September 2020 - Issue 2

Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai Post

High stakes for street character

Councillors thrashed it out discussing the future of Ku-ring-gai in a live-streamed Council meeting on September 22.

The prolonged two-and-a-half hour debate saw all Councillors in agreement to reduce dwelling targets and reject the draft housing strategy.

Leading up to this meeting residents of Ku-ring-gai sent more than 1000 emails to their Councillors calling for them to put a stop to the proposed dramatic increase in building heights.

The draft housing strategy provides for 10,660 new dwellings in Ku-ring-gai up to 2036. It proposes 15 storeys in Lindfield, Turramurra and St Ives and more than 20 storeys in Gordon.

These are significant changes that will forever change the character of Ku-ring-gai.

First, it is important to clarify that all Councillors unanimously agreed to reject the draft housing strategy. What happened next is where it’s apparent the Councillors are in two camps.

Mayor Jennifer Anderson issued a four-and-a-half-page Mayoral Minute just 73 minutes before the meeting started.

Councillor Sam Ngai said: “The approach that the Mayor proposed for amending the draft housing strategy involved requesting Council staff make very significant rewrites and/or section deletions of the existing 596-page draft housing strategy.”

There was then a vote to accept the Mayoral Minute by Councillors. This is when a clear split among Councillors appeared. The vote was 5-5, with the Mayor using her casting vote to see the Council adopt the recommendation.

Unsure of the level of detail and the impact of the proposed housing strategy in the Mayoral Minute, Councillors Ngai (Roseville Ward) and Spencer (Wahroonga Ward) expressed caution should be taken before simply adopting the amended housing strategy as put forward.

Cr Ngai cited insufficient time to review the document before the meeting and he was unsure as to the detail or changes that had been made and how this would impact the community of Ku-ring-gai.

Several Councillors questioned the process and expressed a desire to have community consultation.

A ‘notice of rescission’ was then raised by Cr Ngai and supported by Cr Spencer, essentially allowing time for consideration until the next meeting.

Cr Kay (St Ives Ward), Cr Kelly (Gordon Ward) and Cr Pettett (Comenarra Ward) voted in support of the motion.

Cr Szatow (Gordon Ward), Cr Smith (St Ives Ward), Cr Greenfield (Wahroonga Ward) and Cr Clarke (Commenarra Ward) voted with the Mayor to adopt the housing strategy yet to be finalised.

The following day, in a press release issued by Ku-ring-gai Council titled “The protection of Ku-ring-gai’s character at a cross-roads”, Council provided an incomplete account of what transpired at the Council meeting.

The press release quoted the Mayor as saying she was “at a loss to understand” why the Councillors who lodged the rescission motion are “intent on denying residents unequivocal rejection of the Greater Sydney Commission housing targets”.

This misrepresented the position taken by those Councillors, who objected to the Mayor’s proposal due to the lack of due process and community consultation, not on the basis of disagreeing with the reduction in dwelling numbers.

Linda McDonald, President of Support Lindfield, condemned the actions of the Mayor saying: “The public should be able to rely on Council to provide accurate and truthful information.”

Support Lindfield became involved eight years ago. They are a not-for-profit organisation with an interest in Lindfield as they are locals. They would like to see Council adopt “more gentle density increases across the broader suburb with maximum seven-storey apartment buildings concentrated around the station”.

Councillor Ngai has since said: “The reason why five Councillors chose to raise a rescission motion is simple – the motion which the Mayor had pushed through with the use of her casting vote was not in line with the kind of good governance or informed decision making that I expect from Council.

“This significantly revised document was then to NOT go back to Councillors or members of the public for review, instead it would immediately be submitted to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for approval WITHOUT receiving any scrutiny from the Councillors or the public”.

Cr Ngai is feeling the backlash of the Council’s media release.

“This is the same Mayor who on July 23, 2019, voted to rezone part of Lindfield to allow for 14 storeys but was fortunately defeated 4 vs 6,” Cr Ngai said.

“The 14 storeys would have set a dangerous precedent for the rest of Lindfield” State Member for Ku-ring-gai, Alister Henskens SC MP, also felt the wider community were owed transparency over the final housing strategy stating:
“The Mayor is suggesting this is a win for our community, but I am not convinced. It is unacceptable that the same Council staff members who suggested 20-storey heights in Gordon and 15-storey heights in Turramurra and Lindfield and other inappropriate over-development, would then amend the housing strategy without any further scrutiny by our elected Councillors or the public. The process from here still needs to be transparent and the Councillors accountable.” The housing strategy will be up for discussion again at the October Council meeting.

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