GM Answers


GM Debra Just

At our last meeting, Willoughby Council General Manager, Debra Just, fronted the Association to answer question. Her responses are below:

The General Manager commenced by outlining some key achievements for 2016/17 both city wide and within West Ward before providing answers to submitted questions and responses to questions from the floor. Answers to submitted questions and two questions taken on notice are provided hereafter.

Key achievements 2016/17

Some key achievements for 2017/17 included:

  • 317 projects delivered or substantially progressed at a value of $25 M
  • Forecast operating surplus for the year is expected to be better than both adopted and revised budgets, as are other key financial and asset metrics
  • Long Term Financial Plan (10 year horizon) is financially healthy and locks in previously unfunded, significant community projects, especially recreation and leisure projects
  • Willoughby won the prestigious LG Professionals award for “Excellence in Operational and Management Effectiveness” for the breadth and success of business improvements (84 projects which yielded $175k in savings) and for staff training and engagement in them
  • Met key challenges such as maintaining staff morale and productivity in highly uncertain times under the merger proposal, while continuing to implement a reform agenda (eg culture, project management, business improvement, risk, procurement)
  • Significant issues resolved or contained (Shorelink, The Haven)
  • Chatswood CBD strategy and CBD Parking strategy endorsed following wide ranging consultation
  • Promoted and hosted study tours to Chatswood CBD (5 national groups;1 international)
  • Submission on the North District Plan and staff working group’s influence on the Plan’s directions
  • Vivid and other initiatives such as Emerge Festival
  • Purchase of, and planning for, the former Artarmon Bowling Club
  • Gore Hill Management & Concept Plans adopted; $9.5 M in funding secured; VPA revised
  • Upgrade to Northbridge Baths
  • Shared waste agreement successfully commenced with savings and no increase in domestic waste levy for the second successive year
  • New volunteer program launched
  • 13 parks & playgrounds and 11 sports fields upgraded at $3.9 M
  • Disability Inclusion Action Plan adopted

Key projects for West Ward in 2016/17 included:

  • Chatswood Oval: renewal of turf practice wickets and upgrade to oval lights ($223,000)
  • Chatswood Oval refurbishment of Trumper Pavillion
  • Zenith Theatre upgrade: new carpet, painting and equipment replacement
  • Chatswood High School project: currently 90% complete and expected to be completed in August 2017 ($1,625,000). Includes carparks works (resurfacing, lighting, planting, pathway, onsite detention of water); renovation of change rooms; synthetic field, multisport courts and cricket nets; fencing, retaining walls, floodlights, on-site detention of water.
  • Chatswood Rotary War Memorial Athletics Field: new drainage, irrigation and turf scheduled to be reopened in November 2017 ($473,475)
  • Greville Street playground renewal ($87,000)
  • Campbell Park Playground renewal ($124,000)
  • Lowana Park playground renewal planned and consultation undertaken; works to be completed in 2017/18
  • Chatswood Oval & Park upgrade consultation undertaken to inform the development of a master plan. (Planned works for 2017/18 include playground upgrade – $184,000 and renewal of oval irrigation – $250,000
  • Works on 2 footpaths; 8 road surfaces, relining of 3 stormwater pipes and construction of a retaining wall

Significant West Ward park projects delivered over the last 3 years include:

  • Kenneth Slessor: new playground and park upgrade ($290,000)
  • Bartels Park: park and playground renewal ($97,000)
  • Lowana Park fence to separate dog exercise and playground areas ($34,000)
  • Greville Street reserve: oval drainage and surface improvements ($59,000)
  • Chastwood Oval: cricket nets upgrade ($31,000)

 Responses to questions asked prior to meeting:

Update on Amalgamations

At the meeting the General Manager indicated that there were no further updates to the multiple legal actions launched by Mosman and North Sydney Councils in the Land & Environment Court and the Supreme Court or the Woollahra’s request to be heard before the High Court.  Subsequently on 27 July, the Premier announced that the mergers would not be proceeding.

How much did you save Council soon after you arrived? How was this achieved?

Savings have been made, and continue to be made in a variety of ways. The largest impact resulted in savings of $2 million per annum from the restructure of senior officer positions in the Council. This sought to align Willoughby’s top heavy structure with other Sydney Councils.  It lead to a net reduction of 14 roles at the Director and Manager levels while creating additional new roles with required skill sets in project management, business improvement, stakeholder and community engagement, risk management for example.

Savings of $175,000 have been made from business improvement initiatives to date. In addition, Council’s participation in a new regional waste agreement will result in savings estimated to be worth $38 million to ratepayers over 10 years while providing the impetus to build new recycling facilities by the contractor. This agreement has enabled Council to keep its Domestic Waste Levy at the same level for the past two financial years.

What is your strategy for maintaining customer service in light of recent staff cuts?

As outlined in response to Question 1 above, the staff cuts have occurred in managerial positions, not front line customer staff.

To date the reductions have not impacted customer service. This is based on:

  • No increase in customer complaints
  • Improving Annual Corporate Performance Indicator results
  • Increased levels of community consultation and engagement eg City Strategy
  • Successful 2017/2018 Budget and Operational Plan Community Process which did not reveal significant customer requests outside of the proposed plan

In the 2017/18 Budget, Council actually put on two more field staff to deal with trimming and tidying of streetscapes and to be more responsive to such customer requests.

Our emphasis for business improvement is upon the customer’s experience as we seek to take out any steps in processes which do not realise benefits for the customer.  Our program has resulted in efficiencies in staff time which can release them for other tasks, including more time for customer service.

We are partnering with Services NSW to reduce red tape, especially for small businesses, thereby further improving customer service both within Council and within businesses.

When will Council undertake another Satisfaction Survey? These were quite useful, enabling a comparison over a number of years.

Council has completed a tender process to engage a provider to undertake a further Customer Satisfaction Survey.  Consequently Council has selected a preferred provider and intends to carry out the survey in the next 12 months.

In light of the intent of the Local Government Act in relation to excluding the public from meetings between all Councillors and Council staff (except for prescribed exemptions) how do you justify meetings behind closed doors that are called ‘Councillor Briefings’ that exclude the public?

 Section 10 of the Local Government Act provides that Council meetings, or committee meetings where all committee members are Councillors, should be open to the public, with certain specified instances where these meetings can be closed (section 10A).

A Councillor briefing session does not constitute a Council meeting, nor a committee meeting comprising solely of Councillors.  Therefore the section 10 provision does not apply to Councillor Briefings.  The guidelines issued by the Office of Local Government state that “members of the public are not entitled to attend other types of meetings (e.g. committees comprising of councillors and non-councillors or informal briefing meetings)”.

The purpose of Councillor Briefings is to provide an informal forum within which Council staff can provide Councillors with detailed background information about complex matters and to answer any questions the Councillors may have, in order to make the formal Council meeting process more effective and efficient.  No matters are debated at these briefings, nor are any decisions made.  They are not a decision making forum. Accordingly there is no loss of transparency for Council by the use of informal briefings which is a widespread practice amongst Councils.

The General Manager read out the topics covered in the briefings, the vast majority of which became public reports with the opportunity for the public to express their views either through the consultation processes or by speaking in the Chamber.

Can you negotiate with Lane Cove Council to overcome the impasse regarding the Beaconsfield traffic lights? (Also asked in question 11)

 Negotiations are underway between Willoughby’s and Lane Coves’ traffic engineers.  Three options to address the potential through traffic from Beaconsfield Rd to Ralston St have been developed by Willoughby’s Design Team.  The RMS will be consulted on all 3 options before the favoured option is referred to both Local Traffic Committees for consideration and adoption. We are extending our best endeavours to reach a successful outcome but have no powers of compulsion.

Clarification re notification policy for DAs. For example, regarding the recent proposed building at 67 Albert Avenue, there was not notification of the neighbourhood? Also, how does Council ensure that notification is carried out as per its policy?

 The application for 67 Albert Avenue (DA 2017/157) for the construction of a 16 storey commercial building was notified as a Category C (21 days and properties within 100metres of the site) to property owners between 24 May and 15 June 2017. West Ward Progress Association and West Ward Councillors were also notified as well as a Notification sign erected on site. Notification occurs through mail.

Although new buildings in a business zone (other than buildings separately identified in other categories such as shop-top housing) are listed under Category A because of the location and scale of the building a Category C notification was undertaken. (See an explanation of the details of the 3 notification categories below).

The Willoughby Development Control Plan requires notification of property owners, however recent practice has been to notify occupiers as well. A yellow notification sign is erected on site. Also notified are the Progress Association and Ward Councillors.

Part B4 of Willoughby Development Control Plan provides Council’s policy in respect to notification of Development Applications. Part B4(10) identifies 3 Notification categories.

  • Notification Area A
    • 14 day notification
    • Generally applies to low density residential development (Dwelling Houses, dual occupancy, secondary dwelling) and development in commercial or industrial development. It does not include development in heritage conservation areas, or development other than ground floor alterations in an E4 (Environmental Living zone)
    • Notification area is 1 property either side, 3 properties opposite and 3 properties behind.
  •  Notification Area B
    • 14 day notification
    • Generally applies to other low density residential development not covered in A Notification above (eg Heritage conservation areas and E4 zones) and residential flat buildings and shop-top housing up to ten units.
    • Notification area is 3 properties either side, 5 properties opposite and 5 properties behind.
  •  Notification Area C
    • 21 day notification
    • Generally applies to larger scale residential development (eg more than ten units, boarding houses, Seniors Living) or other controversial or large scale development (eg Child care centres, recreation facilities, churches, pubs, etc)
    • Notification area is all properties within a 100metre radius of the site.

How does Council ensure it is accountable to the community? Eg. That it abides by its own DA approval conditions and what are the consequences if it does not, addresses concerns raised by the community etc?

Council delegations require any application lodged by Council or on Council land (other than change of use or internal alterations in a business zone) to be reported to Council for determination. Council policy also requires that where objections are received to applications for which Council is the applicant, an external town planning consultant is to be engaged to undertake the assessment and report to Council on the application.

In accordance with provisions in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, any Council related development over $5million is to be determined by the Sydney (North) Planning Panel.

A new staff structure has been implemented to provide separation of roles between DA Assessment and Certification providing further internal checks in the assessment and certification processes.

Council cannot be the Certifying Authority for their own development where the cost of works exceeds $5million in accordance with the Building Professionals Act and Regulations thereunder. As with all Certifying Authorities, Council Certifiers are accredited by the Building Professionals Board (BPB) and are answerable to the BPB in respect to any complaints made.

Following the strata law changes in November 2016, has the Council taken any steps regarding the visitors car park in strata blocks? Will it be approaching strata bodies with a proposal?

An owners corporation may adopt a by-law preventing owners and occupiers of lots parking in visitor parking spaces. Normal notice requirements for a by-law breach would apply and if the unauthorised parking continued, a penalty may apply.

Alternatively, the owners corporation may decide to enter into an agreement with Council to prosecute car parking breaches on the common property.  If the local council agrees to such an arrangement, the owners corporation would need to pass a special resolution vote (that is, 75% of the owners in a meeting agreeing) to enter into a commercial contract.

The NSW Office of Local Government guidelines are now available for how to engage a council in providing parking management services through the FairTrading website.

Council would consider any proposal to enter into a parking agreement on its merits but it does have resource implications for Council and it would need to be able to cover its costs.

At a recent Council meeting on 26 June 2017 Council considered item 18.3 – Chatswood CBD Draft Planning and Urban Design Strategy. A number of people attended the meeting from Mirvac (regarding the old Post Office are) and Mandarin Centre.  Council left the zoning for those sites B3.  I believe this means they are unable to build mixed use residential sites on these sites (one commercial/retail).  Also another unrelated site is on the corner of Pacific Highway and Help Street (North East corner).

What is the next step for these sites where developers have proposed tall residential developments?  Is their only step to go away and come back with a commercial/retail development or can the State Government/Planning Department override the CBD strategy?

 Council has endorsed the draft Strategy for the Chatswood CBD retaining the B3 Commercial Core zoning which prohibits residential. Any existing or future applications for rezoning (Planning Proposals) proposing residential in the Commercial Core would be considered in the context of the Strategy and as such unlikely to be supported. Where a rezoning application is not supported by Council, the proponent has the option to seek a Gateway Review through the Department of Planning and Environment.

How would you suggest the best way is to deal with issues that include adjoining LGA’s eg the Beaconsfield lights issues where Lane Cove Council is holding up the process of the installation of traffic lights at Beaconsfield/Ralston Sts intersection at bay?

 See response to Q6.

 With regard to the proposed lights on Mowbray School Oval, the school community were told by Council officers that the lights would be on 3 nights per week. Now the DA posted mentions 7 nights per week.  What is going on?

 A letter was sent to residents on 6 February, 2017 indicating proposed times of use to be weekdays to 9.00pm and special school events on weekends to 9.00pm. This letter was prior to lodgement of the application to give residents advanced notice and seek feedback to assist in the preparation of the Statement of Environmental Effects for the DA.

The times proposed in the Development Application (lodged 21 June 2017) are consistent with the times proposed in the letter in February.

Already a draft District Bush Fire Hazard Reduction Plan has been produced for the new Council group.  The Draft includes Willoughby and I assume that Willoughby Council staff are preparing the final version.  The Draft Plan claims there are no major bush fires expected in the area.  Chatswood West was impacted by a major bush fire in 1994 and Willoughby was included in Draft Bush Fire Hazard Reduction Plan for groups of Councils North and West of Willoughby.  Does this mean that the protective area burns proposed in the Draft by these Councils are no longer planned by the new Council?

 Council’s Hazard reduction work is not compromised by the new committee structure.

The newly formed Bushfire Management Committee under the Metro East Command of NSW Fire and Rescue, comprising Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Councils  has included all the previously planned and scheduled burns in its program for 2017-18.  For example, Mowbray Park (Melrose Place) is a 1.10 ha burn with high priority and is proposed in the coming month , subject to weather conditions and NSW FR staff availability.

After the 1994 fire, Council staff experimented with “armouring” patches of ground in the Lane Cove park area near the sewer bridge over Blue Gum Creek, for the purpose of preventing re-growth of the bush understory which was the main vector of the 1994 bush fire.  If the trial was successful in supressing the understory re-growth, can this process be applied around the boarder of the bush land/residential interface, using ground rock produced by the tunnel machines operating at Mowbray and Pacific Highway?

The use of a crushed sandstone bed at Blue Gum Reserve within the Lane Cove National Park was used to cover a highly degraded area with weed propagules such as Anredera, in  order to provide clean growing medium for future regeneration. This was successful. The fire in 1994, (long before the capping was used) had, according to NPWS staff, not affected that area, but created several small spot fires below Greville St.  As this material is an ideal basis for future plant growth – it was also used at Flat rock Gully to assist native plant re-establishment-  it is not proposed as a fire retardant. The site disturbance likely to be caused would also be inconsistent with environmental legislation that Council must comply with.

Responses to additional questions that could not be answered on the night:

An update on the prospect of a right hand turn on the Centennial/Mowbray Road Intersection

The plan attached shows land to be acquired from the relevant property owners.  We have been informed that (please refer to the plan attached) land portion ‘B’ has been settled, leaving land portions ‘A’ & ‘C’ yet to be resolved.

Detailed surveys are now underway to better define the land portions involved for the widening of the intersection. (I suspect this may be part of the negotiations that is taking place with the property owners)

Given that there are underground utilities to be relocated, we are of the opinion that the reconfiguration of the intersection will not be commencing soon.  Bear in mind that the RMS will also have to give the final approval of the detailed design, which would most probably mean that work may commence in 2018 to be completed within this financial year (2017/18).

A request to replace the air-conditioning in the Dougherty Community Centre – some meeting rooms are boiling hot and other areas very cold.

There is a bid in place for the replacement of the AC at the DCC – although it is a few years away at this stage.

In the interim, Property Services will look at the AC controls, as it sounds like a temperature control issue rather than purely an AC plant issue.


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