Thursday, April 30, 2009

Willow Court Committee dumped

THE controversial Willow Court Redevelopment Committee has been disbanded in favour of what is planned to be a more open and inclusive approach. Meeting tonight to resolve a membership impasse on the committee, Derwent Valley Councillors were unanimous in their opposition to the body in its present form.

After its longest debate in many years, councillors voted as one to disband the committee, completely restructure it and expand the membership. Despite general opposition to what was described as a draconian confidentiality agreement enforced by the failed committee, Mayor Tony Nicholson spoke of the ongoing need for confidentiality if the new committee was to win the confidence of potential developers.

Councillor Richard Parker was the first to speak when the special meeting of council opened at 6.3opm and one of the last to speak when it ended 75 minutes later. Seven members of the public were witness to the most detailed council debate in many years.

Cr Parker launched straight into a proposal to discontinue the Willow Court Committee and replace it with a new body including representatives of the council and community. He agreed with the need for confidentiality where necessary but rejected the blanket confidentiality agreement that had been put forward, saying it would discourage the community from taking part in the new process he was proposing.

Cr James Elliott expressed concern about doing away with the existing committee and expressed a view that it was important to keep the redevelopment process at arm's length from the council. He said bringing the process back under the council could have an adverse effect on public opinion and he preferred a similar option of expanding the membership of the existing committee and having it meet more often. Cr Elliott also said he would like to see more leadership of the committee and a firmer direction rather than "plodding along".

Cr Craig Farrell agreed with Cr Parker's proposal. He noted that the committee had not held an annual general meeting during its existence and had not often reported to the council. He favoured starting again with a new committee involving anyone from the community who wanted to take part. Cr Farrell said the proposed confidentiality agreement was a heavy document and he favoured a common-sense approach to the matter.

Speaking briefly, Deputy Mayor Scott Shaw said he was in complete agreement with Crs Parker and Farrell. He foreshadowed a motion to disband the committee and review and restructure the process.

The need for independent leadership of any new committee was raised by Cr Judy Bromfield, who agreed that the current committee should be disbanded. Cr Bromfield said the replacement committee needed broader membership, more community members, an independent chairperson, new terms of reference and more frequent meetings.

Councillors Parker, Elliott and Farrell spoke again, before Mayor Tony Nicholson entered the discussion and remarked that perception and public attitudes had changed since the committee was established in 2006. "I concur with some of the views expressed. The committee certainly needs to be expanded to resolve the current hiatus situation and move on," he said.

Cr Barry Lathey asked about the membership of the existing committee and was told it had six members. He expressed a preference for the committee to be restructured and expanded but not disbanded. Mayor Nicholson then remarked that there were two councillors who had not yet spoken and called on Crs Martyn Evans and Narelle Molan to have their say. Speaking briefly, both said they concurred with the opinions already expressed by the majority.

The nine councillors voted unanimously to disband the Willow Court Redevelopment Special Committee and to replace it with an expanded and restructured body. Councillors are expected to discuss the matter further at their closed-door workshop next week and report back to the May council meeting.

Wind of change blows committee away

IN farewelling his failed Willow Court Committee tonight, Derwent Valley Mayor Tony Nicholson harked back to a speech used to herald the beginning of the end of Britain's colonial era.

"The wind of change is blowing," Cr Nicholson said, quoting the title of the famous address to the South African parliament by the then British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in 1960.

Mayor Nicholson, who chaired the committee for about 18 months, delivered a parting serve at the Tasmanian Heritage Council, which he said had "stymied" the redevelopment of Willow Court redevelopment over the last four years.

The now defunct committee was established in 2006. Documents recently obtained under Freedom of Information show that the committee was convened six times by former mayor Nick Cracknell and five times by Mayor Nicholson. Despite the importance of the project, and growing public dissatisfaction, the committee had not met since June 2008. Cajoled into holding its first AGM last week, the meeting failed to attract a quorum and was abandoned.

Shadow over prison farm

IT has been suggested that the Hayes Prison Farm near New Norfolk may fall victim to the State Government's uncertain Budgetary position caused for the global financial crisis. In response to queries from the State Opposition, Corrections Minister Lisa Singh has said "no decision" has been made about the future of the mimimum-security jail, but confirmed it was under review.

"Liberal Opposition spokesman Michael Hodgman said closing Hayes would remove an important alternative to Risdon Prison. He called on Ms Singh to guarantee she would fight any government moves to close the facility. “If we are tackle the causes of crime, we need to have appropriate sentencing and rehabilitation alternatives, and the closure of the Hayes Prison Farm would in my view be a retrograde move that would not be in the long term interests of our state," Mr Hodgman said.

Ms Singh said no such decision had been made. “The farm, however, needs a substantial capital upgrade and its future is quite properly being assessed,” she said.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Council to discuss Willow Court Committee

A SPECIAL meeting of the Derwent Valley Council will be held this Thursday at 6.30pm to deal with several issues from the abandoned annual general meeting of the dysfunctional Willow Court Redevelopment Committee.

A notice of meeting published in today's issue of the Mercury newspaper lists only two agenda items for the special meeting, including the selection of a community representative for the Willow Court Committee. The other item refers to the Willow Court Committee's terms of reference.

Thursday's meeting will be one of the rare occasions when the council has discussed Willow Court in open session. Under Mayor Tony Nicholson's administration, most briefings on this sensitive topic have been conducted in "workshops" or closed council meetings, both of which are off limits to the general public.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lest We Forget - Anzac Day 2009

NEW Norfolk Anzac Day observances at dawn and 11am were again well attended this year. A slightly smaller than usual parade made its way up High St shortly before 11am, arriving at Circle St for a service of commemoration. For the first time, several veterans rode in the back of an ex-army 1969 Land Rover.

Selfless sacrifice, pride in our heritage and honouring our veterans was the subject of an address by Celia Hooker from St Matthew's Anglican Church. Mayor Tony Nicholson also spoke, and local soloist June Purkiss sang the National Anthem and the traditonal hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past, with musical accompaniment by the Derwent Valley Concert Band. New Norfolk Scouts stood at the four corners of the New Norfolk cenotaph.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Willow Court meeting abandonded

TODAY'S long-awaited annual general meeting of the Willow Court Redevelopment Committee was abandoned after insufficient committee members turned up - suggesting that calling the meeting at such short notice was not a good idea.

Four members of the public and a representative of the local press waited for 30 minutes before Derwent Valley mayor and committee chairman Tony Nicholson declared that the meeting would have to be abandoned. The lack of a quorum was complicated by the committee's interpretation of its own terms of reference, with project officer Ian Brown stating that some committee members could be appointed pro tem but others could not. Mr Brown acknowledged that the term - which means "for the time being" - did not feature in the committee's terms of reference but was a "standard procedure" at annual meetings.

Conflicting opinions on the interpretation of council policies and Local Government Meeting Procedure Regulations were discussed after the mayor declared it would be up to the Derwent Valley Council to set a new date for the meeting. From the public gallery, stickler-for-the-rules Damian Bester asked the mayor to set a new date then and there, suggesting that the meeting reconvene seven days hence - which would enable to meeting to be held in April as required by council policies. After much toing-and-froing Cr Nicholson said the "qualified advice" of council solicitor James Crotty was that in the event the meeting was abandoned, it must report the circumstances to the council and request a new date be set.

A similar fate befell attempts by Mr Bester and Ngaire Glover to have the rescheduled meeting held after 5pm as required by Local Government Regulations. At one point project officer Ian Brown remarked that if Mrs Glover would allow him to answer unimpeded, she would be able to take down his answer word-for-word. Mrs Glover said she was actually addressing the committee (not the project officer).

Mr Bester asked whether a question-and-answer session could be held among the people present but Cr Nicholson said this was not appropriate.

Clanger upsets citizen of the year

A COMMITTEE member who took the Lord's name in vain at today's aborted meeting of the controversial Willow Court Redevelopment Committee was quickly taken to task by one of four members of the public who turned up for the meeting.

After several minutes of particularly pernickety probing by ratepayers Damian Bester and Ngaire Glover, committee member Robert Walker declared that he'd had enough of the pair. "Jesus!" Mr Walker responded after Mr Bester remarked that Mr Walker was free to leave the post-meeting discussion whenever he liked.

Mr Walker's expression of frustration was taken personally by Derwent Valley Citizen of the Year Jacky Whitehead, who serves as secretary of the Uniting Church and as a Christian said she objected to such language. Mr Walker said he too was a Christian.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Adams tells council: Get on with it

IT is time for a new vision for the development of the Willow Court historic site, Federal MP Dick Adams has told the New Norfolk News. Addressing speculation that the Derwent Valley Council had abandoned its legal action against the Federal Government, Mr Adams said it was time to review the council's approach to the heritage site which holds so much promise.

"If the council is withdrawing the action (and I have not been informed of that) then they should review the whole thing, with all the delays and difficulties to see what happened," Mr Adams said. "It has been five years and nothing has happened."

"People need to step back and look again at this project with new eyes. We need to clean up the past and start with a clean slate and with a new vision. It is time now for some to move on. Let the Derwent Valley go forward."

Mr Adams's comments coincide with another scathing review of the council's heritage record in last Saturday's issue of the Mercury newspaper where columnist Leo Schofield concluded: "The local council should hang its head in shame."

With comments such as these, it remains to be seen how much longer the Derwent Valley Council can keep its head in the sand.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Carriage restoration project gets rolling

AFTER several disappointing years the future is again looking bright for the Derwent Valley Railway Preservation Society, including a recent visit by Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson to turn the first sod to start the construction of a building that will be used to restore railway passenger carriages.

The Derwent Valley Railway was granted $50,000 from the Federal Government through the Federal Member for Lyons, Dick Adams, to erect the building and to remove asbestos from a steam locomotive boiler.

DVR president Craig Farrell told the NNNews that the new building was essential to allow the society to restore carriages under shelter. "The DVR has not operated passenger trains for over two years but remains confident that DVR passenger trains will return in the near future," Mr Farrell said.

"Rail tourism in Tasmania has tremendous potential for growth both as a local attraction and high end 'Rail Cruises' catering for international visitors. The DVR is working on business plans to gain financial assistance for rail tourism projects," Mr Farrell said.

Vandals trash memorial hall signage
























VANDALS have desecrated the New Norfolk War Memorial Hall. Only a week before Anzac Day, thoughtless idiots appear to have trashed the large lettering above the entrance to the hall in Circle St. Construction of the hall was funded by the local community and the building opened in 1955. The external walls have occasionally been subjected to vandalism in the form of graffiti but this attack represents the worst act of desecration in more than 50 years.

Fortunately the Anzac Day observances this Saturday at 6am and 11am will reassure local returned-servicemen and women that our town in general has more respect for the sacrifice of its veterans than those responsible for the damage to the War Memorial Hall.

Council tries to sneak one past

EMBARRASSED into holding an annual general meeting for the controversial Willow Court Redevelopment Committee, the Derwent Valley Council appears to be doing its best to prevent interested people from attending.

Having been helpfully reminded of its obligations by Damian Bester over the last two months, the council yesterday advertised the meeting for 3pm this Thursday, April 23. The council has provided only three working days notice of the meeting, and scheduled it for mid-afternoon.

The advertisement on page 44 of the Saturday Mercury also advises that nomination forms for the position of community representative on the committee are available from the Valley Vision office, but it does not explain the voting process.

During public question time at the Derwent Valley Council meeting held at Maydena in February, Willow Court enthusiast Damian Bester asked:
*On what date will the Willow Court Special Committee hold its AGM?
* When will nominations be called for election to the committee?
* How many Annual General Meetings has the Willow Court Special Committee held since it was established three years ago?

Mayor Tony Nicholson - who also serves as chairman of the Willow Court committee - took the question on notice but has not yet responded. When reminded of the questions a month later, Councillor Nicholson said Mr Bester would have his answers "soon".

INVITATION: The Derwent Valley Council and Valley Vision may have excellent reasons for providing such short notice of this meeting and its mid-afternoon timing, and are welcome to let us know by emailing newnorfolknews@gmail.com

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Council silent on aborted legal action

THE Derwent Valley Council has refused to shed any light on its recent law suit against the Federal Government. At tonight's council meeting held at Bushy Park, general manager Stephen Mackey said the legal action had been the subject of a closed council meeting and therefore could not be publicly discussed. Mr Mackey said the Local Government Act prevented him from revealing any information about the case, which is believed to involve the loss of federal funding for the Willow Court historic site redevelopment.

Steadfastly resisting several probing manoeuvres by serial questioner Damian Bester, Mr Mackey politely said "thank you for the question" and refused to be drawn on the purpose and cost of the Federal Court action. Mr Mackey would not comment on whether the case was ongoing or abandoned. When presented with information from the Federal Court website showing the council had lodged a Notice of Discontinuance on March 26, he simply said: "Well then you have your answer."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Valley Vision under a magnifying glass

SURPRISING advice was provided to last month's council meeting to the effect that the Valley Vision organisation costs the Derwent Valley Council only $24,000 per annum. This was the information provided when New Norfolk resident Michael Whitehead queried the cost and value of the group which provides economic development services to the council.

During public question time, Mr Whitehead said he believed Valley Vision was costing the council about $100,000 per year, and he doubted its value. "Valley Vision needs an external audit to take a look at all figures to decide if Valley Vision is a goer and quite frankly I don't think it is," Mr Whitehead said.

Council accountant John Bradley said the council budget showed the council contribution to Valley Vision was $24,000 and Mayor Tony Nicholson said the council's books were subject to audit. In response, Mr Whitehead repeated his request for a complete and independent audit of Valley Vision.

This latest information about the costs associated with Valley Vision seems to conflict with general manager Stephen Mackey's confirmation that the council paid the wage of project officer Ian Brown. This advice was given at the council's annual general meeting last year, in response to one of many questions asked by Ngaire Glover and Damian Bester.

NOTE: Valley Vision and/or the Derwent Valley Council are welcome to comment on this article or provide further information by emailing us at newnorfolknews@gmail.com

DISCLOSURE: The NNNewsBlogger is a former Valley Vision board member and is generally a crankypants when it comes to this topic.

Council urged to advertise locally

THE Derwent Valley Council has been urged to resume its former practice of advertising its council meetings in the Derwent Valley Gazette. Addressing last month's council meeting, New Norfolk resident Michael Whitehead said he understood the monthly advertisement had been discontinued as a cost-cutting measure. Mr Whitehead said it was important for local residents and ratepayers to know when the council meetings were held and many did not see the advertisement when it appeared in the Mercury newspaper.

Mayor Tony Nicholson said the Local Government Act obliged the council to advertise its meetings in a daily newspaper circulating in the municipality, a requirement which did not encompass the weekly Gazette. Mr Whitehead later told the NNNews that he was not satisified with the mayor's response and further stated that the relatively small cost of advertising in the Gazette should be within the council's means.

DISCLOSURE: The NNNewsBlogger is employed by the company which owns both the Gazette and the Mercury.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Council takes Feds to court

THE Derwent Valley Council last month launched a mystery court case against the Federal Government. The case is believed to relate to the government's decision to withdraw funding for the redevelopment of the Willow Court historic site after the money remained unspent after three years.

The council and its lawyer James Crotty filed various documents with the Federal Court of Australia on March 6, but the purpose and cost of this action have not yet been shared with the people of the municipality.

If the council wishes to reveal the details of this legal action, it is welcome to email us at newnorfolknews@gmail.com

Monday, April 6, 2009

First school improvement grants announced

LOCAL schools which have not yet applied for federal funding from the National School Pride program have been urged to do so before May 8. Announcing the first round of grants yesterday, Federal Lyons MHA Dick Adams encouraged all remaining schools to contact the relevant authorities and submit their proposals for round two.

Of the 146 Tasmanian schools in Tasmania sharing in $20.5 million for minor infrastructure and refurbishment projects under round one, only three are in the Derwent Valley. They are:

Maydena Primary School: $50,000 for a store-room, school infrastructure and playground equipment
Ouse District High School: $50,000 to replace the gymnasium floor
Westerway Primary School: $75,000 for a covered outdoor learning and play area

“Under this program, every Australian school will receive up to $200,000, based on the size of the school, for maintenance and minor building works," Mr Adams said. “Successful projects for Lyons range from installing an outdoor sports facility to the refurbishment of early childhood classrooms.

Mr Adams said the $1.3 billion National School Pride program would deliver much needed funding for school maintenance and importantly, support local jobs by creating demand for tradespeople in communities across the state. Construction and maintenance work will start as soon as possible, with many of the National School Pride projects planned to begin this month.

Promotional offer for local businesses

THE website of the Derwent Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry is being updated and members have been invited to have their businesses linked directly to the website. Chamber president Laurelle Grimley said this connection would help attract the attention of people searching for local businesses and services. Members have been asked to forward their up-to-date website, email and telephone details to info@woodbridgenn.com.au as soon as possible. Mrs Grimley said the chamber's web- developer was also able to create and host new websites for members who did not yet have their own. Both offers are also available to any new members joining the DVCCI this month.

Festival draws a good crowd

ORGANISERS estimate about 10,000 people attended yesterday's Derwent Valley Autumn Festival despite chilly weather and the occasional shower. Festival chairman Nick Cracknell said while the weather was probably the worst in the eight-year history of the event, it had not really deterred people from attending. With plenty of entertainment for all ages and dozens of food and beverage options available, there was something warm on offer for everyone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

House fire claims two lives

TWO men are believed to have died in an early-morning house fire at New Norfolk. Police, fire and ambulance units from New Norfolk, Magra, Bridgewater and Hobart attended the incident in Andrews St, which police have declared a crime scene.

Volunteer officers from the New Norfolk and Magra fire brigades discovered two bodies in the house after extinguishing the blaze at about 3.50am. The surrounding area including houses across the street was closed-off by police and forensic officers were on the scene at about 4.30am.

In attendance were 21 members of the New Norfolk and Magra fire brigades, a paramedic and two volunteers from the New Norfolk Ambulance Station, and several police from Bridgewater and Hobart.