Council Press Release 12 December 2014: Community, Councillors and Council staff work together on dog exercise areas
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Update 09 December 2014
TRRA Inc. held one of these workshops in relation to the Soldiers Point Marina and it was well attended and very successful. We recommend your attendance if you are interested in defending Your local environment.
Original Post 23 December 2014:
TRRA Inc. do not have a position on this proposal yet, we are still gathering information on it and we have collated what we have so far for our members and Committee to form a view. We have attached links to the newspaper coverage and wont repeat the details of the proposal and the public meeting which has been well covered in the articles, maps and documents below.
We will continue to post further information and Media as it comes to hand. We encourage our members and local Bobs Farm Residents to comment on this issue in the comment box below.
The extra traffic on Nelson Bay and Marsh Road on top of the other sand mining activities in the area and the mines proximity to Bobs Farm township and its school have certainly received plenty of attention in the media, but the process has a long way to go yet, and there will be ample opportunity to make submissions and voice opinions.
This project has been on the cards for a while and although Council Officers were aware of it back in February 2014 most Councillors read about it in the papers when the local P&C were contacted by the proponents for an ‘Information” session. A public meeting was called on 25 November 2014. Several of our committee members attended the meeting and local residents have requested our assistance.
The site had some history to it, as This Document shows, the original owners application to clear vegetation from 14 hectares for an olive farm in 2002 was refused. In 2010 the Council received a complaint and discovered that sometime between 2002 and 2004, 4.68 hectares was cleared without consent. Although Government Authorities were aware of this, it was not reported to Council and nothing was done about it. Note also that this document specifically recommends against entry or exit to the site from Marsh Road and gives clear reasons why.
To get a better Idea of what is proposed click on the links below.
Ammos Resource Management: Exploration Licence (View PDF’s)
Tattersall Lander Pty Ltd: Consultants
Newcastle Herald 24 November 2014: PICS: Plans For Sand Mine Next To Primary School
Australian Mining 26 November 2014: New Sand Mine Proposed For Small NSW town
Newcastle Herald 28 November 2014: Fears Nelson Bay Road will become an ‘accidental highway’
Examiner 02 December 2014: No sand mine in our backyard says Bobs Farm residents
Newcastle Herald 02 December 2014: LETTER: Suspicion over mine justified
ABC News 04 December 2014: Bobs Farm locals worried about environmental impacts of sand mine
NBN News 27 Feb. 2015: Anger Over Port Stephens Sand Mine Proposals
Newcastle Herald 07 October 2014: Sandmine Lease Advice Ignored
Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a Council meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils Annual Financial Statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then adopted, moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. This action is of great concern to TRRA Inc. This just means less transparency and accountability by this Council to its ratepayers
TRRA Inc. – What we do and Why
TRRA Inc. membership consists of ratepayers on the Tomaree Peninsula who really care about protecting their lifestyle and environment. That is why they join and come to meetings. They in turn have elected a Committee of activists who were experts in their field, to ensure that their voices are heard by the elected Council Representatives and Council Staff who control that environment. Everyone gets a chance to elect the Councillors and the Mayor once every four years, but some obviously do not care enough to inform themselves sufficiently before election day, and don’t worry about it afterwards until the next one. Probably none of them would bother to join TRRA.
Politics and vested interests, as we have clearly seen in the last Council election, often distort the process and we have to wear the result for another four years. Many of our Councillors do not think that they need to be accountable to the electorate until the next election. Some I have to spoken to say “I have been elected by the people, so I will do whatever I think is right for the rest of my term, that is what I was elected to do.” They even go out of their way to make sure we don’t even find out what they did, by invoking “commercial in confidence etc.” Others actually consult with groups like ours and talk directly to their constituents to find out what they want of if they have changed their views!
On our Committee we have had many people from diverse backgrounds, Some have retired, some are still working. It is a moving feast because people travel or move and are not always available, some people are more passionate about certain things than others. In the last few years we have had input from Business Consultants, Managers, Lawyers, Accountants, Union Officials and people with PHDs in Environmental Planning, Privacy Commissioners, retired Teachers and Public Servants with expertise in preparing and making complex submissions to Council and various Government Departments.
We have had a small team of qualified people analyse the PSC Financial Statements for 2013-14 as we do each year, and we have some serious concerns, but we are not prepared to release the result at this time. When you read the rest of this story you will understand why.
This Council has form……
In 2010 we had a major disagreement with Council Management about a proposed rate rise, and the way that they were administering their Council owned Holiday Parks. They were also operating some Parks on Crown Land and questionable Council run businesses associated with this activity. Enquiries from TRRA and articles in the Newcastle Herald lead to the Crown commissioning Delloittes to audit their books . There was an adverse finding, and although the Crown had no objection, TRRA Inc. then had a two and a half year battle with Council management through the GIPPA freedom of information process, involving the Office of The Information Commissioner and the Minister for Local Government to get access to the audit. By the time we did it was ancient history and Council had complied with the schedule forced on them by the Crown to disentangle the Council Funds from the Crown funds (everything was in one bucket and even the auditors had to guess who was entitled to what). Council were told in no uncertain terms that there must be transparency and accountability in future in the way that these business units were operated. The Deloitte Report cost $75,000.00 (it has 75 pages = $1,000.00 a page!) and our copy is a scanned one, so it is too big to post here. Suffice to say: the Trust Fund was frozen, and Council was given 2 years to sort it all out.
Council lost every argument on this including the rate rise (disallowed by the Minister because they had lost more in one year on one failed business venture than the rate rise would have raised, and done nothing to address that problem) They constantly obfuscated and appealed every decision until there was no where left to hide. This is when the dreadful loss of 17 Million Dollars (and counting) at Samurai Holiday Resort became apparent, and they were exposed for very dodgy accounting in their business units. We think each Business Unit should be accountable separately, we have a right to know to know what is performing and what is not performing, and the reasons why, after all it is our money! It appears that the Holiday Parks lost about $856K in 2013. We don’t know what happened in 2014. We have serious misgivings about what is going on at Soldiers Point and what we still call Samurai.
Here We Go Again…………….!
Imagine our surprise when we discovered (belatedly, we can’t stay on top of everything that they do!) that Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils annual financial statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. The convoluted argument put in the report in support this resolution is contained in the Council Papers HERE. It tries to avoid any future accountability by saying that a requirement for a “competitive Neutrality policy” in 1993 no longer applies and a gives a totally confusing definition of when a business is not a business, neither of which address transparent business practice and accountability to stakeholders (Us!) which is actually the point of producing a financial statement.
This is the bit that really blew us away given Councils recent history:
“The current process of reporting on the existing four (4) business units being Property Development, Holiday Parks, Civil Works and the Newcastle Airport is manual by nature, time consuming to prepare, confusing to the users of the financial statements, and when assessed on the whole adds no benefit to the users of Council’s financial statements.”
“By eliminating the Special Purpose Financial Statements for business units this will have a reduction in the time taken to complete the financial statements, a reduction in the time taken to audit the financial statements, and remove an area of great complexity from the interpretation of the result of the business units.”
“They are pretty dumb, what they don’t know, won’t hurt ’em!!!”
It is not just us you know, most of the Councillors don’t know what is going on either! The information is just not there in the books, but they signed off on it anyway………..
The key to all in this document is the Risk Assessment:
“There is a risk that the new auditors may disagree with the proposed treatment” – not likely, that was probably why they got rid of the last lot!
“There is a risk that members of the public may comment unfavourably regarding the removal of the business units” Well they sure as hell got that right!
These are our “unfavourable Comments”
Council Adopted the 2013 -2014 Audit Committee Report on 09 December 2014, with this:
‘”The TRRA contends that information contained within these reports was useful and served a specific purpose, particularly in relation to the Holiday Parks. It is suggested that contact will be made with the TRRA to provide a high level of financial analysis to assist them in their enquiries. The submission has been forwarded to Council’s external auditor as required by legislation.”
We are waiting, pencils sharpened, calculators and spread sheets at the ready…………..Stay tuned!
We report on the reaction of the Government and the Council to our submissions:
This little Gem was on Page 131 of the Papers for the 28 October 2014 Ordinary Council meeting. CLICK HERE.
We are still scratching our heads about this one. What happened is clear in the report but we have never heard of lease where the landlord pays the power bill then chases the tenant to recover it. Forgetting to send the accounts is unforgivable but who is the intellectual giant at Council that draws up the leases. Obviously the legal advice that the Tenant got was a lot better than the Councils, that might explain some of the the other legal pickles we are in at the moment.
The Eagleton Quarry near Raymond Terrace is a case in point, we are yet to hear what the withdrawal from the case in the Land and Environment Court has cost Ratepayers. The potential of the long running case over the Lagoons Estate drainage is still of great concern, it has been in court again recently as well. More reports on these matters as information comes to hand.
Samurai Beach Resort is no more. The last 5 page report about the resort to the October 28 2014 Council Meeting did not contain any reference to Samurai in all 5 pages. All memory of Samurai Beach Resort has been expunged, deleted, erased! Council Staff refers to it as 562 Gan Gan Road, One Mile Beach. Carmel Foster – Acting Group Manager Corporate Services now calls it ‘TreEscape Park!’
TRRA Inc. still remembers it as the black hole that swallowed at least $17 Mill of ratepayers funds, that Council closed in April 2013 and now they are going to borrow another half a million dollars to open it up again!
The letter TRRA Inc. sent to Councillors before the Council Meeting is HERE
A copy of a letter from the avid Council watcher “Concerned Ratepayer” sent to us and Councillors is HERE
A response from Carmel Foster A/Group Manager Corporate Services is HERE
Despite our concerns the TreEscape proposal was supported by all but one Councillor (Dingle) at the meeting. The motion was that Council:
TRRA Inc. have examined the material that Council have released on the proposal so far, and from what we can see for the short term they are just reopening the resort on the same basis that it was operating before closure in 2013. The proposed sale of the demountable cabins next year is of great concern to us because the proceeds are to be ploughed back into the site infrastructure, including building a camp kitchen. What is the exit strategy here? If they could not sell it before with decent accommodation on it, imagine what they will get for it with a few tents and a camp kitchen. The projected $450,000 sale price for the demountables is very optimistic. Where is the evidence for a market in second hand cabins?. The specialized craneage and transport costs to move the units may be more than the cost of new units, delivered in flat-pack form and bolted together onsite.
The original proposal to sell the cabins first, which would at least have determined their real value, has now been superceded by borrowing the $450,000 from the Property Trust Fund, without any guarantee of recouping that amount. So they are going to throw another borrowed half million at a very flawed investment with little prospect of recovery.
TRRA Inc. seriously doubt the viability of this proposal, If Council are going to borrow more money for this failed investment, ratepayers will want detailed answers to the following questions:
Successive Councils have abdicated their responsibilities and completely failed their constituents since it became obvious that this investment was an absolute dog back in about 2004. TRRA Inc. is amazed, given this history, that the Property Services Dept. would come up with this recommendation to go after this very different market, and that the majority of our Councillors would just accept their proposal without question after closing the facility altogether last April.
TRRA Inc. remains to be convinced that there is any merit in this proposal and we demand some answers from Council to our considered questions as soon as possible.
TRRA Inc. will be submitting a GIPPA (Freedom of information) request to Council immediately.
Council Press Release 30 October 2014:
New affordable holiday destination at One Mile gets the green light
On Tuesday night, Councillors endorsed the opening of TreEscape Park, an affordable camping and accommodation destination at 562 Gan Gan Road, One Mile Beach.
They also approved the sale of 11 onsite cabins in the new year, the funds from which will be used for new infrastructure and the refurbishment of existing units.
TreEscape Park will provide low-cost accommodation and camping facilities that will allow holiday-makers to take full advantage of all the activities in and around Port Stephens.
TreEscape Park will provide opportunities for educational and activity-based camps for school groups, leveraging off the extensive native flora and fauna. It also aims to promote outdoor physical and creative activities such as bush-walking and jewellery-making, as well as social activities like cooking, sing-alongs and campfire storytelling – old-fashioned fun that is perhaps being left behind in the age of rapidly-advancing technology.
The Park also has a tennis court and fully landscaped swimming pool and spa, making it the perfect family summer holiday destination.
TreEscape Park will be operational by this Christmas 2014.
Update 16 December 2014: Port Stephens Council delivers on a Christmas promise for car parks
Hot on the heels of the announcement that the Nelson Bay Coles Supermarket is to close on 09 November 2014 we now get the News that the Donald street multi story Car park will close on 05 November as well.
Examiner 30 November 2014: Difficult Times For Nelson Bay CBD
Council Media Release: HERE Potential Lease sites: 35-39 Donald St. 9-11 Government Road
Council Media Release: Car Park Closure Location Map
This will have a devastating effect on parking in Nelson Bay CBD once the fence goes up around the Woolworths Construction site, and all but the ground level parking is closed at Donald Street. TRRA will be attending a ‘Business Breakfast’ tomorrow morning to gauge the Business Association’s reaction to this news. It appears that this will be a long term situation unless Council can lease some alternative land and make it suitable for parking pretty soon.
The timing of these announcements is unfortunate, just before the busy Xmas tourist season. We would like to know how long Council has known about this situation? TRRA has repeatedly asked for better signage and a cleanup of this area in the last six months but there has been a flat no to spending any money on rectifying anything to do with this building. How long has Council been sitting on this issue? We have a letter, signed 31 March 2009 by Carmel Foster, PSC Commercial Property Manager, stating that:“The existing structure in the short term will require substantial maintenance at considerable cost to Council.”
TRRA Inc. has some history with the Council and the Donald Street East Car Park. We made extensive submissions to Council about a proposed Public Private Partnership with Coral Corp Pty. Ltd on the site in 2008. This process had actually started in August 2006. The whole thing came unstuck when the developer insisted on a lot of commercial retail and residential being incorporated into the development to make it viable. When calculations were done by TRRA to include the required off street CBD parking as well, the structure needed to be over 10 stories high which would not have been appropriate for this site. Then the GFC came along and the whole thing was put in the too hard basket.
TRRA Inc. also has major concerns about the frittering away of section 94 funds by this Council on small projects. We had a building boom here in the Bay 5 to 7 years ago and substantial funds were contributed by developers at the time. These funds should have been earmarked for major community infrastructure, related to those DAs, and been used as a basis for applications to Government for grants to support that essential big ticket infrastructure, not spent on elaborate structures to accommodate commercial ventures such as the $8 mil spent on surf clubs. We support Surf clubs and their storage and facility needs but we are not sure even they envisaged what they ended up with.
Where are the section 94 funds now? a lot of it was wasted on commercial ventures and Councillors small pet projects, now it is all gone. The foreshore work at Nelson and Shoal Bay is an exception but that was peanuts in the overall scheme of things.
The only piece of good news is that one enterprising business has seen the opportunity presented and looks set to cash in, if the customers can find a park!
Examiner 29 October 2014: Pub To fill Grocer Gap At Nelson Bay
ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 17 September 2014: NSW Parliamentary Inquiry To Investigate Planning Decisions In Newcastle
A Parliamentary Inquiry has been set up to investigate controversial planning decisions in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. The inquiry comes in the wake of an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into allegations Liberal MPs in the Hunter received illegal political donations from developers.
TRRA Inc. has already had our concerns about PS Council raised in Parliament HERE.
Follow up letters were sent by Hon Sophie Costis MLC: HERE
After the ICAC inquiry another letter was sent to Council and the Minister HERE.
Port Stephens Council response HERE
Minister Toole’s response is HERE
TRRA will be accepting the Minster’s invitation and making an extensive submission to the inquiry requesting that all planning and other decisions made by Port Stephens Council involving Buildev Pty. Ltd. and those named in ICAC Operation Spicer be reviewed forthwith.
TRRA will be actively lobbying the members of this Legislative Council Inquiry to “inquire into and report on aspects of the planning process in Newcastle and the broader Hunter Region” Watch this space!
TRRA Inc. and EcoNetwork Port Stephens Inc. have Joined forces to bring you a Public Community Forum convened by the Better Planning Network Of New South Wales.
Venue: Tomaree Community Centre – Salamander Bay
Date: Wednesday 12th November 2014
This Public Community Forum is jointly convened by:
The NSW Better Planning Network (BPN): betterplanningnetwork.good.do,
EcoNetwork-Port Stephens: econetworkps.org
Tomaree Ratepayers & Residents Association: www.trra.com.au
Update 17 December 2014: Thank You Councillor Dingle!
Councillor Geoff Dingle raised this matter with Council Planning Staff and there was not much enthusiasm but when he indicated that if it was not fixed he would be calling it up before Council under s96 which could have delayed the project. Common sense finally prevailed and drawings were provided for 3 toilets and baby change facilities. We are Relieved………
Original post 10 October 2014
Woolworths have applied to make what they describe as minor design changes to their new supermarket which will be built on the Coles site over the next year.
However, one proposed change is not so minor. Woolworths want to be relieved of the condition that they provide public toilets in the development. Their application misleads by assuring that they will still be providing ‘public toilet facilities’ off the lobby area, but when you look at the plans this is just a single ‘accessible’ toilet.
A lot of people don’t like to use ‘accessible toilets’ – thinking they are reserved for people with disabilities – and in any case one such toilet is in no way a substitute for proper separate Mens and Womens facilities.
We understand that Woolworths have already got away with this at their new Medowie store.
There are no public toilets in that part of the town centre and this is a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to get a decent new facility at no cost to Council. Woolworths are already making this the most basic development with only the bare minimum of ‘public benefit’ infrastructure.
We think Council should refuse to delete the condition. If you agree, please send a submission (however brief) to Council before 15 October – by post or email – a template letter is HERE
October 15 2014 TRRA Submission to Council: 141015 TRRA sub Woolworths variation
Recently TRRA Inc. had a resident express concerns about how messy the kerbside clean ups are and how they usually seem to coincide with school holidays when all our visitors are here….. Not a good look.
According to the response received from Council, things are set to change from 1st July 2015 with one more collection to be organized next year (on a date yet to be decided – hopefully outside of school holidays!)
Council is currently in the tender process for a new contract and an on-call bulk waste collection is an option being considered. This was a suggestion taken on board following consultation with (some) residents.
This method involves the resident calling a booking service where they will be given a specific date for their bulk waste collection. This is a method used by a number of Councils and allows the residents more flexibility as they can have the pick up when they need it. This also sorts out the issue of piles left out for a long time and scavengers.
In the meantime, why not use the services of the Salamander Bay Recycling Centre, an independent not-for-profit charity. They provide a bulk household waste removal service for the Tomaree Peninsula only.
The link to Waste Management HERE on the Port Stephens Council website is well worth a read. It covers all sorts of information about waste disposal and recycling in Port Stephens.
New residents in particular should remember that not all Councils operate in the same way and here in Port Stephens we have the excellent Bedminster system and this drives the methods used for waste management .