Above is a photo of a large banner that was placed in the window of one of Manly's retailers in May this year. Mr Wong subsequently demanded the sign be withdrawn and threatened legal action against the Corso Precinct who ran a story on the issue. Not sure where freedom of speech comes into this?
See our ideas & solutions for Manly!
It's time for Mr. Wong's performance in his role as General Manager to be reviewed independently & openly.
The Good For Manly team will fight for this review.
What Went Wrong .....
For a decade Henry Wong has been the General Manager of Manly Council.
Despite two Ombudsman's reports criticising his mismanagement of complaints and various council processes; the Office of the Information Commissioner finding the withdrawal of development applications from Council's website was a 'breach of the act'; a large turnover of senior staff; and questionable handling of Council's contracts, the current Mayor, Jean Hay, and other members of Council renewed his contract for a further four years. Locals want to know why.
Below is a list of some of the debacles and mismanagement of projects Mr Wong has handled. We suspect it's just the tip of the iceberg. Our information is taken from reliable sources and is factual to the best of our knowledge.
Corso Pavers Debacle
Manly 2015 Masterplan
Withholding of Information - OIC Findings
Proposal to Remove 2 Hour Free Parking
Renewal of Mr Wong's Contract
Two Ombudsman Reports
Section 94 Contribution Plan
Cristals/Watervue Outdoor Lease Battle
Corso Repaving Debacle
Name: Repaving The Corso Debacle (April – October 2007)
In 2006 Manly Council began repaving The Corso as part of a renewal project to substantially improve the look of the area which had become dirty and tired in appearance. The project, managed by the General Manager, Henry Wong, was budgeted at $8 million.
In April of 2007 flaws in the paving appeared after periods of heavy rain caused pavers to crack and lift, posing a significant safety hazard. In response, the Council appointed national paving expert, Brian Shackel, of the University of New South Wales, to head a review of the project. The report revealed serious flaws in the project that urgently needed addressing.
The inquiry’s terms of reference included:
The review was initially expected to be completed by May 5th at an estimated cost of $5000.
The review was not completed until August of 2007. It found that the paving did not meet Australian Standards and a large proportion would need to be ripped up and re-laid. Mistakes identified included poor drainage, over-vigorous council cleaning and an inappropriate choice of pavers. In his report, Dr Shackel stated:
“At the time of my inspections, the pavements did not display evidence of good design, detailing and/or workmanship.
“Having regard to the techniques used to install the paving, it is not surprising that many pavers have become loose.''
The Council’s Response
Cr McDonald said he was “embarrassed and appalled” by The Corso debacle and accused the Council of tip-toeing around the issue of the pavers. He criticised Council for its refusal to accept responsibility for an 86 year-old woman’s injuries after she slipped on the cracked pavers.
Cr McDonald identified General Manager, Henry Wong, as being primarily responsible for the debacle and accused him of withholding important information. He claimed [with reference to Mr Wong] “There are patterns emerging where we are denied access to information.”
Mr Wong denied this was the case and Cr Jean Hay threw her support behind him, arguing he had been used as a ‘scapegoat’ in the controversial issue.
After admitting there had been significant mistakes and administrative errors made by Mr Wong and his staff, Cr McDonald took charge of The Corso remediation works. Work began far behind schedule in October 2007.
In a workshop involving Dr Shackel, Cr McDonald, specialist engineers and Henry Wong, the decision was made to avoid relaying the pavers. The drilling of drainage cores and the installation of a concrete binding layer between the pavers was investigated. Work to install drainage grates and pits also occurred. The council also had to rethink cleaning techniques after it was discovered existing techniques caused pavers to shift.
The inability of the council to properly manage this issue meant residents and visitors to Manly had to put up with cracked and lifting pavers for a considerable period of time, causing serious safety concerns. The project was 6 months overdue and came at an estimated cost of an additional $500,000.
This debacle should not have occurred. It highlights the incompetence of the council of the day and brings into question the General Manager’s ability to make appropriate decisions for the Manly community.
Manly 2015 Masterplan
Name: The Manly 2015 Masterplan – Launched April 2011
In April 2008, Manly Council's Landscape and Urban design Committee considered a report on the area, and a brief that was presented to consider the urban renewal of the Whistler Street and Market Lane car park. The project then evolved into a Laneways Master plan providing a bigger picture of urban renewal for the Manly Town Centre, developed by Choi Ropiha Fighera with McGregor + Coxall, GTA Consulting and Hill PDA on behalf of Manly Council.
The Manly 2015 Plan evolved and was launched to the public in April 2011. It was promoted by Council as follows:
“One of the central aims of the MANLY2015 is to reduce traffic intrusion into the heart of the Manly CBD and to improve pedestrian, worker and resident amenity. In October 2010, Manly Council engaged independent traffic consultants, Urbanhorizon and Bitzios Consulting, to provide an assessment of the proposed road network changes being planned in the Manly CBD”.
The total cost for the project has been forecast as between $84 and $91 million.
The plan is summarized as:
1. The construction of a new 800 space car park beneath Manly Oval.
2. Demolition of existing 385 space Whistler Street car park.
3. Rebuild or modify existing library building, which is of relatively recent
4. Introduce shared pedestrian/traffic zones in various areas including the
5. Make major changes to traffic flows in and around Manly, remove 400
street parking spaces and severely restrict vehicular access to the Eastern
Hill (Hospital, St Patricks, North Head, Police College, schools etc) by
restricting access via two of the three entry/exist roads.
6. Upgrading of some laneways and small streets.
A summary of the plan can be viewed on the Manly Council website:
Following considerable negative reaction from residents some of the traffic plans were quickly scrapped.
Much of the balance of the Plan appears to have been quietly shelved with the exception of the most expensive item – the car park beneath the Oval. The price tag for this is growing by the day and currently is said to be around $50m.
The Final Outcome:
A massive, undisclosed expenditure of ratepayers' money on Consultants (and council staff time) to produce a vision that has proven to be unpopular, impractical and unaffordable. The 2015 Plan for Manly has pretty well fizzled out with locals generally feeling that it was just the repackaging of old ideas (including the car park under the oval, which had been raised and rejected a number of times).
The Manly2015 Financial Projections Report indicated that the Council would need to borrow a total of $68.75 million for the proposed works. This would add $4.8 million to our annual interest bill. And the net gain? An underground car park in a location which is seen as being inconvenient to those wishing to eat, shop or visit in Manly.
Is this project good for Manly? It certainly isn’t supported by the Good for Manly team.
Section 94 Contribution Plan
Name: Section 94 Contribution Plan
Council has the power to levy all development projects under s94 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act. The Act allows Councils to levy developers, including new businesses, for the infrastructure costs required to support the development (eg, parking, roads, public open space, etc.). Where Council has spent money on infrastructure to support the projected new development, it can levy s94 contributions to recoup that expenditure.
Manly Council has taken a very broad-ranging approach to the application of the levy, and has required businesses to make contributions not only for additional parking spaces, but also the future provision of community amenities and infrastructure – many of which are funded by State Government. In FY2010, Manly Council raised $1.9m from this levy, and $1.5m in FY2011.
The spirit of the s94 levy is to ensure that developments make adequate contributions to the additional costs of Council to support those developments. Manly Council however uses s94 levies simply as a tax, providing no benefit to the development.
The levy is a highly contentious one with local businesses particularly as Council has been unable to clearly demonstrate a nexus between the levy and its capital works program (eg, the Manly 2015 plan involved expenditure of $36m on a new car park without providing a net increase in parking despite Council levying businesses for additional parking spaces). In some instances, the levy has represented between 50 to 100% of the value of development.
Council claims s94 levies to recoup the cost of existing car parking stations which were not paid for by Council, but by the business ratepayers. These levies produce no additional car parking, and in fact operate as a disincentive to small business. For example, a recent proposal to extend a coffee shop into adjacent vacant shop premises was met with a Council demand for a “parking” levy of $300,000 representing $30,000 per extra seat. Needless to say, the proposal did not proceed and the shop remained empty.
Council has also included in the plan a number of spurious “wish list” infrastructure projects to justify the size of the contribution (eg, land acquisition, indoor pool facilities, seawall refurbishment, and aged care facilities).
The Final Outcome:
The outcome has been that many developments have been rendered uneconomic due to the cost of the levy, and as a result the renewal of the Manly CBD has suffered. The levy has also favoured large developments due to its smaller percentage of total value. Council management also has an incentive to support large development due to the ability to levy “windfall” amounts (eg, approval of the Wharf development to add four new restaurants, would have gained Council $5m in s94 contributions if it had proceeded).
Good for Manly proposes to address the application of the s94 levy. We propose to abolish the levy for all developments utilising existing floor space under a value of $1m. For applications of $1m or more, each DA will be assessed on its merits.
Ombudsman's Report October 2011
Renewal of Mr Wong's Contract
Name: Renewal of General Manager’s Contract
Manly Council’s General Manager, Henry Wong, who has held this position since 2002, has had a chequered career. No one can argue that he gets things done, it’s the way that he gets things done that is of concern to many.
In April 2011, on the back of two damning Ombudman’s Reports investigating the Council and the General Manager in relation to the handling of complaints, the Council, under the direction of the Mayor Jean Hay, renewed Mr Wong’s contract for a further four years, commencing in December 2011. He was also awarded a pay package increase to $303,207.
The renewal of the General Manager’s contract was:
The Final Outcome:
The decision was made after a NSW Ombudsman’s investigation declared in October 2010 that Mr Wong headed a culture focused on protecting staff rather than helping ratepayers, among other criticisms. No due process was followed in the renewal of his contract which was done with a total lack of openness and transparency.
Office of Information Commissioner - Findings
Name: Removal of open access of Development Applications on Manly Council website (March 2012)
In May 2011 the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) issued Guideline 3: local Councils – Personal information contained in development applications: what should not be put on council websites. The guidelines stated clearly that “councils must publish information associated with DAs on their websites as well as making it available for copying at council offices”
In March 2012, Council’s General Manager, Henry Wong, arranged for the removal of all development applications (DAs) from the Council’s website citing legal advice in relation to copyright and privacy issues.
Under the new system, DAs are publicly listed in the Manly Daily. Those wishing to access information are required to fill in a two page form, lodge it with the Council and wait up to three weeks to be granted viewing of the documents at the Council Chambers. No copying of documents is permitted.
It is clear that this new process by Manly is a total overkill of what was intended by the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) who issued ‘Guidelines to Local Council Councils’ in relation to personal information contained in development applications: what should not be put on council websites.
In fact the new process is seen by many locals as yet another example of Council management twisting the law to limit transparency and public engagement in circumstances never intended by the legislation.
All attempts to have the process reviewed or reinstated on the website, even in a modified form, were met with lengthy letters quoting various and numerous government Acts – Privacy; Copyright; Environmental Planning & Assessment; Government Information (Public Access) etc.
The Final Outcome:
Following the generation of publicity in the Manly Daily and a formal complaint lodged with the OIC, Candy Bingham on behalf of the Good For Manly Association, was successful in having the matter investigated by the OIC who, on 11th April, issued the following finding:
“In our view, Council has misconstrued our guidance. Local councils have an obligation to proactively publish information about development applications (whenever created), including the associated documents received, and decisions made, in relation to developments”.
The question has to be asked: How could Manly Council get it so wrong when no other Council in NSW took the same extreme action in response to the OIC’s guidelines?
This is just another example of this Council’s lack of understanding of what is required for open access information.
Proposal to Remove 2 Hour Free Parking in CBD
Name: Proposed Removal of 2 Hours Free Parking
In May 2012, Council promoted its Sustainability Plan and invited public comment.
The 288 page document, while available for viewing on the website, was in a format which could not be downloaded or copied in any way. Those wishing to view the report could do so at the Council Chambers during office hours. (Yet another example of lack of easy access to public information).
It was noted that on page 255, in the proposed 2012/13 budget, plans were in place to remove the free, 2 hour parking in all four of Council's carparks, and introduce a charge of $1 first hour, $2 second hour with a total fee of $10 for 3 hours. Parking after 7pm was to increase to $16 for 3 hours.
The Chamber of Commerce, who were not consulted on the proposed changes, urged the council to scrap the proposal due to the potentially disastrous effect it could have on local businesses.
It is important to note that the building of the existing Council carparks was funded by commercial levies on local businesses. In addition, Council charges a Section 94 Parking contribution to new restaurants and coffee shops opening in the area, even though no additional parking has been provided.
Nearby Warringah Mall and Stocklands Balgowlah shopping centres provide three hours free parking and the change to start charging or all parking in Manly was seen as the final nail in the coffin for the village shops.
The Final Outcome
Following enormous outrage from local retailers and the community the Council withdrew the proposal to remove two hours free parking but the question has to be asked – how did this proposal get into the budget in the first place, and why?
Cristals/Watervue Outdoor Lease Battle
Name: Cristals and Watervue Outdoor Dining Dispute (2006 – 2009)
Local restaurants, Cristals and Watervue, both had outdoor eating facilities on the Corso since 1989. In 2006, following the refurbishment of the Corso, the council put this outdoor dining space up for public tender. General Manager Henry Wong, argued that the open tendering process was the fairest and most transparent way to determine the value of the space.
Cristals, who previously had access to the space for almost 20 years, submitted a tender that offered no cash and therefore was a non-complying tender. In contrast, Watervue placed a bid for an undisclosed amount. (Later, Alex Said, the owner of Watervue, was quoted to have spent an estimated $1million to secure the original tender, including set-up costs).
The Council awarded the tender for the entire area to Watervue, much to the outrage of Cristals, whose commercial viability was now in doubt.
The Three-Year Dispute
After an appeal to Council from Cristals and community outrage about the decision of Watervue being awarded 100 per cent use of the alfresco dining space, the Council voted to give Cristals a percentage of the space.
The council then cancelled the original tender and things got even more complicated. Alex Said then sought compensation for the money he had spent bidding for the original tender.
The process went on for years with actions in and out of court, fisticuffs on the Corso between the owners and an atmosphere of hostility. Council rangers were employed to stand guard and keep the peace, costing ratepayers thousands of dollars.
The way the Council put the space out for tender demonstrated its lack of due diligence. Management of the leasing opportunity resulted in a flawed tender outcome. After 28 years of trading on the Corso, Cristals closed its doors.
The company was placed into liquidation in July of 2010 and the owners were declared bankrupt. Due to non-payment of the outdoor eating licensing fees, Cristals accumulated a debt of $108,651.33. In June of 2012 the Council granted approval to write off the debt as it was declared non-recoverable.
Ombudsman's Report July 2011