Whatever the composition and flavour of the new and first democratically-elected Central Coast Council, it seems clear that its 15 members will face an enormous task.
The organisational integration of the two former Wyong and Gosford Council entities is far from finalised or bedded down.
According to a Council internal progress report of late August, 75 per cent of the task remains incomplete, and the bulk of this work will be inherited by the new Council.
Serious reservations about the former Gosford Council’s finances remain un-addressed, despite two consecutive audits.
The incoming Councillors will need to follow up in earnest to establish a clean financial slate.
The vexed tangle of legal obligations and responsibilities surrounding the Mangrove Mountain landfill issue and their satisfactory resolution can be expected to unfortunately occupy a great deal of Councillor time.
A number of decisions made under Ian Reynolds’ period of administration will require immediate attention; the deeply flawed and hastily passed Code of Conduct being a case in point.
As if this wasn’t enough, the creation of a combined and consistent new Local Environment Plan (LEP), the region’s major land-use planning document, is set to commence in 2018.
The LEP consultation process will really test the community engagement skills of the elected Council and the supporting administration.
A failure of the plan-making process would cost local communities dearly in future instances of repeated missed planning opportunities (read: Gosford waterfront) and further egregious cases of mis-planning (for example, the regional airport).
The impending LEP making raises a potentially thorny issue.
How on earth will a group of 15 Councillors be able to listen to and take on board the contributions and objections of some 300,000 local residents and ratepayers, let alone the local business community, sporting and community groups, environmental organisations, local health and social services?
Judging by the somewhat superficial community engagement process adopted by Council to formulate a Community Strategic Plan earlier this year, it is clear that expectations for effective engagement cannot be met in the same way for the much larger and far more important task of arriving at a universally supported new LEP.
The former Wyong Council had the benefit of local precinct committees that, while not always being listened to, gave Councillors a structured and dependable opportunity for consultation and genuine community feedback.
In view of the much larger task facing the amalgamated Central Coast Council, I can see merit in creating a network of new precinct committees that had a formal imprimatur and formed the basis for genuine consultation and advice to Councillors.
Precinct committees ought to become the first port of call to test the water on planning issues, transport needs, infrastructure services, community facilities and environmental concerns.
They would provide essential support and guidance to the new Councillors, provide the local knowledge and history to so many aspects requiring due consideration and be living sounding boards for Council’s initiatives and reforms.
Issues raised by precinct committees need to find their way onto the new Council’s agenda or be addressed appropriately by Council staff in a dependable and timely manner.
Our existing progress associations and community groups, essential and of continuing relevance, should welcome the opportunity to finally be provided with a consultative approach that features some rigour and improved certainty of outcomes.
I would be interested to hear of a better way in which our new regional government, represented by only 15 Councillors, can conceivably meet the enormous challenge ahead and do justice to the many and varied legitimate concerns of its residents.
Email, Sep 11
Wolfgang Koerner, Point Clare