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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Council candidates named

HERE is the list of candidates for the 2009 Derwent Valley Council election. Councillors are elected for four year terms, with half of each council facing the voters every two years. This year nine candidates are vying for the four positions available. The positions of mayor and deputy mayor are elected every two years. The candidates are, in the order named by the Tasmanian Electoral Commission:
Councillor (nine candidates - four to be elected)     
BESTER, Damian Rodney, of New Norfolk     
BINGLEY, Phillip, of New Norfolk     
GRAHAM, James, of New Norfolk     
LATHEY, Barry, of New Norfolk     
MOORES, Alexander, of Molesworth     
NICHOLSON, Tony, of Lachlan     
SHAW, Scott Darrell, of New Norfolk     
SHOOBRIDGE, Wayne Anthony, of New Norfolk     
SMITH, Raymond Allan, of Lachlan     

Mayor (four candidates)     
ELLIOTT, Jim, of Bridgewater     
EVANS, Martyn, of Magra     
NICHOLSON, Tony, of Lachlan     
SHAW, Scott Darrell, of New Norfolk

Deputy Mayor (three candidates)         
FARRELL, Craig, of New Norfolk     
LATHEY, Barry, of New Norfolk     
SHOOBRIDGE, Wayne Anthony, of New Norfolk

Local council elections are conducted by postal ballot. Election material (including the ballot paper) mailed directly to each elector. This process is due to start on October 13 and every elector should have their ballot packs by October 16. All ballots are returned to the Tasmanian Electoral Commission in the post (as a postal vote) and must be received by 10am on October 27 in order to be counted.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mudslide closes Molesworth Rd

THE weekend's wild wet and windy weather contributed to a landslide on Molesworth Rd between Molesworth and Glenlusk this morning. Local resident Anthony Edwards snapped this photo of the incident, which closed the road from the early morning, but it was cleared by the afternoon.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Letter to the editor

FOLLOWING the debacle of the Willow Court public forum and the inaccurate report of that week’s paper, I not only felt ashamed to be part of the council but like the public needed answers. On demanding the figures for the RDH development I spent 10 hours plus analyzing the contents. It became very clear why the figures have been kept secret. They show very clearly a case of "commercial incompetents" not the "in confidence" they keep speaking about.

The ratepayers have a right to know as we are responsible for carrying the can if and when the funds run out. There are two ways this can be looked at. Firstly the manner under which the council has operated and that was to do all the inquiries and investigations to ascertain what is there and what condition the site is in. They now feel in a comfort zone that future sales in the pipeline will pull them through and with government help will provide a paying project. That is fine but if we get the appropriate sales through and if the government's help! We need both state and federal to contribute to make it a worthwhile project.

The facts is there were limited funds from day one and those funds should have been used to secure the asset. Anybody buying property is urged immediately to insure the asset and secure it. If we had securely locked down the asset then we could have then made more adequate investigations as to its future. Knowing its size they knew that additional help was required and they could have negotiated more strongly with the governments as how we could move forward.
What then did happen? They did not secure the asset and the council made approaches to persons who they thought would have the financial assets and sold the main portion of the assets to them. History knows the result of that effort. Then as soon as they got the funds they didn’t secure the balance. They went on a spree of investigating and obtaining reports. This may have seen to be the right thing but alas while this was happening again the site was left to be destroyed. Common sense says they should have protected the asset.

The big question is why did the council persist in attempting to sell in its own right when there were and still are several very competent real estate agents on the town who may have produced a far better outcome than what has now evolved. They may have saved several thousand in commission but cost the project millions. Instead of a good and positive outcome we have a pitch patch of private ownership that is slowly trying to develop their patch. We have access issues due to the refusal of the council to take responsibility for the roads in the site. This now leaves several buildings without proper access. I as a councilor at the time of subdivision pointed out that the council should take responsibility for those roads and was told they only had to have a frontage onto a public road and they all had that, even though they cannot access their properties from them. I did later oppose the acquisition of those roads as you can not change midstream when someone has already purchased the property with the roads. Not only is it ethically not correct it would have cost the council a lot of money at that stage as the owner was not agreeable. The current private owners are also having huge vandalism problems and this would have been avoided had the council at the time taken the right steps in the first place to secure the assets. And guess what: the cost of restoration would have been minimal in comparison to what is required today.

The project was doomed to failure from the outset. The funds they got piece meal $2,238,000 or there about required a commercial urgency if it was to be any where near adequate. However the lack of common sense and commercial understandings seen a long protracted program that has now seen $2,235,451 or there about spent and the public are rightly saying what have we got. We have a group of derelict buildings that each day has more added to a restoration bill.

What did they spend the money on? Would you believe 53.3% or thereabout has gone to administration! That is over $1.1 million gone to administration. That in anyone's language is incompetence. Since 2002 about $136,000 has been spent on security. And that was not all with recognized security firms. I would suggest that in 2002 a system to cover the whole area and secure fencing would not have cost more than about $180,000 and that would have included temporary power supplies. In the last couple of years vandalism has gone through the roof and guess why? We have spent just over $10,000 on securing the site or should I say "playing at" securing the site. The reduction in security has seen the increase in vandalism.

The Federal and State Government grants were not spent as it could be seen that if they were it would have left the community with an ever increasing cost starting around $50,000 per annum. The fact that the council voted to attempt to sue the Federal Government was a total farce and both Councillor Parker and I spoke strongly against such a silly move. Cr Evans voted with us but the other six councillors voted to go ahead. The result was the matter had to be withdrawn after wasting more money on impossible action. Although there has been public condemnation and mystery as to why the government grants were not spent I can tell you now that is probably the only sign of common sense in the project. It has avoided the ratepayers from footing an ever increasing bill.

Where to from here? The horse has bolted but we should now move to secure what is left of the buildings and shut the project down until both governments and council can work out a suitable plan for the proper and financially viable outcomes of the site. Alternatively put it on the open market and see if there is a suitable purchaser out there for the balance of the site. We do now have all these extremely expensive reports. If marketing the project is the outcome then we should look at the end result rather than the monetary gain as it is more important to have the site restored with local employment rather than a developer going broke and an unsightly mess. The council should step back from the marketing project and give it to the professionals.

Councillor Jim Elliott
Candidate for Mayor

Thursday, September 17, 2009

State and council bury the hatchet

STATE funding for part of the redevelopment of the Willow Court historic site is back on track. Acting Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, David Llewellyn MHA, said representatives from the Derwent Valley Council and the State Government had met last week to discuss proposals for future funding.

“I am pleased that planning has now started to get this project back on track,” Mr Llewellyn said. “The State Government is very aware of the issues relating to the conservation, security and management of the Willow Court site. We want to see a successful outcome for the site, and for the Barracks and Bronte buildings in particular. The preservation and re-use of the heritage buildings is to be supported.”

Mr Llewellyn's media release included a comment from Derwent Valley Mayor, Tony Nicholson, saying the Council was "extremely pleased" that the State Government was committed to the reallocation of the original $750,000 grant to the Willow Court site. “Council is happy to work in partnership with the State Government on the future of the site,” Councillor Nicholson said. “An options paper will be prepared in the next two weeks for consideration by council and the State Government to determine the best way forward with the site.”

Closed discussions continue

ONLY days after the Willow Court Working Party held its first meeting without the promised public involvement, the Derwent Valley Council will tonight exclude the public from a discussion about historic items stored at Willow Court. The agenda for tonight's monthly council meeting includes one item for discussion in closed session. In accordance with the Local Government Act (1993) the agenda lists only the topic, which is stated as "Willow Court historical items security". The Local Government Act allows the council to exclude the public when it considers items relating to:
  • personnel matters including complaints against staff of the council
  • industrial matters relating to a person
  • the health or financial position of any person
  • contracts for the supply and purchase of goods and services
  • the security of property of the council
  • proposals for the acquisition of land or disposal of land which is not public land
  • information provided to the council on the condition it is kept confidential
  • trade secrets of private bodies
  • matters relating to actual or possible litigation involving the council or staff of the council.
The council did not see fit to use the above provisions of the Local Government Act when it discussed Willow Court security issues at last month's council meeting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Willow Court meeting mystery

DESPITE assurances of public participation, the Willow Court Working Party appears set to hold its first meeting in private tonight. People who volunteered for the committee received a written notice of meeting last week, but the meeting does not appear to have been publicly advertised as promised.

The working party was formed at the suggestion of Derwent Valley Council general manager Stephen Mackey in response to an earlier suggestion by New Norfolk resident Wayne Shoobridge that the council re-establish its Willow Court Redevelopment Committee. Mr Mackey suggested a working party of eight to 10 members, with its meetings to be advertised in order for any other interested persons to come along.

Instead, letters appear to have gone out to those who put their names down for the working party, with no public advertising. The group will meet at the Derwent Valley Community House, Willow Court, at 7pm tonight (Monday). The New Norfolk News understands the letters were sent from the Community House, not the Derwent Valley Council.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Willow Court forum ends in farce

A WORKING party has been formed to assist the Derwent Valley Council with the redevelopment of the Willow Court historic site. Establishing the new group was the only solid outcome of tonight's community forum which attracted 97 people to the council social rooms.

The meeting provided few answers to the many questions surrounding the stalled redevelopment project and failed to gain any official acknowledgement that the council's seven-year-long approach had been found wanting.

Mayor Tony Nicholson opened the forum with a message of welcome and then disappeared to the back of the room, leaving the running of the meeting to facilitator Adam Saddler. Valley Vision project manager Ian Brown (who was introduced as the council economic development officer) bore the brunt of more than an hour of sustained questioning from the likes of Damian Bester, Anne Salt, Wayne Shoobridge, Ngaire Glover, Mark Bennett, Tim Jenkins, John Shoobridge and others.

Mr Bester asked the first question after Mr Brown said more than 100 jobs had been created by the council at Willow Court, and elicited the answer that few if any of those jobs were ongoing. Mrs Glover asked what costs had been associated with the various jobs and Mr Brown undertook to provide those details later.

A brief history of the council's ownership of the site was given, including news that the former administration building has changed ownership six times. Electricity supply remains one of the stumbling blocks, along with the loss of government funding. The council hopes to raise further funds by selling more of the historic site to private developers.

Mrs Glover asked what conditions had been applied when earlier subdivisions had occurred on the site, in particular with reference to roads and access. Mr Brown said negotiations were ongoing, which drew spirited responses from the New Norfolk Lions Club and the Derwent Valley Masonic Lodge, who said their buildings at Willow Court had no formal access and their members were relying on the goodwill of neighbouring property owner Haydn Pearce. The council has never adequately explained why it sold sealed roads and footpaths when it subdivided the site, effectively leaving some properties with no access.

Mr Brown took issue with a statement by Mr Bester to the effect that the council at one time had $4 million in hand and this could have been used to make a start on the redevelopment but had been squandered. Mr Bester said it had been stated that the council earned $2.4 million from the sale of buildings and $1.5 million in government funds. Mr Brown said this was not correct and asked Mr Bester if he would like to make another guess. A voice said that figure had been published in the Derwent Valley Gazette and in reply Mr Brown said that did not make it correct. When asked, he said the sale of buildings to Barbara Adams had netted $2.238 million, which drew howls of derision from the crowd. The proceeds of the sale of a former workshop building on the site have never been publicly declared.

Former councillor Wayne Shoobridge said a lack of information had been an issue even when he was on the Derwent Valley Council. He asked when the site would be open to visitors and what was being done to preserve it in the meantime. Mr Brown said the site could be open 18 months after the redevelopment project was under way, but could not say when that would be.

Security was raised as an issue by many at the meeting, including one remark that before long Willow Court would be merely a pile of heritage bricks.

Mr Layton Hodgetts expressed the view of many in the audience when he said the agenda seemed to have been designed to cover a meeting held over an entire weekend, rather than the 90 minutes allowed by the council. He suggested that the meeting move on to discussing the future rather than going over the past.

Anne Salt then asked how much money was left in the Willow Court fund, which was revealed to be about $350,000. Mr Brown would not be drawn on how long that money would last. Mrs Salt remarked that it would probably last about seven months based on current spending.

Mr Bester pointed out that Mr Brown had been bearing the brunt of the questioning, and asked where the mayor and general manager were. He said said all three should all be at the front of the room. General manager Stephen Mackey promptly joined Mr Brown but the mayor remained nowhere to be seen, despite calls for his presence.

Several members of the audience then raised the prospect of handing the Willow Court site back to the state government. Mr Mackey said he did not support that view, and said he believed the project was now at the "sharp end" with all the preparatory work that had been done.

Mr Shoobridge called on the council to re-establish its Willow Court Committee, which drew a mixed response. Mr Mackey suggested a working party instead, and when put to the vote there were 33 people in favour and four against. Thirteen people then put their names down for the working party, which will meet in a fortnight.

The issue of funding came up again, at which point an endorsed Labor Party candidate for Lyons, Nick Wright, made himself known and said he had been advised that the state government grant of $750,000 was "still on the table".

Summing up the meeting, facilitator Adam Saddler said it appeared that security was the top community priority for the historic site, along with increased transparency and communication from the council.

Mayor Tony Nicholson reappeared and said the evening had provided a good opportunity to listen to what had been done at Willow Court. He said the meeting had not produced the number of suggestions he had been expecting, and he rejected what he described as "recriminations" over the current situation. Cr Nicholson said information about the project had always been freely available. "BULLSHIT" was the unified response from many in the crowd, including Mr Bester, who leapt to his feet and demanded to know why he had to resort to a Freedom of Information request to gain access to the minutes of the Willow Court Committee. "Sit down Damian," the mayor replied. Mr Bester shouted his question several times more, quite rudely pointing his finger at the major. "Because you wanted to," Cr Nicholson said. His response drew several boos from the crowd and prompted a further outburst from Mr Bester, calling on the mayor to resign.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Going, going, gone

LESS than half a million dollars remains in the Derwent Valley Council's fund for the redevelopment of the Willow Court historic site, it was revealed in today's issue of the Derwent Valley Gazette. The newspaper quotes a letter sent by councillor and mayoral candidate Martyn Evans to his council colleagues.

Expressing his frustration over years of delays, Cr Evans said there was just $350,000 left from the $2.4 million raised when the council sold part of the historic site to private developers. This follows recent decisions by the State and Federal governments to withdraw grants totalling $1.5 million.

Child and family centre for New Norfolk

NEW Norfolk has been named as one of the next three communities to have one of the State Government's new "child and family centres", Premier David Bartlett said today. “These centres are another part of the Government’s passionate commitment to instill in our children a life-long love of learning and are in addition to the eight centres already announced," Mr Bartlett said.

“Community consultation on the three latest centres will start before the end of the year to enable planning and building to start next year. Work on the first eight centres will begin this calendar year as part of the $76 million strategy to help our children get the best possible start in life," he said.

“We want all children to arrive at schools as learners. Child and family centres are an important part of our comprehensive strategy to enable every Tasmanian to reach their potential, at all stages of life and we plan to build up to 30 state-wide,” Mr Bartlett said,

“Child and family centres will provide a range of integrated services that support families with the health and well-being, care and education needs of children from birth to school age, preparing them for a healthy life and success at school," he said.

The first seven centres are to be built at Clarendon Vale, Ravenswood, Chigwell, George Town, East Devonport, Beaconsfield, and Queenstown, with the eighth to be built at Risdon Cove to meet the needs of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. New Norfolk, Burnie and St Helens will be the next three.

“Child and family centres will help give our youngest children the best possible start in life and acknowledge the importance of the family in a child’s development,” Mr Bartlett said. More information on child and family centres is available here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MP mauls mayoral muttering

FEDERAL MP Dick Adams has hit back at claims that a Federal Government "razor gang" was responsible for the Derwent Valley Council losing federal funding for the Willow Court precinct. “Recent claims made by the mayor of the Derwent Valley that a Federal Government ‘razor gang’ is responsible for the withdrawal of Federal Government funding Willow Court are simply not correct," Mr Adams said.

“Put simply, the funding was withdrawn because the Derwent Valley Council failed to meet contractual obligations in the funding agreement," he said. "As part of the 2004 Federal Election campaign, the then government made funding available to the Derwent Valley Council, through Valley Vision, for the development and conservation of the Willow Court precinct. Like all funding, there were strict timelines and contractual obligations put in place - this is after all public money that must be accounted for – those obligations were not met,” Mr Adams said.

“I understand that the Derwent Valley Council is also negotiating with the State Government in order to keep the state component of the funding and wish council well with those negotiations. There’s no doubting that the conservation and suitable use of the Willow Court precinct is challenging, but when council submits a proposal for funding they must ensure that the follow through with that proposal," he said.

"Mr Adams said many of his constituents had raised concerns about the future of Willow Court and he hoped this week's public forum would provide a constructive opportunity for those concerns to be aired and addressed. He said any developments in the Willow Court area must take into consideration the culturally and historically sensitive area, as well as the need to ensure there was community consultation throughout the entire process.