Fire levy hosed down

HouseFireFor many years NSW has had a Fire Levy to fund firefighting and emergency services (such as the SES). The levy has been collected by insurance companies as a component of home insurance policies. This meant that only people paying home insurance were funding the services that are free to all households.

In a move to a more equitable scheme, the State government introduced a new form of the levy that would apply to all properties in NSW. The levy was to be based on the land value of a property (not its resale value). However, due to protests about the cost of the new levy, the government has decided to scrap it.

As an example as to why people were protesting about the new levy one household fronting high risk bushland in Chatswood was paying $91 p.a added to their home insurance. Under the new levy they would be paying $332 – nearly four time more.

The government has claimed that under the insurance base levy, premiums paid covered 80% of the cost of the service with 20% being directly funded by the government. The new levy was to be ‘revenue neutral’ meaning 100% of the costs would be raised by the levy. Do the math.  The same household would expect to pay around $110. Yet the new levy was three times higher than that.

It is obvious that there were glaring flaws in the levy as it was legislated. However, the equity principle of charging all households, not just some, has merit as does the concept of a ‘revenue neutral’ levy (similar in fact to how our Council garbage collections are funded).

Let us hope that in any new legislation the government gets it right.

DA changes?

IHAPYesterday, after due consideration, the State government decided to defer mandating changes to how some DAs are determined. Instead it says that it will consult on the issue.

READ the story about the deferral

The way Development Applications (DAs) are assessed and determined may change. A recent report (SMH Tuesday 25 May 2017 p,1) suggests that the NSW Government is set to strip some planning powers from Councils by legislating that Councils use some form of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP).

Currently, developments at Willoughby Council progress to determination in a number of ways:

  • Complying developments that are assessed as meeting the criteria set down and are typically approved by a Private Certifier without any consultation with residents
  • Development Applications that are assessed by Council officers who make a recommendation to Council who determine the Application. Residents can submit objections to the Council officer and address Councillors and Council.
  • Greater Sydney Commission Planning Panels (GSCPP) where large developments are determined. Council officers make an assessment and a recommendation to the panel. Residents can comment and address the panel. Each of the Sydney Planning Panels comprise five members: A Greater Sydney Commission District Commissioner – the Chair; Two state government appointed representatives and Two council appointed representatives
  • Other State Government processes for significant developments

There is existing legislation that allows Councils to divert some Development Applications to a panel of experts called an Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP) constituted under Regulation 23I of the Planning Act. 

A number of large Councils have been using IHAPs for some time. However, there seems great diversity in how individual IHAPs are structured and work. Councils seem to determine which applications will go to IHAP. Whilst the IHAPs were intended to consist of technical experts, some have community representatives.  Some IHAPs do their own assessment whilst for others Council Officers undertake the assessment. Some IHAPs can determine the application whilst others make a recommendation back to Council.

A major reason for the possible changes is Improved probity. Currently, developers can be elected to Council and vote on development applications. The same regulation was previously proposed with the draft overhaul of the planning opwers earlier in the year that was withdrawn by the government.

What does this mean?

Currently Willoughby Council consists of thirteen community elected people and can include a developer(s). The Councilors are Ward based. So typically a resident deals with their three Ward representatives. With a IHAP it is likely that there will be two community representatives in a five person panel with the other three being technical experts. This structure is not dissimilar to the recently disbanded Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPP) who previously determined applications now going to the GSRPP.

The Mayor of Willoughby, Clr. Gail Giles-Gidney has made the following observation on IHAPs: “I support this move. A number of our neighboring Councils already have this. IHAP’s will still enable all to have a say but to an independent panel, not one that could potentially be influenced by getting votes or looking after mates. It will be important though to make sure the panel has local representation to ensure the local perspective is heard. It should also make the process quicker.”

It appears that these new measure will be considered by Cabinet this coming Thursday.

New school near you?

4storeySchoolIn NSW, schools are a permissible use in a residential area. This means that a school (or childcare centre) can be proposed next door to you at any time. Previously, only public schools could be built by-passing the Council Development Applications (DA) process. Now, the state government is proposing to extend that benefit to private school operators. This will allow for the construction of classrooms, childcare centres, gymnasiums and lecture theatres as high as 22 metre (4 storey).

No DA is required.

No consultation is required.

Just a letter advising that work will commence in a couple of days time.

The government needs to accommodate an additional 170,000 students over the next 15 years.

Source:  Lisa Visentin, p.1 SMH, Friday 26 May 2017

Boat parking in streets

BoatParkingWilloughby Council has endorsed new powers relating to boat trailer parking throughout Willoughby City Council. The new regulations are designed to discourage the nuisance caused by the long term parking of unattended registered boat trailers on public roads, often caused by people who do not live in the local area.

This follows overwhelming support from the local community for the new restrictions (82.8 per cent of survey participants), during community consultation. The new powers also aim to encourage off-street storage of boat trailers to free up on-street parking spaces for local residents.

The new legislation (following recent amendments to The Impounding Act, 1993) relates only to registered boat trailers, with registered box trailers and caravans excluded. The changes enable councils to implement tighter management arrangements in relation to registered boat trailers that may otherwise be parking lawfully on public roads.

Under the new powers, nuisance boat trailers may be required to move at least every 28 Mayordays, and must move at least one street block. If the boat trailer does not move, Council must provide the registered owner with 15 days’ notice before impounding the trailer and also has the option of establishing a charge for the release of an impounded item.

Over the last 12 months Council received 30 complaints about boat trailer parking.

“The new restrictions have overwhelming community support and sit well alongside Council’s overall Street Parking Strategy which aims to manage demand for, and increase street parking capacity across the Willoughby area,” said Willoughby Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney.

Classes: All in together

togetherEducation strategies continue to evolve. The latest see a class size of 112 students being taught by 5 teachers. When it comes to direct instruction, the school claims one teacher can teach 40 or 50 students.

Such classrooms are the new form of composite classes. A paradigm that is contested by some educationalists. The traditional composite class was often created by combining two year groups (e.g. yr  5 & yr 6). This evoloved to creating aged based classes then to classes catering for students with similar skills or needs. Often, there is only a few composite classes in a school, leading some parents to feel that their child is being disadvantaged.

Some doyens of pedagogy believe that the multi-age approach is better for teaching and learning. Mixed grade classes provide much more overt recognition of different learning needs. However, others counsel that schools should have either all or no composite classes to overcome the stigma often associated with composite classes.

Source: Pallava Singhal and Inga Tong, The classroom with 112 students. The Sun-Herald May 21, 2017 p. 12.


Soaring schools

SoaringSchoolNot only are enrollments in public education soaring, schools are soaring to catch up.

According to sustainable, architectural firm DesignInc. State governments are turning to CBD vertical school designs. Schools are now being built over multiple levels (typically 6 stories) because of a lack of green or vacant space to cope with population needs.

The spaces in such schools are ‘integrated’ combining learning, spaces, common areas, natural light, convertible spaces, libraries doubling as learning hubs, and terraces. The boundaries are becoming blurred as education stumbles towards uncharted waters. Designers are attempting to future proof schools with innovative design – adaptive change?.

The traditional school of the 60s (1860s?) had a lot of glass but they were not light. Lockers blocked corridors.

Modern learning environments may not have enough chairs for students who may have a stand-up desk or space to use their multiple mobile devices. Teachers without desks and perhaps in the future classes without traditional teachers? (Autonomous/ collaborative learning perhaps?). Design shaping pedagogy perhaps. Ken Boal of Tech giant Cisco feels that “if teachers  have been doing something for 20 (or 40) years I symthasise. More training of teachers is needed“.

Back to the design of these perhaps ‘teacherless’ learning spaces, according to one luminary, “the spaces were are designing are not big open (empty) barns, but they can be if needed‘.

Source: Verity Edwards,Only way is up for schools, Weekend Australian May 20-21 2017 p.47