Ordinary Council Meeting – 24 Sept 2019

At this month’s Council meeting I had three key objectives – and failed at 3 out of 3:

  1. To encourage “good design” as a preferred solution to planning issues
  2. To avoid potential bias and increase accuracy in public consultations
  3. To find the right balance of “public good and individual rights”

Design Solutions

I believe strongly in the importance of good design, and early in the process – including “design thinking“, which Council could use more of, in my view. This month, Council faced a decision on a new apartment development that would rob 2 neighbours of their already slim ocean views. The development was largely compliant, but for issues around the front setback being an “average of 6m” or a “minimum of 6m”, based on the wording of Cottesloe’s Town Planning Scheme (LPS3). In my view, there was valid argument that it was a “minimum 6m”, which would preserve the slim ocean views. I was keen to see the developer and their team re-think their design, to find a solution that could keep a “minimum 6m” setback, without reducing the floorspace of their units (or other detrimental effects). A “win-win” design must be possible. It is my belief that Council is able to use its planning discretion (under LPS3) to help achieve good design outcomes – namely, for Council to be willing to flex its planning controls to encourage any further iterations of the design that could solve the valid problems raised by neighbours. But, I couldn’t achieve this. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Accuracy in Consultations

To use the tech term ‘GIGO’ (garbage in, garbage out), our public surveys and consultations are only as good as the quality of inputs to them, and if a survey is badly designed (so that it skews data) or if it’s based on biased or misleading information, its results become much less reliable for Council to rely on. In other words, more accurate surveys get better results, and better survey results lead to better decisions by Council, able to reflect the community’s views amidst myriad points of view.

The public consultation on the primary North Cott Primary School ‘carpark’ / ‘kiss n drop’ contained a statement I thought could lead to real misunderstanding in the community about how effective it is as a solution. I was warned to ‘leave it alone’ as raising it would worsen the existing community division, but to my thinking the opposite is true – removing a potential bias will remove an issue that ‘division can hang its hat on’, and leads to better survey results (and a more accurate Council decision). A better survey benefits the “pro” camp just as much as the “against” camp, and (crucially) gives Council better, more accurate data to base a decision on.

I’ll let you make up your own mind: Council didn’t allow a vote on the issue.

  • The proposed survey contained this statement:

The Town engaged an independent Traffic expert to review the concept plan and to suggest alternatives. The expert fully supported and endorsed this plan as an effective solution to improve safe access and reduce traffic congestion

  • The expert’s report did not mention any alternatives other than speed limit and traffic light sequence changes, nor did it use the word ‘alternative’ or any comparison of the plan to any others. The committee itself also did not discuss any alternatives. The Report simply says this:

The proposal to relocate the existing pickup/dropoff activities with the School to the Railway Street frontage is supported from a traffic operations, safety and efficiency perspective” (Final Report, v.5)

If no alternative plans were mentioned in the Report*, nor considered by the Committee, is it accurate to imply ‘alternatives were suggested, and this plan was the one supported‘? Doesn’t mentioning a request for alternatives imply that this plan is the best of many – whereas in fact there are no others?

I sought to simply remove the words “and to suggest alternatives” (and use actual wording from the report instead of “fully supported & endorsed“). This simple removal of 4 words was not considered by the Committee itself. However I was not able to get any support from Councillors on achieving clarity in our own public consultation.

*I’m not suggesting a failure of the Report, simply the reality if what it said.

Public Good v. Individual Rights

Capping off a bad night, I moved my own motion that a resident’s request for a change of street tree species be approved. His request was refused by the Admin, so it was up to a Councillor to propose it (and Council must approve all changes to species). The resident had obtained their own advice on a replacement species (based on the verge width, existing species in the street, and the heritage nature of the street), and genuinely wished to have a tree that provided adequate protection from the harsh afternoon-setting sun. This rationale, and his basis for the choice of species, were consistent with recent Council approvals for a change of species. For only these 2 trees to change species seemed to me not to present any risk to public or common good, as the resident was not objecting to having street trees, was proposing a species consistent with the existing mix of species in his street, and had a rationale for change that was consistent with other recent approved changes.

However, in this case I was not able to get a seconder for the motion, meaning a discussion on striking the balance between public good of a mono-species on each street with individual needs never happened. I accept Council did last month discuss and vote on whether planting could be postponed to find a suitable replacement species, which was refused, but that was before the resident himself identified a workable species to suit his street and verge, work which the Town itself did not do. I considered it was valid to bring this actual species to Council, for Council to properly consider it. But, no other Councillor supported it, so the replacement species was not even considered – contrary (in my view) to the clear terms of Council’s policy: “All variations (of Masterplan species) require approval by Council“, which suggests that Council will actually discuss it.

If government’s role is to strike the right balance between public good and individual rights, it doesn’t seem right that Council won’t even hear an individual’s rationale and debate how we find the balance with public good. It was quite a humiliating result for me in seeking to represent a resident at Council. And one I remain baffled by.

In closing, Council elections are now on – 4 of the 8 spots at Cottesloe are up for election, and postal votes have been sent out. Election day is 19 October 2019.

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