To: The CEO and All Councillors.
Over the last 12 months, Council has disregarded the draft Community Engagement Strategy (CES) goals, objectives, and engagement values in its dealings with the Berry community regarding the parking problems at Boongaree and the attempted imposition of an inappropriate and convoluted traffic ‘calming’ scheme, against the will of the community.
As Council looks to ratify the draft CES, the Forum Committee asks how and why Shoalhaven residents should be asked to take seriously a document so divorced from reality.
Nine months ago, on 12 October 2022, Forum members James Robinson and Stuart Coughlan wrote to you about the following interactions between Council and the Berry community regarding the parking problems associated with Boongaree:
30 May 2022
James and Stuart met onsite with the CEO, project manager Kathy Thomas and operations manager Kevin Norwood and agreed to cooperate and communicate regularly. The following actions were agreed–
- Investigation of James’ proposal for fast-tracking Stage 5 parking
- Council to include the location of LV parking as part of the upcoming consultation.
Subsequently, Director Lewis informed councillors that the actions, “would go a long way towards alleviating community concerns and respond to their needs, whilst not impacting significantly on project costs or safety.”
Council’s “consultation” turned out to be just a web survey focused almost exclusively on proposed additional parking west of Alexandra Street, with only an inconspicuous and confusing mention in the last sentence to – “the long vehicle parking site.” This resulted in many complaints from residents who believed the survey was disingenuous.
After the Council ordinary meeting papers had been posted on the website, we discovered that staff had recommended that both the fast-tracking of Stage 5 parking and consideration of alternative sites for LV parking should be dismissed. Staff had given no previous indication of this recommendation.
12 September 2022
When we made councillors aware of what had occurred, they voted unanimously in support of a resolution stating that there should be “further community consultation with respect to potential acceleration of the Stage 5 parking and the siting of long vehicle parking”, rather than accepting the staff recommendation to dismiss both issues.
5 October 2022
Following Council’s resolution, James and Stuart met onsite with Director Lewis and three staff members to discuss potential acceleration of Stage 5 parking and alternative siting of long vehicle parking. At that meeting –
- Fast-tracking of Stage 5 parking – was accepted as possible.
- Long vehicle parking location – it was not accepted by the Forum that further consultation had been undertaken.
- Stuart explained that the Boongaree ConceptMaster Plan had been developed in a Forum-facilitated workshop, co-chaired by James and Clr Wells, and that the siting of all elements of the Plan, including LV parking, was subject to detailed design and community consultation.
- Stuart also advised that when Council’s former project manager Liliana Hutchinson had been made aware of the background to the provisional status of the location for LV parking, she undertook to conduct genuine consultation.
- However, one of Director Lewis’ staff members responded that consultation with the community had already been undertaken by way of “informing consultation”, which entailed tellingthe community that the location for LV parking had been specified in the Master Plan.
- Following the meeting, the project manager issued minutes that were not a genuine reflection of the discussions held:
- All points made by staff had been included
- Additional points, not discussed at the meeting, were included
- Most of the Forum members’ comments were omitted
- Subsequently, when the minutes were challenged, staff advised that the Forum members’ points would be ‘attached’ to the Council official minutes
Communications since 12 October 2022
The Forum has not received any correspondence from Council regarding Boongaree since 12 October and there have been only two postings on Council’s Get Involved webpage:
11 November 2022
“Long vehicle parking was adopted in the Masterplan and forms part of Stage 5. The location chosen was based on feedback from the community during the development of the Masterplan.”
23 December 2022
“Following community feedback, Council are investigating fast-tracking part of the car parking in Stage 5. Council will provide an update on staging once this feasibility assessment has been undertaken.”
What The Forum Committee has now discovered
Having heard nothing from Council regarding Boongaree for many months, Stuart asked Philip Thorniley, who had previously communicated with the Boongaree project manager, if he was aware of any developments. This is what he’d beeResponses to questions asked by Philip on 22 February –
- “The area identified by the yellow highlight in the attachment ‘Woodhill Mountain car parking’ was not deemed appropriate for car parking, so this area is no longer being considered for parking.”
- Question – How could such a major decision affecting 60 parking spaces not be considered important enough to inform the community?
- “Work on Stages 5 and 7 are currently underway, and when milestones are reached this information will be shared with the public through the appropriate channels.”
- Question – Why do the “appropriate channels” for sharing information with the public not include Council’s CCB in Berry?
- “Minute 22.581 required staff to undertake further assessment of the long vehicle parking as part of the project to address concerns raised by the community. This work is ongoing as part of the Stage 5 and 7 works currently being progressed.”
- Question – Council’s resolution required staff to conduct community consultation. Why has this still not been done?
15 May 2023
Philip asked for clarification from the project manager whether the “further assessment of the long vehicle parking” would include evaluation of other locations.
However, we have no answer to that question because two weeks later Philip was informed by Director Lewis that he had been ‘cancelled’ and that any further questions from him would be filed without acknowledgement.
Forum Committee Questions
- Why is Council permitting staff to ignore its resolution requiring “further community consultation with respect to potential acceleration of the Stage 5 parking and the siting of long vehicle parking”?
- How does Council’s abject failure to communicate, engage or consult with the Berry community via its CCB on such a major project align with the following statements in its draft Community Engagement Strategy?
- “We want to provide an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the decision-making process and welcome robust and considered conversations about the process and ultimate outcomes”.
- “Our goals are to be open, transparent and accountable and to create greater community ownership, understanding and acceptance of Council decisions”.
- “Our objective is to encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas through inclusive processes and build mutual respect through ongoing engagement activities”.
- “Our engagement values – We are committed to encouraging effective and ongoing partnerships with the community and we recognise that community engagement is part of an ongoing conversation.”
- “Message from the Mayor – Community participation and engagement forms the partnership between Council and community. It is the foundation of our planning and decision-making processes and is critical to ensure that the community can participate in decisions, processes and projects that affect their everyday lives.
- Was the public exhibition of the draft Community Engagement Strategy just a box-ticking exercise to satisfy OLG requirements? Do staff know the OLG states – It is important to understand the difference between informing the community about what the council is proposing, and empowering the community to play an integral role in determining the goals, strategies and actions to be undertaken?
The Berry Forum Committee
Judith Ball, Robyn Baxendale, Mary Beare, David Brawn, David Carter
Stuart Coughlan, Ian Hendry, Heather McDonald, Gail Paton
Emanuele Rattazzi, James Robinson (former member), Laurie Watson