Midday Question Time

Moderator. Well if that doesn't raise any questions, I don't know what will. In a few moments, three case studies will be presented. One is Bundeena/Maianbar, the second is Warringah, and the third is Rhodes, each of which raises various issues. We have allocated a short time, about 10 minutes, for any questions coming out of the presentations by David and Laura. I'm also to do a quick advertisement: there are four "sustainable communities" pamphlets available in the foyer. One of them specifically deals with local planning and the environment and actions which community members can take. So I suggest that you pick that up when we take a break.

Anne Wood [Counsellor, Wollongong City Council]. Just a procedural comment. I think that if the numbers are down this year, a lot could be laid at the door of the Local Government Conference – which has been held over the last weekend and Monday, Tuesday , Wednesday. I think probably a lot of counsellors have put a lot of time and effort into that and they’re probably taking a break this weekend, so I suppose there are words of encouragement there too.

Ian Jeffrey. I come from one of the local precinct committees. We have some difficulty in believing that a lot of what comes out of Council in this direction is any more than a PR exercise. That it looks good at the end of the day. You can say that you've consulted with 3000 residents or whatever, but in reality it doesn't mean that much when some of the decisions tend to defy most logic. There are clearly all those in Council who are supportive of precincts – and here I'm talking both of council staff, and councillors – and there are clearly those who aren't. So I'd like to ask David what is being done in Council to put that side in order? It is very difficult to get the constant interest of the public if they think they're wasting their time.

David Ackroyd. A couple of points. We do need, if we're to go out and to consult, there needs to be a commitment from the councillors, that they are prepared to listen to the voices of residents and the feedback which is coming back in to Council. I would say that with our current Council that in 99% of the cases that we've been involved in consultation with, that those voices are heard and the issues presented back to the councillors are respected. There are times when for good reasons they are dealing with legal issues, constraints on Council, where we simply cannot implement some of the wishes that some residents want us to pursue. What we need to do there is to get better at providing feedback to residents, as to why those cases could not proceed.

In terms of the precinct residents’ associations, and getting staff to value the consultation process, I would say that within Council there are some staff who do see consultation as a poison chalice. It does take time, it does take resources, it does take commitment. There does need to be a change in the culture with some staff – it takes time. Many staff come from professional backgrounds where consultation has not been a key component of their training and we need to start putting that onto the agendas of professional organisations of the universities, that consultation is as much a professional skill that is required of planners, engineers, community workers as any other technical skill you have to acquire.

Irene Simms [Councillor, Auburn Council]. We don't have the SEPP 5 problem. We have very few SEPP 5 applications. But in our case it's really flat development where we have a problem, with a significant number of our councillors suggesting that those of us who don't think high-rise development is an improvement for our (low socioeconomic) community have no vision. You talked about the estate agents going around and taking options and things like that. I don't know what this forum can do, but I hope it's a message we can send out somewhere, because we actually have a Council of 12 councillors – 4 of ours are estate agents. So from where I'm coming from, which is a resident action group, that's a very big problem. We have the other thing that was mentioned before, which was trust in your councillors. We have community consultation – we had a significant one the other night. Two members of the community came, because they don't trust us and it's very hard. You can put it all out there, you can put out advertising, but I just don't know whether we can start to address that. So a lot of the things that have been said we find to be problems, but the trust issue that was raised this morning was significant and I just don't know how you turn that around. Even to get the message to the community if they want to listen. But if we can get some estate agents off council...

Moderator. Well, what we might do with that one is take it on board as an item for the panel to respond to, because I think it's a very broad issue of significance to everyone. Let us move now to the case studies, which are about 10 minutes each, and the first of these is from Neil deNett, who will deal with the Bundeena/Maianbar community locality.