22/08/2012 - 10:42

Big issue behind local disputes

22/08/2012 - 10:42


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After reading my local newspaper on the weekend, I was dismayed by the state of local government in Perth.

After reading my local newspaper on the weekend, I was dismayed by the state of local government in Perth.

THE Subiaco Post is a good barometer of what is happening in Perth’s western suburbs.

The Post taps into the hot button issues that get people talking, including a lot of local government matters.

The latest edition was no exception, with stories that ranged across Claremont, Wembley, Nedlands and surrounding suburbs.

What struck me most was the small-minded and officious way in which local councils responded.

Their responses highlighted, once again, why so many people are frustrated by the state of local government in Western Australia and are keen for change.

The worst offender was Town of Claremont Mayor Jock Barker.

He was responding to reports that the redevelopment of land around Claremont Oval could include eight-storey apartment buildings, as well as a six-storey commercial building.

This is a change from earlier plans that have been released for review; hence, there may be legitimate questions to ask about the public consultation process.

It remains to be seen how that will be managed, and that’s assuming the rumoured changes are correct.

The most disappointing aspect was Mr Barker’s resort to absurd rhetoric, saying “just because the numbers don’t stack up doesn’t mean they can turn Claremont into a high-rise ghetto”.

A little over the top, I would have thought.

The Claremont Oval land is a perfect site for urban in-fill. It is next to a busy road and a train station, a short walk from a major shopping precinct – which is already home to medium-rise apartment developments – and well away from the nearest housing.

If some mid-rise apartment buildings can’t fit into a site like that, there is no hope for achieving increased population density in Perth’s established suburbs.

Another doozy was the City of Nedlands’ response to the parking shortage around the QEII medical centre.

Some enterprising local residents have starting renting parking spots to workers who would otherwise have to park at Graylands and catch a shuttle bus.

A web site has been established to service this market, apparently offering driveways or garages for rent at $70 a week.

To many, this would appear to be a great example of free enterprise at work; but according to Nedlands councillor Kerry Walker, “householders are profiteering”. 

That term is defined to mean unreasonable or excessive profit, yet $70/week is less than what many city workers pay for parking.

Why can’t we let informed adults make their own decisions without bureaucrats and regulators interfering?

A third example was a local government classic. It concerned a resident who had installed a garage door 12 years ago. 

All these years later, he has been ordered to remove the professionally installed roller door because, as one councillor said, “we’ve got to look at what the rules are”.

There are a handful of people in local government who try to elevate the standard of debate, and focus on the bigger issues, but they face a big challenge.

Town of Cambridge, for instance, recently announced a breakthrough agreement with the state government that will allow for the development of a 200-lot site on Salvado Road and a major upgrade of neighbouring sporting facilities.

The agreement marked the end of a 15-year dispute, and means $13 million will be spent on Wembley Sports Park.

Cambridge Mayor Simon Withers described this as “one of the most significant community sports developments in Perth for many, many years”. 

WA Business News and The Post reported the story, but it was not the big story in the Town of Cambridge, according to The West Australian and local radio. They gave more coverage to a dispute over a tree house that a Wembley resident built on the council verge. 

Do we really want to pay elected councillors to adjudicate on the merit of roller doors and tree houses? Of course we don’t.

These are just a few small but telling examples of why local government needs major reform. Not just mergers, but real changes to the role of councillors and how councils operate.

Let’s hope the Robson Review, which handed its final report to Local Government Minister John Catrilli last month, fosters this type of change.



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