Mike Baird - our local MP and the State Premier - resigned on January 19 in a move that surprised everybody.
The state's top job is now in the capable hands of Gladys Berejiklian, Australia's first female Liberal Premier.
And Manly will face a by-election to choose our new representative.
Good For Manly President and former Manly Councillor Candy Bingham said Mike's open, friendly approach would be greatly missed.
“Mike Baird was totally committed to our community, and worked tirelessly. In more recent times it was clear that his arduous duties as Premier made it more and more difficult for him to service his electorate”, Mrs Bingham said. "We have him to thank in particular for the long overdue Northern Beaches Hospital and the B-Link bus service which will go some way in helping to ease traffic congestion on the Northern Beaches", she said
History of State Seat In Manly
Manly is often considered a safe Liberal seat, but it was held by two independents - Peter Macdonald and David Barr - for sixteen years until Mr Baird won the seat in 2007.
It even changed hands completely between 1978 to 1984, when Labor's Alan Stewart was the Manly MP.
However at the last election, in 2015, Mr Baird won 75% of the vote after preferences, with Greens candidate Clara Williams Roldan a distant second with 25% of the vote.
At the time of writing potential candidates had not been announced, however there is a lot of speculation as to who will stand!
“I think what locals will be looking for is a representative who is connected to the community,” Mrs Bingham said. “What party they come from is less important than their ability to work hard for their electorate, listen to the community and understand local issues”, she added.
Based on community research, it would seem that council amalgamations is one issue that would not be a game changer here in Manly.
This is despite anti-council amalgamation activists threatening to “turn Manly into Orange” and rally against the Liberal Party unless the forced council mergers are unwound.
“I really think people have moved on from that,” Mrs Bingham said. “At the time of amalgamation there was some concern that Manly’s voice would be lost in one big Northern Beaches Council. However I believe that the lack of resistance to amalgamation in Manly was not due to apathy, but rather that people were wanting a change from the Wong/Hay stronghold on the Council". (Henry Wong was the General Manager and Jean Hay led the Liberal bloc which approved many unpopular projects - a number of which have subsequently been terminated by the new Council's Administrator).
The by-election will take place in the next few months.
What would you like to see in Manly's new Local Member?
Two major projects were announced by the Northern Beaches Council this week utilising $14m allocated for major projects that improve community infrastructure and services, provided by the State Government as a result of the amalgamation of the three former Councils.
Connecting the Northern Beaches
An iconic coastal walkway from Palm Beach to Manly will be created over the next two years connecting existing walkways with an additional 8km of new pathways and 14km of shared pathways. The 36km walkway will include an extensive council-wide cycle way and shared path network connecting with the B-Line (bus service). Total: $22.3m.
Connecting all through Play
This comprises firstly, the creation of a regional network of inclusive accessible playgrounds including two major new all abilities playgrounds at Manly Dam and Lionel Watts Reserve Frenchs Forest, and upgrades to play areas across the northern beaches to make them more inclusive. Total: 6.3m.
And secondly, further funding for the upgrade of sporting facilities and Surf Life Saving Clubs for priority upgrades to improve accessibility, inclusiveness and the critical role of surf lifesavers. Total: $4m.
The first round of Commuity Grants, totalling $537,690, were also announced with 25 community organisations receiving funds to support various projects ranging from bushcare to social impact programs. It was noted that about 1/3 of the grant funds were allocated to programs for those with disabiliies.
You can download more details on each of these projects from the documents below:
At the Council meeting tonight, Administrator Dick Perrson stated that the amateur swim clubs would not be required to pay new lane hire fees for the rest of this financial year, following a stalemate in negotiations between the Council and the Clubs.
It was stressed however that the matter would need to be re-addressed for the 2017-2018 financial year.
With a number of the Clubs under threat of folding, this is a welcomed, although temporary reprieve for the Clubs. Let's hope a satisfactory outcome can be reached in the new year.
Is it fair that local not-for-profit swimming clubs, which have been operating in Manly for 80 and 100 years, should be expected to pay excessive lane hire fees in addition to entry fees?
That's the debate that has caused a total stalemate between the new Northern Beaches Council and the three amateur swim clubs which use the Manly Swim Centre.
The 22 week swimming season was scheduled to start early in October, but Manly Swim Club, Manly Women's Swimming Club and the Manly Diggers Club have not been able to use their traditional home at the Manly Swim Centre Boy Charlton Pool.
The deadlock is over just how much is a fair fee for non-profit clubs to pay. The Council wants $53.00 per lane per hour, in addition to entry fees which have been estimated to tally around $80,000 annually.
The Clubs say they just can't afford it and they will probably close. They are concerned that they are been hit with huge fees because the $27.3 million indoor facility, which they don't even use, was so over budget.
In contrast, a survey of other amateur clubs using council pools elsewhere in Sydney, pay no lane hire or a nominal fee plus entry.
"This is a clear case of where the amalgamation of the three councils has not served Manly. While the former Manly Council strongly supported the amateur swimming clubs, it seems the new council is focused purely on service fees. It's Council's role to provide facilities for the community - not to price local groups out of existence", said former Councillor Candy Bingham.
It is understood that local member Mike Baird has met with the Clubs and the Council but that no solution has been found.
Meanwhile, the swimming season is well underway and the Clubs have no where to swim.
It's a disgrace.
At midday on Thursday 12th May the Proclamation was published abolishing Manly, Warringah & Pittwater Councils and creating one Northern Beaches Council, to be run by an Administrator until the next Council elections in September 2017.
By the end of the day Councillors were notified by staff that their emails had been switched off and access keys decommissioned. All Resident Community Precinct Groups were told they were disbanded. The community was in shock – it all happened so fast.
Enter the Administrator …
Dick Persson has been appointed by the Premier to form the new Council. (Mr Persson is well-known and highly regarded as the former Administrator of Warringah Council from 2003-2008).
He quickly appointed former Pittwater General Manager, Mark Ferguson, as the overall GM, with Henry Wong (Manly) and Ric Hart (Warringah) as Deputy GMs, along with the existing six Deputy GMs. All general staff have been guaranteed their jobs for three years. However some changes will obviously need to be made at the top level.
Former Councillors were contacted by the Administrator and invited to continue contributing on interim committees.
One Week Later ….
The first Extraordinary Council Meeting was called on 19th May by the Administrator, at the former Manly Council Chambers.
A packed gallery was personally greeted by Mr Perssons, “call me Dick”, setting the tone for a relaxed and engaging meeting.
One hour was set aside for the public forum with 15 speakers addressing issues such as the Oval Car Park (of course), Manly2015 Plan, Plastic Free July, Sydney Road upgrade, the future role of precincts and cost issues in relation with the new Swim Centre.
Mr Persson was attentive, polite and asked questions.
One Northern Beaches Parking Sticker
The Administrator replaces the Councillors, therefore any matter on the agenda, he decides.
First item of business – he initiates one Northern Beach parking sticker, effective immediately, although Manly residents will need to wait three weeks for new stickers to be issued.
He stated that while technology can generally be a good thing, in the case of ticketless parking meters this clearly had not worked.
Manly ratepayers will get their parking stickers back! This will entitle us to park anywhere on the Peninsula - at the beaches, parks and reserves for free all day; and four hours will remain at Manly beachfront, Shelly Beach, Clontarf, Sandy Bay and Spit Bridge.
Each household will receive two stickers, which will be posted in the next couple of weeks.
Manly Precinct Forum Groups
The Premier, Mike Baird, has given an undertaking that the precincts are to continue under the interim Council. It is expected that the Administrator will address this issue shortly.
Council Interim Committees
Former Mayors Jean Hay and Michael Regan, and former Deputy Mayor, Kylie Ferguson, will be part of a newly established Implementation Advisory Group, and will chair new Local Representation Committees made up of many former councillors from all three councils. These committees, under the headings of Social, Environment and Economic, will provide advice and guidance to the Administrator.
The next Council elections will be September 2017.
One Point Of Interest …
Mr Persson stated that overall the Government received 28,000 submissions in relation to the state-wide amalgamation proposals, 18,000 were from the Northern Beaches with the majority supporting one council.
The meeting concluded with the public invited to stay for refreshments. The next meeting will be held at Pittwater in two weeks, and future meetings will rotate amongst the old council areas for the time being.
In the meantime it is business as usual with Customer Service Counters operating at Manly, Pittwater and Dee Why.
UPDATE: April, 2016. Following a huge backlash from the community, the Minister announced an additional proposal to go to public hearing of one Northern Beaches Council from The Spit to Palm Beach (ie Manly, Warringah & Pittwater).
In the meantime existing Mayors, Councillors & General Managers have been invited to submit an 'Expression of Interest' to serve on the interim Council, and to fully support that process, even though it hasn't been announced what form that will take.
The final decision is expected to be announced by proclamation by end June/mid July 2016. At this stage Council elections for the newly formed Council are expected to be held March 2017.
The Boundaries Commission has announced the public hearing for the proposed Manly, Mosman and part Warringah merger for Tuesday 2nd February at Manly Golf Club. Session times are 1-5pm and 7 - 10pm. You can register to speak and/or send a submission here. (A copy of Good For Manly's submission is below).
Does splitting Warringah in half make any sense? Should Mosman be merged into a "Greater Manly"?
There is a huge groundswell developing against this preposterous idea with public opinion now favouring only one the Northern Beaches, if we have to amalgamate.
Councils all around the State have been told they have to amalgamate - some with the most unlikely neighbors.
Follow Save Our Councils Facebook page for more details.
Have we been conned on the Northern Beaches? How can splitting the largest council, Warringah, in two to create two Councils of the same size make any sense for the community they are to serve? This is purely a political decision and is not in the best interests for Manly, or the Northern Beaches.
Our three northern beaches councils are financially strong and serve their communities well. Why not just leave us alone and let us get on with it! If amalgamation is inevitable then one Northern Beaches Council would seem to be the preferred option by most local residents.
Watch this space for details of huge public rally against forced council amalgamations to be held on Saturday 30th January, 11.30am in Strathfield.
The state government has torn up its own rulebook and ignored public opinion in its campaign to push councils together.
The three northern Beaches councils - Manly, Warringah and Pittwater - and Mosman council have been forced into two. Greater Pittwater will gain the northern parts of Warringah - Duffys Forest Terrey Hills, Ingleside, Belrose, Cromer, Narrabeen, Frenchs Forest and Killarney Heights. Here in Greater Manly we gain south Warringah - Dee Why, Brookvale, Curl Curl, Freshwater, Queenscliff - and…Mosman!
The rationale is that bigger councils are more “efficient”, although there’s no real evidence to prove that’s true.
And while the government’s original plan to create a Greater Northern Beaches Council - Manly, Warringah and Pittwater - was not popular, at least it was geographically sensible, recognised our shared ocean beach lifestyle and complied with the “big is better” mantra.
But that’s not what’s happened. A cynic would saw Premier Mike Baird has put politics first, and common sense and the northern beaches community a distant second.
Overwhelming public opinion is that Greater Pittwater has been created to save the job of Pittwater MP Rob Stokes, who would have faced a huge backlash at the next state election.
Warringah, which went from basket case to winner of this year’s most prestigious council award - the Bluett Award - has been split in two. To add insult to injury Mayor Michael Regan was the only Northern Beaches mayor to support the council merger plans. The cynic would say Warringah was split to block Cr Regan, an independent, from becoming the powerful new mayor of the Greater Northern Beaches.
Maybe he’ll try and turn the tables and run as a local independent in the state elections or even the federal ones next year?
And Mosman? The same cynic would say that’s been thrown in with Manly to bolster the Liberal vote.
“I am really angry,” Good For Manly councillor Candy Bingham said. "Splitting the most successful council to create two new councils the same size just doesn't make sense.
"Locals are really losing faith in our ‘local member, Mike Baird, who is supposed to be representing us, not what's best for his political party. It's a disgrace", Clr Bingham stated.
Reaction on social media has been fierce.
Here’s some from GFM Facebook.
"Is this the most stupid decision ever?" - Darren Lewis
"Worst possible result. The most capable council in the state gets carved up to save two Liberal Party strongholds. I thought The Premier was above this sort of thing." - Simon Anthony Fry
"So that's how the Liberals consult with the voters?" - Linda G Silvester
Manly Daily had two pages of letters - every one negative.
Many were furious that politics had trumped common sense. Clive Finemore summed it up like this: “Mike Baird has caved in to the Liberal Party heavies in Manly and Pittwater… In the process he has displayed breathtaking cynicism and complete contempt for the people of the northern beaches.”
Other letter writers were angry that they would now have to pay to use facilities, including their nearest beach, that their rates had maintained. And several people complained that they would now inherit Manly Councli’s swimming pool and oval car park debt.
And what will happen to proposed major works, like the oval car park and Whistler St redevelopment?
No one knows if there will be a freeze on major new projects, despite so many changes coming down the line.
If there’s no freeze, it’s presumably business as usual until the new council elections, which are now not due until March 2017.
Manly Council is not fit for the future according to a report released yesterday by IPART.
Neither are our Northern Beaches neighbours Warringah and Pittwater.
So the three councils have no choice but to merge to form a giant Northern Beaches council stretching from the Spit Bridge to Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
That’s the verdict in the IPART report, which sets out to assess to the viability, or otherwise, of every council in the state. (see copy of relevant Manly pages below, plus full report).
While Manly was judged satisfactory on the financial criteria of sustainability, infrastructure and service management and efficiency, we failed the “scale” test. With a population of only 42,800, we fall way short of the required 251,650 residents.
We’re certainly not alone. Out of 36 councils in the Sydney region, 29 councils, including City of Sydney, failed the fitness test. Most met financial criteria, but were deemed too small.
Advocates of council amalgamation, such as Premier and local MP Mike Baird, say bigger councils would mean ratepayers get better value for money, as well as better services and infrastructure.
But opponents say there’s no evidence that big is necessarily better, and that councils are already grouped into regional organisations, which provide economy of scale purchasing power for many goods and services.
The NSW government has given councils 30 days to respond to the report, although it has already made it clear that amalgamations will take place.
It’s unclear if councils will continue to operate as usual after that date, or if administrators will be brought in, with a possible moratorium on new infrastructure projects until the merger process is complete.
Council elections were scheduled for September next year, but may now be shifted to March 2017.
Manly's ability to preserve its own identity is under threat as the State Government pushes councils to amalgamate as part of its Fit for the Future program.
The threat to our community is that we will be absorbed into a greater Northern Beaches mega-council, where our population of 44,000 and seaside village identity will be lost in a sprawling 260,000-people mass.
The peak council body Local Government NSW has made a submission to the State Government which strongly argues for local government to remain local. It challenges the simplistic assumption that big is necessarily better and demonstrates that councils already benefit from economies of scale due to their participation in regional organisations.
The submission identifies lack of funding for councils as by far the most important reason for any financial difficulties. It says merging councils together will not resolve their financial problems unless the funding framework is fixed first.
It argues that the only sure beneficiary of council mergers would be the State Government, as it would have fewer councils to deal with. This would be a bad outcome for local residents who would inevitably find it harder to have their voice heard both at a council, and a state government level.
The submission's main points are:
1. Many NSW councils are financially insecure. There is a net sectoral operating deficit, meaning that as a group councils are living beyond their means. And a massive state wide infrastructure renewal backlog of $7.2 billion.
2. Rate pegging undermines the ability of councils to raise sufficient funds. NSW Councils have had their rate increases linked to a cost of living index for the past four decades. As a result NSW is the state with by far the lowest council rates. Rates per capita in NSW in 2012-13 were $499 compared to the national average of $633. Making up this difference would generate an extra $970 million a year, which alone would resolve the operating deficit and infrastructure renewal backlog. The problem is compounded by the capping of many council fees and cost shifting to councils as state and federal governments withdraw services or financial support.
3. Merging two or more councils together is a difficult job. To succeed the merger needs community support, strong leadership, robust planning, adequate financial support, full co-operation from the councils involved and compatibility across the areas being merged. Forced amalgamations may therefore not succeed and may need to be reversed. In 2013, less than five years after the government had forced them to merge, several Queensland councils voted to de-merge. The new councils had to bear the full cost of the de-merger process.
4. The costs of amalgamation will be significant. Issues include integration of IT systems, relocation of staff and premises, redundancy payments for senior staff and many more. While the State Government has offered some financial incentives to councils that volunteer to amalgamate, it will not be enough to fund the whole merger process.
5. The "best" size for a council depends on what services it's providing. Bigger can be better for purchasing materials or hiring contractors. But councils already benefit from these economies of scale through their regional organisations. Manly is already joined with six other councils to form NSROC - the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, which services a population of 600,000. In contrast, services that require consultation with residents and flexibility, are better delivered on a much smaller scale.
6. The property development sector has pushed the view that Sydney's housing targets will be more easily met if there are fewer councils to deal with. The submission rejects this simplistic view. As well, the "problem" has already been addressed by the recent establishment of the Greater Sydney Commission, which will oversee planning targets across the metropolitan region.
7. The Fit for the Future process has been rushed. Council submissions had to be submitted by June 30 and a decision on the fate of each of the state's 152 councils will be made by the end of October. Then the entire amalgamation process is scheduled to be finished by September 2016, an unrealistic timeframe for such a difficult and complex project.
8. Surveys show that a majority of NSW residents say their interests will be less well represented if forced council mergers go ahead. Nearly all (93%) residents say they want to be involved in decision-making in their local area.
9. Local Government NSW's other recommendations include encouraging councils to make more use of debt, and strengthening regional council organisations so they can take on more responsibility for shared services and regional planning.
Larger Councils are considered the starting point for any assessment being made by IPART on whether council's are 'Fit for The Future' according to its report released last week.
As reported by Anne Davis in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5th June 2015:
"Councils have been told by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) that larger councils of between 250,000 to 500,000 residents as outlined in an earlier independent report into local government will be the "starting point" in assessing whether the council is fit for the future.
IPART last week released its final assessment methodology and clarified what it meant by "sufficient scale and capacity".
While it said it was prepared to entertain other submissions, it said: "We will be guided by the population estimates for the particular local government areas included in the Independent Local Government Review Panel's recommended options. It said the onus was on councils to demonstrate how their alternatives were as good or better if they did not go with the proposed merger clusters outlined by the independent panel....."
This could be a problem for Manly & Pittwater Councils which are actively resisting the One Big Northern Beaches Council being pushed by Warringah and previously recommended by the Samson Report, an independent report commissioned by the State Government. Manly currently has a population of around 44,000 and Pittwater 60,000. Both fall well short of the recommended starting point of 250,000 which would be achieved by the three Northern Beaches Councils merging.
Meanwhile, there is speculation that it is unlikely the State Government will be able to achieve its amalgamation agenda in time for the next Council elections due September 16. This leaves current Councillors faced with the likehood that their existing term of four years may be extended for a further 12 months, at least.
As Warringah Council pushes for One Northern Beaches Council, citing major savings should Manly, Warringah and Pittwater merge into one mega Council; Manly and Pittwater remain firm that they want to make it alone, stating they meet the criteria, except for population size, to do so.
Warringhah commissioned SGS Economics and Planning Pty Ltd to undertake an analysis on forming one mega Northern Beaches council. Manly & Pittwater commissioned KPMG to put their case that remaining independent was viable. The result has been that both reports tend to contradict each other. So who is right? Well it would seem to depend on which financial basis you have used.
With the assistance of Stephen Beckenridge, FAC; M Tax; MA, Good for Manly has reviewed both reports and a summary is below.
Recently the State Government announced that NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has been appointed with the task of reviewing Council submissions due to lodged by June 30, however the criteria still does not seem clear. For example, are Councils required to have a population of around 250,000 to be "Fit For the Future"?
The real question remains however, what price can you put on true local government? While it can be argued that bigger provides potential cost savings, the true strength of local government is that is it just that, local. By creating mega Councils aren't we effectively just creating another regional, rather than local, administrative body?
What do you think?
Manly & Pittwater Councils have joined forces to reject the concept of one amalgamated Northern Beaches Council, and have commissioned KPMG to assess the financial stability and capability of both their Councils. (KPMG reports at end of article).
While Warringah Council is actively pushing for one large council it has not been successful in gaining support from its neighbouring Councils.
At an extraordinary meeting on 30 March, Manly Council voted unanimously to remain unchanged. Council rejected outright the concept of one mega council for the Northern Beaches citing the fact that of the 33 financially sound Councils out of 152 in NSW, three were are on the Northern Beaches.
At the meeting, it was resolved that Council affirm its support for the State Government’s ‘No Forced Amalgamation’ policy and continue supporting the Manly community’s long-held stance against structural change to the local area.
Good or Manly Councilllor, Candy Bingham, while supporting the no Northern Beaches Council stance, raised the possibility of boundary changes saying it was timely to explore inconsistencies in the current local area boundaries.
"It doesn't make sense that while Manly Council manages Queenscliff Beach, Warringah is responsible for Queenscliff Pool. Many also believe that North Balgowlah and North Seaforth should be in Manly, not Warringah", she explained.
Clr Bingham also questioned the fact that, should the amalgamation go ahead, the Northern Beaches would have four State Members, two Federal Members and one Mayor. "That's not local government by any stretch of the imagination", she said.
According the Manly Mayor, Jean Hay, the one big council idea is not a new one, and has in fact being explored twice in recent times. Firstly in 1978 and again in 2003.
"The 2003 attempt was a repeat of an attempt in 1978. At the time, Manly residents voted 4 to 1 against amalgamation with Warringah to form a single council on the Northern Beaches – there was no Pittwater then, It was formed later in 1992. In 1985 Warringah Council was dismissed. (The first time it was dismissed was in 1967.)" she explained.
During the month of May, Manly ratepayers will be asked to give their views on what they think should happen. They will be consulted on three options: 1. Manly remain unchanged; 2. Warringah to be split in half to from two Councils, Manly & Pittwater; or 3. one Northern Beaches Council.
How will you vote?
The debate has started in earnest: Should Manly, Warringah and Pittwater merge into one Northern Beaches Council?
Size matters. That's the message from the State Government which is pushing for councils across NSW to merge into bigger, "stronger" groupings. The government report on the matter, from the Independent Local Government Review Panel, has recommended huge cuts to the number of councils operating in Sydney and across the state. Instead of the existing 41 Sydney councils, the reports says we should have less than 20.
And instead of our current three Northern Beaches councils Manly, Warringah and Pittwater the report says we should have just one.
But it's not that easy. While Warringah Council supports the amalgamation scheme, both Manly and Pittwater are opposed.
What Does Future Hold for Manly Council?
The first preference for Manly and Pittwater councils is to stay as they are. But if that's not possible, the two councils want to split Warringah and take half each, something Warringah Mayor Michael Regan describes as "laughable". Cr Regan says Warringah Council is the best performing council in the Northern Beaches region, so it should be the last one on the chopping block.
It's also the heavyweight of the group, with a population of 140,000, compared with 40,000 in Manly and 57,000 in Pittwater.
However a division of Warringah, using Warringah Rd as the boundary, would mean local council areas would be more in line with State and Federal government electoral divisions. And should an area the size of the Northern Beaches, which supports two Federal Government and two State Government seats, have only one local government body?
Supporters of Manly Council's bid to remain independent, also point to the 8 million tourists that visit Manly every year, massively boosting our nominal 40,000 population.
Current Financial Position Strong
As well, Manly's financial situation is strong. An independent audit of Manly's finances, presented to Council this week (10/11/14) gave the council a clean bill of health. The report from accounting firm Hill Rogers Spencer Steer said Council's books and records were well kept and up to date. It had an operating surplus of $4.6 million, and has good liquidity with available working capital of $1 million and $2.75 available for every $1 of debt.
Manly Mayor Jean Hay said only 32, out of the 152 councils in NSW, were endorsed as financially sustainable, and Manly was one of those. "Small councils can be just as strong financially as big councils," Cr Hay said.
And while the State Government has so far ruled out forced amalgamation, it is ramping up the pressure. Each council has until the end of June next year, to come up with a plan for "future cooperation with neighbouring councils". If not, they risk losing access to subsidised loans and government grants.
Would bigger councils mean more efficient government and greater political clout? Or less access to local representation and a weaker sense of local identity? What do you think?
Candy Bingham, Deputy Mayor, Northern Beaches Council. Background in marketing, public relations & community engagement. Author of five business books. Former Lady Mayoress of Sydney. Aka Candy Tymson.