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Waverley Council verses Public Accountability
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One of the main problems that the community experiences, is the treatment constituents are receiving from local Councils; one in particular is Waverley Council. The community demands fairer treatment from their Councillors, but are constantly ignored.

 

The worst act of public betrayal by Waverley Council is the approval of a controversial development application that the public saw as a backdoor entry to privatise the heritage-listed icon, the Bondi Pavilion, open to the public since 1928. Bondi Pavilion is listed in the Australian Heritage Commissions Register of the National Estate and by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects on the list of Twentieth Century Buildings and is also classified in the Register of the National Trust of Australia (NSW).

 

To understand why the public is enraged of the treatment they had received from Waverley Council and serious concerns from the community that the Bondi Pavilion would soon be privatised one must read the following reasons: -

 

A major newspaper published a story in January 2002, quoting some very serious facts about the intentions of adman, Michael Magnus, property developer, Leon Fink and colleague Michael Lotzöf.

 

It quoted that Messrs Michael Magnus (director of the Pavilion Beach Group) and Leon Fink wanted to take over the entire commercial precinct of the Bondi Pavilion, with grandiose views to include an Imax theatre and a 500-seat restaurant. Of course, the Mayor, Mr. Paul Pearce was aghast when the word Imax came to his attention and vowed that no such thing will ever be at Bondi Beach. Considering that the media quoted that Leon Fink has a habit of getting his own way, this raised alarm bells throughout Bondi.

 

With the support of his colleague Michael Magnus, former South Sydney Mayor, Vic Smith was hired to flatter the Mayor, no-one knows what transpired, its any-ones guess.

 

The first any one knew what was happening regarding any new management of the former Dannys Seafood Restaurant (now known as the Beach Café and Bar) at the Pavilion was at the August 12th Precinct meeting held at the Bondi Beach Public School in Campbell Parade.  Michael Magnus (director of the Pavilion Beach Group) accompanied by an architect from Tanner and Associates presented a series of concept plans detailing the alteration of the southern end of the Pavilion, the public who were present at the meeting unanimously rejected Magnus speech. It was then put forward to the meeting by the Chairman, Mr. Ray Neeson that the Precinct meeting was not the right place to decide over the proposal to alter the former Dannys Restaurant, and that a meeting of all stakeholders of the Bondi Beach Pavilion be held on a Saturday afternoon with a model and information on display of the proposed development application to alter the former restaurant, the mayor agreed.

 

The first public notice advertised was in the Wentworth Courier dated Wednesday September 4th 2002, it did not contain sufficient information detailing the identification or the where-about of documents meant to be available for public inspection.

 

The second and final notice for the public meeting was advertised in the Wentworth Courier on Wednesday, 25th September informing the public that a public meeting would be held on Saturday, 28th September. The Wentworth Courier is not available to the public until Thursday 26th, and many people in the suburbs do not have access to the newspaper until late Friday or early Saturday, members of the community who only found out hours before informed others of the meeting, unfortunately the community in general did not know of the meeting. This second notice only gave the lucky few 48 hours notice, thus severely limiting public involvement; the room allocated on the first floor of the Pavilion was also inadequate which resulted in some of the public left standing outside the room, considering less than 40 people attended, it gives an accurate estimation of how small the room was.

 

The public notice displayed on the outer window of the Community Cultural Centre at the Pavilion informed the public that to view the relevant documents, they must ask at Waverley Council which is a good 2 km away, one would expect copies to be available at the Pavilion, it was, as Waverley Council would argue, and surely they were, but why werent these documents mentioned on the notice outside of the CCC, the answer, they were not placed there until the same week as the public meeting. 

 

The placement of the documents merely days prior to the meeting prevented a fair period of public access, and for the public to inspect the documents at liberty and without pressure. The time period set out in the EPA (Environmental Planning Assessment Act 1979 (s113) requires that the public submission period must be no less than 30 days after the day on which the notice was given, this was not done.

 

On the day of the meeting, the time allocated was only 1½ hours, definitely not enough time to discuss openly about such an important concern, this no doubt effectively prevented any time for the public to fully understand the concept of the proposal and for them to submit to the meeting their views and concerns relating to the proposal which the majority of those attending saw as negative, and the extension and alteration creating a permanent negative impact on the building.

 

The architectural firm Tanner & Associates, commissioned by the Pavilion Beach Group, took up most of that time. The publics response to what they saw as too little time to be given notice of the meeting, and a blatant attempt to privatise the building and upset the symmetry of Bondis favourite and famous icon generated hostility amongst those present, again, this time in an official capacity, the concept plan and model were rejected, and the letters of objection flowed into Council, not one was in support of the proposal.

 

It was decided by those attending that the concept plan to severely alter the southern end of the Pavilion would not have any positive impact for the Bondi Pavilion and definitely would not prop up Council Revenue to maintain the alleged nearly $1 million upkeep of the Pavilion. And to suggest that the new design would attract visitors to the new restaurant, with competitors just 200 metres away, such as MacDonalds, Hungary Jacks and Taco Bell giving family deals at a price normally reserved for a cup of coffee at the Pavilion, the public could not see any optimism of the Beach Café and Bar attracting enough customers to offset the upkeep.

 

The pressure to convince the public to support the proposal resurfaced at the following Precinct meeting, with more incentives such as minor amendments to the concept plan, and more information that the design would compliment the Pavilion and not affect the heritage listed design, the public was not impressed and immediately recognized that the amendments were veneer, again the proposal was rejected with hostile remarks coming from the public.

 

The extension and alteration was to cost approximately $600,000, the public saw that damage to the building and further obstruction to public viewing of the unique façade design would be permanent.

 

On December 9th 2002, a private meeting a few hours before the Bondi Beach Precinct meeting was held at Waverley Council Chambers with only a select few attending, it was made evident that this meeting was not to be a public meeting, yet on an official document held at Waverley Council after the event, states - PUBLIC MEETING HELD ON 9 DECEMBER, 2002.

 

This is misleading and deceptive to say that the public was invited to the meeting. On the 10th December 2002, Waverley Council voted on the proposal to be approved officially, with minor amendments, I was there earlier in the meeting and saw another concept plan not seen by the community, the design showed the northern end of the Pavilion with a mirror image development as the southern end. I approached Michael Magnus for a copy of that concept plan, he refused, saying something to the effect that it was not an official design to be used, only an imaginative idea and that he had no idea of using it. This I did not believe, why would an expensive detailed design be commissioned if it did not have an important part later on, why commission an architect to create such an expensive design just for the sake of it.

 

With this in mind I said that I could retrieve a copy from Council, as they must be in possession of all plans, unofficial concepts as well as official plans, Magnus replied that Council did not have this particular design.

 

The need to acquire this concept plan was to show the public that there was a newer design, and that it was used without community consultation, that the plan was not made available to the public, and that it was not part of the documents made public at the time of submission, and that the public had the right to view this new concept plan, regardless of what was said to me.

 

Although I was not present at the vote, documents can be obtained of the outcome; it couldnt get any worse than what was to come.

 

It was predictable that Labor would support the proposal, as well as the independent, but it was a shock to read that the Liberal member for Dover Heights, Councillor Sally Betts had voted in favour of the proposal, although her colleagues and the Greens had voted against it. The mayor cited at the time of voting a section of the Local Government Act 1993 - Section 374, it reads: -

 

374. Certain circumstances do not invalidate council decisions

Proceedings at a meeting of a council or a council committee are not invalidated because of:

(a)    a vacancy in a civic office, or

(b)   (b) a failure to give notice of the meeting to any councillor or committee member, or

(c) any defect in the election or appointment of a councillor or committee member, or

(d) a failure of a councillor or a committee member to disclose a pecuniary interest, or to refrain from the consideration or discussion of, or vote on, the relevant matter, at a council or committee meeting in accordance with section 451, or

(e) a failure to comply with the code of meeting practice.

It is very difficult to ascertain the reason why this particular act was cited at Council, especially when sub-section (d) allows Councillors to vote even if they have a pecuniary interest, Im not accusing anyone of being pecuniary, but what was the reason for citing this act.