Presentations to Council: Justin Parry-Okeden and Russell Young on 10 Cowell Street (9 Dec 2013)

Hi Everyone,

Please see below the presentations made last night, to Hunters Hill Council.

Presentation by Justin Parry-Okeden

In 2002 Hunters Hill Council conducted an extensive heritage restoration project on the building known as “10 Cowell St”.

The then General Manager (Barry Smith) and the Councillors at the time (including the now Mayor Richard Quinn) rejected any criticism of the project, and boasted about the success of this undertaking, and indeed held it up as an example of what can be achieved in heritage conservation.

I quote the then General Manager Barry Smith; “The completed building is a tribute to the Council staff and contractors who undertook the work and Council can now justifiably point to its own work as an example of what can be achieved in heritage and conservation building works. Any criticism of our performance in this project is unwarranted and misinformed.”

I must say, that not only I, but other members of the community are both amazed and extremely concerned that a council that has the same General Manager as well as one previous council member who now holds the position of mayor, now chooses to turn their back on the investment made by the rate payers of our community to preserve the cultural heritage for the future generations yet to come.

It would be a true travesty to see the previous dedication and hard work of all the professionals involved in the restoration project simply go to waste due to what can only be perceived as a change in priorities by the current administration.

I implore all Councillors to look inside themselves and reject the assertion that 10 Cowell Street is simply “an UNDERPERFORMING ASSET” – as described by the General Managers sweeping statement of all Cowell Street properties in the council minutes dated 13th May this year. Instead we must acknowledge its true value to the community as an important piece of our cultural heritage.

Presentation by Russell Young

Over the past few months we’ve learned that Council had received recommendations from credible experts to upgrade the Heritage listing of 10 Cowell Street, and exhibited the draft 2012 LEP on that basis, but failed to make the decision to accept or reject the recommendations prior to adoption of the 2012 LEP.

We have learned that the Council contractually committed itself to sell this property to a developer, so that a shopping centre may be extended across the property where the building sits.

Of most concern is the order of these two events, that the Council allowed itself to become contractually bound to sell the property to a developer before deciding whether or not the asset had Heritage value and should be protected – when it had received recommendation from multiple experts, that it deserved protection.

When the topic of council amalgamation was raised in March this year, Mayor Quinn was quoted in the Northern District Times as saying“Because of its historical, heritage value, Hunters Hill should remain independent”. I believe his comments were consistent with the expectation of those who have actively fought to ensure this independence in the past.

As Council goes into recess until the new-year, I ask that the Councillors reflect on whether what we have learned about the Management of Hunters Hill Council in recent years does deliver against that mandate, to protect history and heritage. Should we believe that Hunters Hill Council is in a weaker position or a stronger position to defend against the next call for amalgamation, given the events we’ve come to understand?

It is possible that, in years ahead, this period of time will be looked back upon as being definitive in determining the future of the municipality. The Council’s financial deficits of the last 5 years, and for the 10 years forward from last year’s T-Corp report on sustainability, caused T-Corp to call the Council’s long-term sustainability into question. We pay high rates, and the Council does not break-even.

The $5.6M backlog of infrastructure works to bring assets up to an acceptable standard does not help paint a picture of a Municipality in good shape.

The evolution of the 2010 DCP for the Gladesville Key Site could, at kindest, be described as highly confusing. The DCP was called a “flawed instrument” by the Hunters Hill Trust, and has been shown to be out of touch with community expectations.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Hunters Hill as an independent municipality.

The failure to decide on the Heritage listing of 10 Cowell Street is an act of denying protection to an asset of Heritage value. Given the claim of the legitimacy of Hunters Hill as an independent municipality, based on protection of history and heritage, such a refusal must be well considered and defendable.

To have committed the asset to a legal situation in which it is available for sale at the will of a Developer who will extend the shopping centre across where it stands, without having satisfactorily resolved against expert opinion on the Heritage value of the property, falls short against the Council’s mandate.

I ask that our Councillors reflect on whether they expect the Council to retain the trust and confidence of the community, after what we’ve all learned about the treatment of 10 Cowell Street, and other adjacent issues. I ask that the Councillors consider what implications this will have on the ability to defend the Municipality from amalgamation in the future.