A meeting held to discuss the impact of planning rules for Pittwater has reignited the council de-amalgamation debate.

The community forum, held on Sunday afternoon (24 July) at Mona Vale Memorial Hall, was organised by Pittwater ward Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy and Pittwater Environmental Heritage group member and Palm Beach local Anna Maria Monticelli.

The meeting heard from a series of architectural experts on the impact of poor planning decisions, including landscape heritage architect Professor Craig Burton, architect Professor Richard Leplastrier AO, sibling architects Sasha and Nic Lesiuk, and former Pittwater Council General Manager Angus Gordon OAM, who is also a coastal management and environment engineer.

In front of a COVID-safe crowd of around 200 locals wearing face masks, a number were recognisable as members of Pittwater based community groups and resident organisations. Pittwater ward Independent Councillor Michael Gencher and Narrabeen ward Independent Councillor Ruth Robins also attended the meeting but were not scheduled to speak.

Crowd gathered at Mona Vale Memorial Hall

Addressing the audience, coastal management and environment engineer and former Pittwater Council General Manager Angus Gordon OAM said the problem was planning rules lack vision.

Angus Gordon

Angus Gordon

“LEPs [Local Environment Plan] and DCPs [Development Control Plan] are formula, they are process documents to deliver the vision not to create one, that’s a really important thing to realise.

“They miss the first vital step of looking at visions and outcomes. They drive repeatable mediocrity, the McDonalds of planning. The reason they do it is to make it easier for developers and the state government.

“The old Pittwater LGA [Local Government Area] was a string of villages and settlements, each with its own culture and sense of place, which is a very important thing.

“We need go back to the basics, and ensure planning comes from vision. It doesn’t come from formulas, the formulas of DCPs and LEPs are what you have to implement the vision. Don’t get it round the wrong way,” pleaded Mr Gordon.

Anna Maria Monticelli speaking at Mona Vale Memorial Hall

Pittwater Environmental Heritage group organiser Anna Maria Monticelli (image above) concluded by telling the crowd the risks of overdevelopment demonstrated the need for Pittwater to be demerged from the Northern Beaches Council.

Ms Monticelli also publicly called for Member for Pittwater and former NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes to be voted from office at the next state election so a council demerger could occur. She and Cr Korzy are also members of the Protect Pittwater group, which held a demerger protest prior to the last Council election, at which Cr Korzy was elected.

Following the conclusion of the event, the Northern Beaches Advocate spoke with Ms Monticelli and asked her to clarify the purpose of the community forum.

Anna Maria Monticelli

Anna Maria Monticelli

“With the new LEPs and DCPs that are coming through soon, what we need to do is tell people that these new zonings will not safeguard Pittwater. At the moment we do have strict LEPs but no one adheres to them, people just do what they want. We don’t understand why this is happening.

“I took Louise Kerr [Director of Planning and Place, Northern Beaches Council] and some Councillors to show them the holes at Ocean Road and the big excavation at Whale Beach Road and asked, ‘How did this get through?’ That was six months ago, and she still hasn’t been able to give me an answer.

“They don’t listen to us, yet every five minutes they are asking us to have your say. We do have our say. We put a lot of time and effort into it, but they don’t listen. So the Council has to go.

“They’re doing what they want to do. The only way probably is to get an Independent to run against Rob Stokes. We can demerge and just be Pittwater, have our own council with very strict rules,” explained Ms Monticelli.

Councillors Michael Gencher and Ruth Robins watching on as Gordon Lang asks a question at a community  meeting

Pittwater ward Independent Cr Michael Gencher, who was in the audience for the entire event, was left unimpressed by the meeting which was to address overdevelopment, but then called for demerger.

Michael Gencher

Michael Gencher

“This is a phenomenal forum, but what action points are we walking away with? That’s where I get frustrated. Nobody said we should lobby state government today. It was change state government. It has been reported that the west is copping development and the Northern Beaches isn’t taking its fair share.

“Labor have been clear about their intent. If we’re talking about a change of state government you better be very prepared as a council and community, to be careful what you hope for.

“Obviously this was a political conversation, a demerger conversation. That’s not the conversation that was advertised, it was about overdevelopment.

“Demerger is a big topic people really don’t understand. We can go on and blame demerger but we’re not going to demerge. I don’t think the state will allow that to happen, and I don’t think the community wants that to happen.

“From what I hear, and I am not a survey, they have realised great benefits from amalgamation, but it’s also true they haven’t realised all the benefits.

“It’s a ‘big council’ question. There’s a way within the big council to also have what Pittwater wants, it isn’t demerger, necessarily. These things fire me up, and it gives me an idea of what people are thinking and how Council can actually help people.

“I think the big challenge I walk away with from today, is it was a conversation about demerger and politics, it wasn’t a conversation about overdevelopment, which is really what brought us into the room. Let’s have a real conversation about overdevelopment, what the new LEPs have to be and the process by how they are accepted,” said Cr Gencher.

Miranda Korzy

Co-organiser of the forum, Cr Miranda Korzy (image above) was unable to attend last Sunday because she was recovering from COVID. Speaking to the Northern Beaches Advocate on Wednesday (27 July) she denied the purpose was to propose demerger for Pittwater.

“The point of the meeting was about planning and Pittwater. Anna Maria [Monticelli] discovered that [landscape heritage architect Professor] Craig Burton had done a study in the 1980s before Pittwater seceded. He laid out the significant environmental and built heritage of the area. I was very interested to hear what he had to say about that.

“[Professor] Rick Leplastrier’s approach to architecture and design is very much to work within the landscape, not controlling the landscape but to enhance the landscape. When you’re talking about a vision for Pittwater, that’s very much what the vision is.

“I asked Angus Gordon to speak because he has experience in Pittwater LEPs and DCPs. I wanted to have somebody there who could give an overview of how they worked and if he could see where there were problems with it now and what needed to be done with it.

“We asked the young architects along [siblings Sasha and Nic Lesiuk] because I thought it was important that we had young people speak about their experience growing up here and how they felt about the area. They’re obviously going to be living here and they’ve got a big stake in the future.

“It was to get information out to the community, let them know that the LEP is being discussed at Council. It was to inform people, to get the Pittwater community together,” said Cr Korzy.

However, when pressed on the issue of demerger being raised at the event, Cr Korzy did not shy away from her preference for Pittwater Council to be reinstated.

“Whatever happens with mergers or demergers of Council into the future, this [LEPs] is the thing that we have to get right now. This is something that we will probably live with for another ten years.

“It’s something that we have to make sure is in the interests of the environment and the residents up here. But I’ve made no secret that I think this council is way too big. I do support the demerger protest that’s going to be at Parliament House but that wasn’t why I was involved in the forum,” said Cr Korzy.

Pittwater MP Rob Stokes

Member for Pittwater and NSW Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes (image above) acknowledged the concerns about overdevelopment but said extreme caution should be exercised in opposing the LEP process currently before Council.

“You hope for the best, but you plan for the worst. If there is a change of government, to their great credit the Labor Party have been incredibly honest.

“They want to cancel the [Beaches Link] Tunnel and they want to ram much more housing into this community. Their argument is we’re not taking our fair share.

“They have been very open that they want to see more unit developments in Pittwater, that’s very clear. So, let’s get the LEP done, and get our planning up to date.

“They have been very clear. If there is a Labor Government, I hope there isn’t, but if there is, that’s their plan. If our LEP has been finalised, they won’t be able to do it.

“But if it hasn’t been finalised, they will,” warned Minister Stokes.

Development of a single Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan (LEP/DCP) for the Northern Beaches has been underway for some time, with public consultation last year resulting in almost 400 submissions. A draft of the final LEP/DCP is expected to be revealed in 2023.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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