Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Maclean public car park, Cameron and McLachlan parks: he said, she said

Having recently listened to Clarence Valley councillors debate before voting to deny a $2.8 million boutique redevelopment of the older-style Surf Motel in Yamba, primarily on the basis that the architect had kept the allegedly 100 year-old frontage footprint in the plans before council and the lift well was 97cm higher than allowed with part of the rear of the building 27 cm higher than allowed, I can appreciate the sense of frustration building in a section of the Maclean community at the same nine councillors approach to the latest move by the company behind the IGA supermarket development.

The Maclean dispute has a long history and it’s not only the siting of the supermarket which has changed - some individual positions have also changed. Cr. Sue Hughes now supports the IGA supermarket development (with subsequent loss of parts of Cameron and McLachlan parks as well as part of the public car park) which started the row back in 2011-12.

Along the way there has also been one very odd instance of time and money wasting on council’s part which failed to amuse many Maclean locals.

Now it appears a war of words has erupted within the community and is being played out in the pages of one valley newspaper.

Open Letter to Clarence Valley Council in The Daily Examiner, 25 February 2015:

Dear Councilors,
We understand many Councilors perceive the activities of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group as negative and reactionary. Unfortunately that perception has arisen following public delivery of an objective and responsible planning assessment made of the proposed supermarket in Maclean's car park. Council only last Tuesday has voted to proceed with the rezoning of this application without having any proper understanding of what the full implications are.
For Councillors to understand the "negativity" from the residents we represent, a step back is needed to look at what has happened to Maclean.  It is no longer negativity they will see; it is now a considerable anger.  Maclean isn't dying, it is being killed.
Everyone sees the need for a "supermarket anchored shopping centre" (a direct quote from the now outdated Retail Strategy).  That is nothing like what is being proposed.  There is absolutely no provision for future growth or expansion.  Hasn't this Council ever heard of "long term planning"?
We have observed as a group this Councils lack of expertise and commitment to even the most basic concept of "Assets and Risk Management" and the pretence of public consultation.  Implicit in the process of Consultation is the recognition of the opinions expressed, acquiescence or rational informed debate to the contrary, and above all, feedback.  Council doesn't even pretend to do that.  If public consultation and "planning" were anything more than "box ticking", there just may have been some acknowledgement in the 10 year plan that Grafton is at high risk of becoming a rural backwater when the new Harwood Bridge and Pacific Highway are completed.  The State Corrective Services seem to have already realised that and no reasonable person actually believes there will be a second bridge over the Clarence at Grafton.
As for Maclean, in 10 years this Council has delivered very little positive value to the town.  But the negatives are numerous and significant.  There has not been so much as a new rubbish bin put in this town over all that time.  The main street is breaking up and will soon look like a patchwork quilt, if indeed it is patched at all.  The only new footpath constructed by Council in 10 years is 13 metres from the CBD car park. It was constructed by throwing dry mix asphalt over grass, and is now almost completely overgrown. We now stand to lose most of what little green space we have in central Maclean and the destruction of the heritage in McLachlan Park seems imminent. We did, however, get a new toilet block which wasn't needed when there was already a perfectly good one just needing overhaul, at a fraction of the cost of the new one. I won't go further with the list but suffice to say it is very long.
The public meeting on Monday last was not sponsored by Council.  It should have been!  It explained very professionally exactly what was proposed in the DA for the supermarket and how it would impact on the town. It was the result of lot of effort by the Maclean Action Group and it drew the wholehearted support of the 3,000-strong Maclean Bowling Club.  There has been absolutely no response from Council to the issues presented. Public consultation is a box to be ticked and the responses are simply ignored. The supermarket debacle is only one of the many examples.
There were comments that audio visual presentation was difficult to hear and see.  Let me say that the Bowling Club is not a theatre and neither is the RSL.  Maclean has no theatre or anywhere else that is remotely suitable for public meetings or presentation using standard audio visuals.  There is a Civic Hall that is more than 100 years old, has a leaking roof and severe water damage to the ceiling and roof structure.  It is in that state because successive Councils have not carried out even basic routine maintenance.  I know of people who have left this town because they have to drive to Yamba to find anywhere they can have a family picnic and watch their children play.

Major trees (75-100 years old) have been removed and not replaced eg. the Taloumbi St Jacaranda and Fig trees.  The only four Camphor Laurels to be removed because of their genus are in one of only two small parks left in the town, if indeed the nature strip along the river can be called a Park.  There are estimated to be over 2000 Camphor Laurels growing in the Valley on public land but only the four delivering shade and ambience in Maclean are programmed for destruction and no "program" for the progressive removal and or replacement of the species exists.  Why the four in a Park in Maclean and why do this when the residents are overwhelming against it? Why would a Council crying poor even consider spending scarce cash on something like this? It's illogical and irrational.
However, all of that aside, the single most appalling facet of this Council Administration has to be the erratic and inconsistent application of its own drafted Policies, procedures and regulations.  Is it any wonder that the major investors bypass this Valley? It is just not worth the trouble, as the IGA no doubt is now starting to realize.  And that is why we will have to send our children away to find decent employment, and why we will pay rates 30% higher than inner city suburbs in Brisbane, and most other places in the State.

Do not for one moment interpret the absence of a Lower Clarence Candidate in the recent Council bi-election as an indication of complacency or acquiescence. It wasn't!  The years of disregard for the views and aspirations of the people of the Lower Clarence and the quest for responsible and professional planning may well materialize into something far more tangible in the lead-up to the next Council general election.
Ian Saunders, Hon Secretary GMCAG
A somewhat less than polite response published in The Daily Examiner, 27 February 2015:
COUNCILLORS, I am apologising in advance that you have had to put up with the blatant lies which have emanated from the Maclean Inaction Group letter.
A group of 100 people does not and will not ever represent the sum of all opinions on any matter, let alone that regarding a supermarket. It certainly does not represent the whole 3000 members of the bowling club.
It is unfortunate that the current discussion to move the supermarket does look like a variation on a plan, but it will undoubtedly be a better solution if shoppers have the current tar car parking to use while the supermarket is being built.
But let's get back to the letter:
Accusing the council of no provision for future growth. WRONG.
There is ample space for future growth, and this supermarket plus current supplies, according to the Maclean Urban Study (a plan I think) will be enough until 2031. But hey, the Maclean Action Group - a misnomer if ever there was one - say otherwise. They must be the experts.
Accusing the council of a pretence with public consultation. WRONG.
The Maclean Inaction Group did not even bother to put in a deputation when this was discussed two weeks ago, as the Chamber of Commerce did. A deputation is the correct forum for pleading your case.
Accusing the council of no feedback. WRONG.
The council replies by many methods: email, letters, phone calls, deputations on site, and when they call a public meeting to discuss the visions for the year, six people turn up.
Accusing the council is ignoring Grafton. Well, let Grafton solve its own problems and get its own Grafton Inaction Group. We've got enough up here if they want to share.
Accusing the council of doing very little in Maclean in 10 years. WRONG.
They have paved through the CBD; built a footpath from past Gulmarrad School all the way into the High School; built the Sports Centre; built the new toilets which were needed and connected the sections of grass in a much more usable way; re-done the stormwater around the bowling club and up the hill; done the garden roundabout at the Post Office.
They are in planning for a million-dollar upgrade of McLachlan Park and Wherrett Park, both of which should start as soon as the weather clears and the Highland Gathering is finished.
Accusing the council of not upgrading the main street. WRONG.
When council did the paving, they completely revamped the outside parking lanes of the main street. The centre lanes I believe are the responsibility of the RMS. Maybe this has changed?
Accusing the council of taking away what little green space we have in Maclean. WRONG.
This new supermarket concept actually gives Maclean residents more green space than supermarket one. Keep in mind IGA has a valid DA on supermarket one. If they believe the Maclean Inaction Group, they may go back and build version one without any further discussion, but this will definitely put pressure on the people of Maclean compared to option two.
Accusing council of not maintaining the Civic Centre. WRONG.
I would like to offer the Maclean Inaction Group some vouchers to Specsavers, so they can catch a glimpse of the fairly new green Colorbond roof on the Civic Centre and the brand new kitchen which has been put in. Yes the ceiling needs painting. I'll lend them a brush.
Accusing the council of not calling a public meeting on the issue. WRONG.
They did. Years ago. The chamber has called three public meetings on the issue, but because the Maclean Inaction Group didn't get the response they wanted, the group said these meetings were rigged.
The Action Group has called four meetings - I believe meetings where if you try to stand up and discuss the issues rationally you get told to "shut up". They are meetings where there is no option to give a view opposing to theirs.
Accusing council of not replacing trees in town. WRONG.
They have replaced several trees in town, particularly in the main street. To say that Maclean only has two parks is a blatant lie. To say that people have to go to Yamba to play in a park completely ignores the beautiful children's playground next to the very expensive Sports Centre built by council with partly a grant. Specsavers again?
Perhaps the people driving to Yamba are actually going to a beach, visiting their aunt or dare I say visiting a really big supermarket?
Accusing council of overcharging on rates compared to Brisbane City. Well, sadly that's the maths behind the problem.
If you have three million ratepayers paying rather than 2600, then the base price will always be less. It's called economies of scale. Council is not crying poor over these upgrades to Maclean, as they have grants and the sale money quarantined to be spent only on Maclean projects. This is fact.
The Maclean Inaction Group concludes their letter with a threat to pull the council into line at the next election. That is their democratic right.
However if they do get elected, they will find that legal constraints on councillors are far more rigorous than even they have any understanding of.
Successful decisions of council are an amalgamation (dare I use that word!) of councillors, council management and staff and proposals put before them.
Sometimes as, in this case, they are tweaked to get the best result. They are not the result of bullying.
Denise Worrill1

1. As Maclean Chamber of Commerce Secretary in 2009 Ms. Worrill was vocal in her support for sale of part of the car park to IGA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand Ms Worrill owns property in River Street, no doubt a new supermarket nearby will improve the value of her property - talk about a conflict of interest!