Commission Against Corruption as a particular risk because of the ‘wide discretion and flexibility available to planning authorities’.  Indeed, the ICAC notes in its report “Anti-corruption safeguards in the NSW planning system 2012”:  “The perception could arise that a developer bribed a council to facilitate a favourable decision. “

ICAC recommends transparency in planning assessment and decisions as a key to preventing corruption.  It notes:

“Transparency is an important tool in combating corruption and providing public accountability for planning decisions.  A transparent planning system ensures the public has meaningful information about decision-making processes as well as being informed about the basis for decisions.”

I had been fighting overdevelopment of the Lewisham Towers site since 2008 and helped start the No Lewisham Towers community group.  Now I was faced with an outrageous planning proposal that was being dealt with in secret.

I was also conscious that certain Councillors tend to do one thing when the public is paying attention and another thing when they are not.  This is particularly true about the Labor Party Councillors who have a record of approving overdevelopments, but are sensitive about needing to appear progressive to voters.

After discussion with my fellow Greens Councillors, I decided the public had a right to know what council was deciding on, that transparency was likely to result in a better decision, and that there was a high risk that if the matter remained secret, Council would enter into negotiations on a VPA that would be much harder to undo at a later stage.

The initial oral briefing had not been confidential, and some Councillors had already told members of the public about the proposal.  So I decided to base public comments on what had been conveyed at the oral briefing rather than the written report.  I informed the No Lewisham Towers residents group about the proposal and I informed the Sydney Morning Herald, which ran a story – Size does matter: council offered $5m to approve towers at double the height, and I did an interview on ABC 702 radio.  I was also critical of the proposal being deemed confidential.

I knew that some Councillors would come after me, perhaps with a formal complaint, but I decided I wasn’t going to be complicit in keeping such an important matter secret.

There was public outrage towards the proposal, and also concern about the proposal being considered behind closed doors.  A group of residents came to watch proceedings, but were ejected from the public gallery as the Council went into closed session.

In closed session the Council resolved to reject the VPA proposal.  Mostly the debate involved other Councillors shouting at me and accusing me of “forcing their hand”.  It was concerning that some Councillors clearly felt that they may have made a different decision if the item had stayed secret.

As I suspected, the Labor Party put in a formal complaint alleging that I breached the Code of Conduct for Councillors.  Meanwhile the Greens put forward a policy to avoid VPA’s being dealt with in secret.

What followed was an investigation and report by an independent reviewer.  A censure motion against me and a demand that I unreservedly apologise to Meriton and Council.  I refused to apologise and I maintained I had acted ethically and in the public interest. You can read more about this here: Secret deals and censure motions.

The refusal to apologise was forwarded to the Division of Local Government for investigation.  Almost a year later the Chief Executive decided to order my suspension from Council for two months for failing to apologise.

You can read more about this here: Councillor suspended for being honest.

I appealed by suspension at the Administrative Tribunal and won, beating the suspension and need to apologise because the Tribunal found that I had not breached the Code of Conduct at all!

The Tribunal’s decision is available here: Phillips v Director General, Department of Premier and Cabinet [2014] NSWCATOD 48

It was only at the Tribunal, in front of a real judge, that I felt I had a fair hearing.  Marrickville Council itself is too riven with politics and conflicts of interest, that the proposition that Councillors would judge the case on the facts is ridiculous.

Max Phillips after the Tribunal hearing on March 26

Max Phillips after the Tribunal hearing on March 26

Disappointingly the Division of Local Government turned out to be a very strange, rigid process. They seemed intent of rubber stamping the Council decision and enforcing obedience to the Code of Conduct rather than investigating the facts of the matter.  Later at the Tribunal hearing they admitted they did not bother to look over the facts other than a cursory look to conclude things appeared “sound”.  In their submission to the Tribunal they said actually reviewing the facts of a case:

“is a power that should be used sparingly, for to do otherwise would be infringing on the autonomy of councils and, from a practical point of view, overstretching the limited resources of the Office [of Local Government].”

The Division of Local Government was intent of forcing me to apologise.  They did not care whether the apology was sincere or insincere.  Indeed during the hearing Peter Barley, the lawyer for the Division of Local Government said: “you could have crossed your fingers behind your back and said sorry, and then you would not face this suspension.”

But I refused to lie to the electorate by making an insincere apology.  Not only would it have undermined my own credibility, but it would have been unethical.  Part of my reasons for appeal against the suspension was that s439(1) of the Local Government Act explicitly requires a Councillor to act honestly.

The Division of Local Government responded by bizarrely by redefining honesty as ‘obedience’.  Responding to my argument that  an insincere apology would breach the Act’s requirement to act honestly, they state that it is: “an attractive argument… but ultimately superficial.”  The say that honesty “has shades of meaning” and that “acting honestly in certain circumstances involve adopting the standards of your peers”.

I found it bizarre that they wished to redefine honesty as obedience especially in a democratic system that by definition requires differences of opinion to be held and communicated.  It was quickly becoming a Kaftkaesque situation.

The Tribunal Member, Judge Wayne Haylen, ultimately found that the way the Code of Conduct operates that my argument about honesty failed. (I won the appeal on other grounds).  This makes me wonder what the point is of forcing Councillors to issue insincere apologies?  It seems to me that an apology is rather pointless if it is not genuinely felt.

Judge Haylen put it to me during the hearing that what I had done was the equivalent to an act of civil disobedience and that the penalty for such an act was a suspension from Council.  I have to admit that this threw me for a moment at the hearing.  However, I do not believe that informing the public of an important planning matter was an act of civil disobedience.  In fact I regard it as a core part of fulfilling my role as a councillor.

Ultimately Judge Haylen seems to agree with this view by finding that an apology was not necessary because I had not breached the Code of Conduct in the first place.  For a variety of reasons he found that the information I put into the public domain was not confidential and therefore there was no breach of the Code of Conduct.

There is important points in the decision about the use of confidentiality.  Judge Haylen notes:

“The report adopted by Council presumed that the material was commercially confidential in the way specified by the legislation because Meriton had stated that it wished the agenda item to be dealt with as confidential. That request accepted apparently by either the Planning Director or the General Manager did not descend into detail or identify the matters referred to in the Act. There was no evidence before the Tribunal as to the nature of the confidential material submitted by Meriton to the committee. Importantly, no one in the council independently turned their mind to the question of whether or not the material was confidential. An interested party clearly could not make that decision in their own interest but needed to present appropriate material to council to justify confidentiality of the material and in a way that reflected the legislative requirements for confidential status.”

This gets to the crux of the issue for an elected representative. We were confronted with what superficially looked like a technically correct process (red covered confidential papers), but below the surface was a dubious process with no real justification and with potentially serious consequences.  At this point a representative can either go along with the system, or they have to pause and to think independently about what is in the public interest and to make a call on what to do.

Too many of elected representatives get absorbed into the system.  They get captured by the rules and traditions and become another cog in the system.  This is especially true on councils where Councillors are part-time and voluntary and can easily be led by experienced staff who control the information.  Rather than a true representative, they become yet another administrator.

John Ralston Saul critiques the dominant role of the technocrat in modern society in his book Voltaire’s Bastards. His thesis is that technocratic systems get so caught up in their own systems of logic that they lose sight of common sense.

Challenging the status quo and shaking up the system are some of the important functions of the Greens in our political system.  Ultimately the Tribunal vindicated my decision to go public with the information.

There will always be some need for certain information to be handled confidentially.  However, too much information is deemed confidential in today’s society and it is too easy for bureaucrats or governments or others to default to confidentiality whenever there is some doubt.  Confidentiality can also be misused, particularly in hiding difficult or unpopular decisions from public scrutiny.  In my view, a decision to deem something confidential should always be accompanied by a detailed justification of exactly why it should be confidential – just giving it a red cover or printing the words ‘confidential’ is ultimately superficial and not good enough.

The decision in my case sends a strong message to Councillors across NSW that they should act in the public interest and not be intimidated by other Councillors or staff on issues of confidentiality.

The claim of confidentiality is often misused to keep decisions away from public scrutiny and I encourage people to always question whether there is a valid justification for something being deemed confidential.

Councillor Max Phillips

 

 

 

Budget increase a WIN for cyclists

26 June 2016: Following a heated debate in the Marrickville Council chamber on Tuesday night, the Greens were successful in their bid to significantly increase the budget to build bike paths. The additional funding will bring forward completion of a priority regional bike route through Camperdown, Newtown and Enmore.

Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said, “On Tuesday night Marrickville Council voted to include an additional $200,000 in the annual budget for new bike paths. That’s nearly double the $310,000 included in the draft budget.

“In the lead up to the vote, the Greens had released research showing that only 9% of the priority bike paths in Council’s Marrickville Bike Strategy 2007-2016[i] have been completed to date.[ii] Years of underfunding had led to a short fall of more than $7 million to build the priority bike paths identified by Council – half of which was to be funded by Council and half by the State Government.[iii] At that rate we would not have met our local bike targets until 2039,” Clr Ellsmore said.

While the Greens were not successful in their bid to increase the bike budget even further, to $1 million, in addition to the $200,000 budget boost they secured other commitments from the Labor-Liberal dominated Council, including:

  • A commitment that Council would prioritise bike infrastructure projects when seeking grant funding from other tiers of government; and
  • A commitment that opportunities for new bike paths would be included in the existing $1.35 million per annum ‘Connecting Marrickville’ project, a new program focused on upgrading footpaths and roads.[iv]

Greens Councillor Max Phillips said, “While Marrickville Council is not a wealthy Council, it is damning that only 1% of our infrastructure budget was to be allocated to bike paths. The modest funding increase won by the Greens (to 2% of infrastructure spending) is important, but it is clear that several of the Marrickville Councillors did not support the change.

“Repeated comments were made during last night’s debate by Labor and Liberal Councillors that Council could not “afford” to find any additional funding for bike paths. This is very troubling given that the Labor and Liberal Councillors were able to find an unbudgeted $1.2 million last year on top of $1 million for the one controversial Arlington Reserve artificial turf project alone last year.

“The real issue is one of priorities. The Greens think building better bike paths should be a priority for local Councils,” Clr Phillips said.

The Greens candidate for the State seat of Newtown, Jenny Leong, said “the new State seat of Newtown has some of the highest numbers of commuter cyclists in the state.[v] The city has many excellent cycleways through Surry Hills and Redfern. However, the further we get from the CBD, the more inadequate cycling infrastructure becomes.

“This week our local Greens had an important win. While at 2%[vi] of the Council’s infrastructure budget Marrickville Council’s bike spending is still modest, the increase shows the positive effects of years of sustained campaigning by local residents and the Greens for better cycling infrastructure.

“At the same time, there is only so much that Councils can do in the face of increasing cuts from State and Federal Governments. In the most recent NSW budget the Coalition allocated $60 billion to infrastructure that prioritises motorways and roads, but has failed to commit to funding bikepaths that will lower rates of injury for cyclists and reduce pollution in Sydney.

“The Greens think building better bike paths should be a priority for all levels of Government. We will continue to campaign to ensure that we aren’t condemning our growing community of inner-west cyclists to decades of infrastructure backlogs,” Ms Leong said.

Media contact:          Greens Clr Sylvie Ellsmore 0403 977 213

Find out more – visit our local Greens bike campaign page.

END NOTES

[i] Marrickville Bicycle Strategy available to download from the Marrickville Council website at http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/en/council/forms-and-publications/council-plans/bicycle-strategy/ .

[ii] For details of the level of underspend in Marrickville Council’s bike budget see the Answers to Questions on Notice provided put by the Greens to the 18 March 2014 Marrickville Council meeting, at https://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/bike-path-questions-2014/

[iii] As above, Answers to Questions on Notice by the Greens. In relation to the cost for Marrickville Council to meet its bike targets, Council staff advised: “The remaining bike route program is estimated at approximately $7,042,000 in 2014 dollars, subject to detailed investigation and design.”

[iv] The commitments outlined in a late Mayoral Minute (Item 21) put to the Council by Mayor Jo Haylen, included that Council would prioritise bike infrastructure projects when seeking grant funding from other tiers of government; and opportunities for new bike paths would be included in the existing $1.35 million per annum ‘Connecting Marrickville’ project, a new program focused on upgrading footpaths and roads.

[v] Based on Census data, reported at page 26 of the ‘Inner Sydney Regional Bicycle Network – Demand Assessment and Economic Appraisal’ (September 9th 2010), as available to download from http://www.thinkingtransport.org.au/library/2010/09/inner-sydney-regional-bicycle-network-demand-assessment-and-economic-appraisal

[vi] Prior to the increase voted last night, Marrickville Council’s DRAFT annual bike budget was $310,000 pa, out of a total annual Capital Budget of $28,772,363 – or 1%. The increase to $510,000 brings the figure closer to 2%. Figures are outlined in the Marrickville Council Paper for the 24 June 2014 Council meeting – Item 11, Attachment 2, ‘Operating and Capital Budget 2014-5’.

De-merger for Inner West Council should happen before next council election

Marrickville Greens – Media Release

2 February 2017

Former Marrickville Greens Councillors have called for a de-merger of the Inner West Council to happen before the next council election due in September 2017, after the State Government indicated that the policy of forced amalgamations will be abandoned and recently amalgamated council areas could hold plebiscites to opt to de-merge back to their original constituent councils.

Former Greens Councillor for Marrickville and current Local Representative Advisory Committee Member, Max Phillips said: “The extensive consultation conducted by Marrickville Council prior to the amalgamation made it clear that the majority of residents were opposed to the amalgamation.”

“Given the amalgamation was forced on the community by the state government, there is no real need for a plebiscite to de-merge the council, but if one is required, then it should be conducted well before the next council elections to ensure the de-merger happens as soon as possible and a democratically elected council is established.

“The Administrator should freeze all work towards the amalgamation until the future of the council or councils is sorted out,”he said.

Former Greens Councillor for Marrickville and current Local Representative Advisory Committee Member, Melissa Brooks said: “It is a great pity that Labor, Liberal and Independent Councillors did not agree to the Greens proposal to hold a plebiscite prior to the amalgamation or pursue legal options more vigorously.

“The state government has been dishonest about its amalgamation process from the start, if they seriously want to repair the damage they should enable a de-merger to happen quickly and not delay until 2019 for nor good reason.”

Sylvie Ellsmore – Greens candidate for Sydney

Marrickville Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore is the preselected Greens Candidate for Sydney in the 2016 federal election.

You can find Sylvie on Facebook here. Visit the Greens for Sydney campaign website here. Read more

Council calls for stronger tenants’ rights

Post by Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore, Co-Chair of the Marrickville Council Affordable Housing Committee

I was proud earlier this month that Marrickville Council endorsed a detailed submission to the Residential Tenancies Act review, an important review of NSW’s key rental laws, developed through the Affordable Housing Committee.

The submission calls for a shakeup of current tenancy laws, to provide stronger rights and legal protection for tenants, including those living in share housing.

Read a copy of the submission HERE.

Council’s submission details the stark reality of the housing unaffordability crisis in the inner city and inner west, with an increasing number of people living in rental accommodation for the long term, rents continuing to rise much faster than CPI, and less than 1% of rental properties now considered ‘affordable’.

Council’s submission calls for an end to “no grounds” evictions – which would ensure that renters have a stronger right to stay in their homes, and there must be a valid reason for them to be evicted.

The current laws are not only unfair, but help drive up rental prices, because a landlord who wants to massively drive up the rent in one hit can simply kick out a tenant who doesn’t agree, and re-advertise at the higher rent.

For more information about the Greens work on housing affordability please see the campaign page.

MAKE A SUBMISSION TO THE COUNCIL BOUNDARY REVIEW HERE!

You are encouraged to support your local council and make a submission on the proposed amalgamation of Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield Councils.

Click on this link to sign our sample submission and add your thoughts about the proposed amalgamation:

https://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/issue/save-marrickville-council/councilboundaryreviewsubmission/

Marrickville Council to be forcibly merged?

18 Dec 2015

The Baird Government has confirmed their plans for forced amalgamations of local councils across the state, in the face of growing community opposition.

According to the State Government’s plan, Marrickville Council will be merged with Ashfield and Leichhardt Councils. This is despite clear indications that residents in the Marrickville LGA do not want their Council to be merged and strong public statements by the Liberal Government before the election that they would not force amalgamations.

Member for Newtown Jenny Leong says:

“Residents expect good local representation. Under this plan the size of LGAs will increase dramatically, but the number of Councillors won’t. That will give residents less access to their Local Councillors, reducing the ability for local advocacy.

“Marrickville Council is known for delivering local services that cater to our community. We fear that those localised services, like Council run-childcare, community festivals – and the Magic Yellow Bus – are under threat.

“Our local community is known for being active and engaged. We know residents will not stay silent while the Baird Government attempts to take away their local council.

“Our office will be working with our Greens Councillors on Marrickville Council and residents to ensure that our message of “No Forced Amalgamations” is heard loud and clear at the public inquiry through the Boundaries Commission.”

Marrickville Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore says:

“Council has surveyed residents again and again about the proposed mergers, and every time the community has said no.  Residents want the services and jobs Marrickville Council provides protected.

“Marrickville Council is the second largest employer in the Local Government Area. The State Government’s agenda is about cutting jobs, shrinking the real size of Local Councils by forcing us to cut the services we provide and reducing ‘red tape’ for developers.

“It’s important that the Mayor and all Councillors on Marrickville Council stand strong and do not roll over, making it easy for the Baird Government to inflict this forced merger on our community.

“Local Councils should not be the plaything of the Liberal Government. The announcement of such a huge reform just before Christmas makes it clear that the Liberal Government understands this is a deeply unpopular reform, even within their own party.

“This fight is far from over. The Greens will continue to take a strong stand with local residents to say ‘Amalgamations No Way!’.”

For more information on today’s announcement and the NSW Greens’ response read this statement from Greens Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge.

Community groups’ use of halls protected

 

The Greens on Marrickville Council have defeated a push by conservative Councillors to increase fees for community groups and local not for profit groups who use Council’s community meeting rooms and town halls.

Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said, “Marrickville Council currently has a policy of providing our community meeting rooms to local not for profit groups at a lower rate than commercial groups. Council also offers a limited number of fee waivers or free use of Council halls and spaces, using strict rules and an application process.

At the 1 December 2015 Council meeting Conservative Councillor Victor Macri, supported by Liberal Clr Rosana Tyler and business Independent Morris Hanna, unsuccessfully tried to overturn a Council decision to “… facilitate the use of [Council] town halls and community meeting rooms by local community groups and not for profits at minimal cost where possible [and] not increase fees …. without consultation with those groups that may be affected.”

Clr Ellsmore said, “Of course community groups and local not for profits are charged lower fees than commercial or out of area groups.

“We have had Council study after Council study[1] telling us local community and resident groups want more access to our town halls and meeting rooms, not less. The pressure on community groups has intensified over the last few years, with the State Government moving to charge commercial rents for use of its buildings, when previously it provided free or low cost access to community services.

“It is positive that the majority of the Councillors have rejected a suggestion of significant fee increases for not for profits last night.

“Council is currently investigating ways to attract more commercial users of our Town Halls – for local weddings and commercial events for example. Investigating these options will help Council raise some additional income. However, in doing this we cannot and must not push our local community & resident groups aside. Our Council halls should be for residents, first and foremost. They are community assets, and the community has a right to use them,” Clr Ellsmore said.

A copy of the hire fees for local not for profits is available on the Council website: http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/en/outandabout/venues-for-hire/community-venue-hire-fees/. Not for profit hirers are charged $42 per hour, with regular hirers charged a lower fee.

Hire fees are publicly advertised each year, and residents are invited to make submissions before fee structures are adopted. The current Council policy does not differentiate between types of not for profit groups – but groups which are local get priority. The definition of not for profit covers local bushcare groups, book clubs, community services, charities, local political groups, wine tasting societies, religious groups and more.

More information:                 Clr Sylvie Ellsmore 0403 977 213

[1] See for example the “Recreation Needs Study” (2011) which found that access to small and medium sized meeting rooms was a key need in the community (available to download from http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/Documents/Marrickville%20Assets/recreation%20needs%20research%20strategic%20directions%20for%20marrickville%20report.pdf). See also the “Pressures Facing Local Community Services Organisations 2015” Report provided to Council on 17 November 2015, which found for the second year running that access to affordable premises in the Marrickville LGA was one of the most pressing issues facing local community services.

Alice St Community Wins Development Battle

Residents on and around Alice St in Newtown are celebrating after the Land and Environment Court refused an appeal by the development company Al Maha to expand their Alice St development.

Al Maha’s Development Application (DA) to add additional storeys to the block was refused by Marrickville Council twice earlier this year. Both Council and surrounding residents are concerned that development beyond the approved 5-storeys will be too high-density for the area, where public space, amenities and public transport are already under pressure.

Al Maha went to the NSW Land and Environment Court to appeal Marrickville Council’s refusal of the expanded DA. This week the Court made a decision in Marrickville Council’s favour, which states that additional height requested by Al Maha “breaches building height and FSR development standards” and “introduces other undesirable amenity impacts.”

Read the full decision here: https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/565ba12be4b003c5681fb06d

Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong said:

“This is a fantastic victory for local residents who have worked together to fight Al Maha’s attempts to build more storeys despite serious community concern.

“Developers like Al Maha need to learn to listen to community concerns, instead of trying to force through their short-sited plans for gargantuan developments that improve their profits but wreck our suburbs.

“Marrickville Council made the right decision by knocking back the expanded DA – twice – and it’s shameful that Al Maha tried to take advantage of state planning laws that favour developers to push it through.

“It says a lot that even with biased planning laws that favour developers this expanded development didn’t get through.

“This outcome proves that communities shouldn’t sit back and let developers pillage their local areas. A concerted community campaign can make a real difference.

Greens Councillor for Marrickville Council David Leary said:

“Marrickville Councillors have been proud to work alongside the local community to ensure that the Alice St development remains at a reasonable density.

“We had good reasons to deny the expanded DA and we’re understandably happy with the decision of the Land and Environment Court.

 

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