This is a copy of the ABE paper submitted for presentation to the Eurobodalla Shire Council Public Forum Session on Tuesday 22nd June 2021
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address Council and the community regarding Notice of Motion 21/002, dealing with an application for a gate permit on Coopers Island Road.
I am presenting as Co-Convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum dedicated to having open and inclusive government in our region. ABE expects that before governments, at any level, make decisions that will impact their communities, they will undertake broad and meaningful consultation, listen to and share expert advice, and proceed using a transparent decision-making process so that the community understands who makes decisions, when and why.
ABE has applied these principles to the issue of the gate permit for Coopers Island Road, which leads it to support Councillor Constable’s Notice of Motion, which calls on Council to:
1. Refuse to issue a public gate permit under s128 of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW) to the owner of the land adjoining Coopers Island Road;
2. Direct the adjoining landowner to remove the gate that is currently erected across Coopers Island Road at that location within 21 days of this resolution;
3. Following removal of the gate, issue an order under s124 of the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) requiring the adjoining landowner to fence their land along the length of Coopers Island Road to the Princes Highway road reserve, on the basis that it is satisfied that public safety renders it necessary that the land adjoining Coopers Island Road is fenced; and
4. Contribute 50% of the cost of the fencing as a one-off contribution.
ABE presented to Council at Public Access session on the 4th May regarding alienation of public assets, citing examples of the premature closure and leasing of the Batemans Bay Community Centre, the closure of its Visitor Information Centres and the illegal gate on Coopers Island Road.
ABE has indicated that the extended delay in taking the regulatory action required under law regarding the illegal gate on Coopers Island Road was problematic. It had fuelled community unease and speculation that Council’s lack of action was the result of ongoing negotiations for the purchase of the public road by the adjoining landowner.
This public unease proved to be well-founded, as at the 8 June meeting Council was presented with an option to sell Coopers Island Road to the adjoining landholder, or to retain the road in public ownership. ABE supported retention of the road as a public asset, indicating that the Coopers Island precedent could have significant implications for many other public roads and assets throughout the Eurobodalla Shire, as well as public liability implications for Council. It would also have had significant negative impacts across many in the community who have used the site for decades. In particular, Council should have recognised the long-term Aboriginal connection to Coopers Island, including local Aboriginal families who have cultural fishing links to the site going back for many generations.
ABE noted that that the retention of the illegal gate on Coopers Island reflected poor administrative practice, lack of transparency and meaningful consultation, and was at odds with informed advice regarding effective post-disaster community recovery practices.
While ABE endorses Council’s decision taken on 8 June to retain Coopers Island Road in public ownership, we note that the formal motion embodying this decision only emerged during the meeting process, and was not contained in the agenda papers circulated for public exhibition and consideration. This was poor administrative practice causing confusion among Councillors and the community about the implications of what was being proposed.
Where responsibilities are delegated from Councillors to officials and a matter is incorrectly or inappropriately handled, it is right that Council should rescind that delegation and make a decision.
Today’s notice of motion reveals that, on reflection, an alternative approach to the fencing and gate issue has emerged that addresses the disquiet in the community about the retention of a gate.
ABE believes that Councillor Constable’s notice of motion represents an opportunity to clarify and consolidate the Council decision taken on 8 June to retain public ownership of Coopers Island Road. Further, it addresses potential public safety and public liability concerns that could arise from the formal decision endorsed by Council on 8 June.
ABE requests that it should be noted that a decision to support 50% of the cost of the fencing as a one-off contribution reflects that a Council official’s verbal advice to the landholder concerning the erection of the gate was incorrect.
This notice of motion is another opportunity for elected Councillors to prove their commitment both to the community and to good public administration. ABE therefore urges Councillors to support it.
Thank you for your attention.
A Better Eurobodalla