Valley Watchdog rises from the ashes

Valley Watchdog returns fiercer than ever after a total meltdown last year that had nothing to do with the recent tragic climate-change related bushfires sweeping the nation.

An administrator failure resulted in most of the Watchdog’s on-line content being deleted.

Fortunately, most of that content can still be retrieved through the Wayback Machine internet archive.

The archive allowed retrieval of the post below relating to the Iron Gates development, at Evans Head.

Iron Gates is in the news again following the announcement that a new attempt is being made to resurrect the controversial development.

Posted in Editorial, Evans Head, Iron Gates | Leave a comment

Vegetation clearing at the Iron Gates at Evans Head

Extract from public pamphlet advertising the Iron Gates development back in the 1990's

Extract from public pamphlet advertising the Iron Gates development back in the 1990s

The controversial Iron Gates estate at Evans Head is back in the spotlight, a controversy that’s been around for at least a quarter of a century (see below).  This time substantial clearing of vegetation of the Iron Gates has brought many players out of the woodwork and drawn attention to the fact that housing development is again on the cards with Richmond Valley Council a keen promoter of residential development to improve its ‘housing stock’.

The Iron Gates was controversial as far back as 1990 as reported in this Richmond River Express Examiner article on 26 June 1990

The Iron Gates was controversial as far back as 1990 as reported in this Richmond River Express Examiner article on 26 June 1990

Councils (the former Richmond River and now Richmond Valley) have always wanted the Iron Gates developed in the mistaken belief that more housing will improve council’s financial situation and improve the economic circumstances of the local area, but as usual there is no business plan to demonstrate that alleged benefit. Council avoids business plans like the plague most likely because it will reveal the true costs being borne by ratepayers. The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome is a good example where there has never been a business plan.  The costs to ratepayers of council’s ill-fated plans for development of the aerodrome have been in the millions of dollars. A business plan should include an honest cost of infrastructure, not the rubbish information council’s served up in the past and which has only recently been corrected by Richmond Valley because the whistle was blown on the previous incorrect information provided to council by staff.

VWD notes the usual arguments about growth and need for housing pushed in the 1990 article above, the same weary arguments we now hear from the misnamed “Valley of Surprises” Richmond Valley Council.   No surprises here at all, really.  Same old, same old…..!  And backed of course by various local businesses who would like to have more residents to improve profits.  Not that there’s anything wrong with profits, but at whose expense!

A business plan should also include any discounts proposed by council for Section 64 ‘developer contributions’ for such things as water connection, sewerage, etc. No more waiving of fees or heavy discounts.

Council is inclined to discount developer contributions in the name of economic benefit but ultimately the burden falls back on the poor bloody ratepayer once the developer is done, made profits, and buggered off.

Who ultimately got to wear the cost of ligitation from the previous Iron Gates debacle, and has that cost been included as part of the proposed development?  Surely we need to recoup all those sunk costs but will Iron Gates development achieve that.  Not likely.

There is no blank slate here to start again.  Council has imposed a Special Rate Variation of 39.1% on ratepayers because of an infrastructure backlog and because it has no money.  No prizes for guessing why it has no money!  And why should ratepayers at all levels of government continue to pay?

Council even discounts developer contributions for itself.  For example, the Casino Sports Stadium to be built on Colley Park had the Section 64 contributions waived by the General Manager and Mayor on the 29th of January this year.  VWD was unaware that council is a “non-profit”, “charitable organisation” and that it would be “unable to recover the charge from the end user”.  Where is the business plan?  And who ultimately will be paying the charges for all the water and sewer works which have to be done?  It doesn’t happen for nothing.

Such waiver information should have been brought to public attention when council advertised for public comment on the proposed Sports Stadium in 2013.  The cost of the development grew from $1.2 to $1.5, a 25% increase in just a few short months to be followed by the half million waiver early this year.  What other costs don’t we know about?

Richmond Valley Council DA file for the new Sports Stadium at Casino shows that more than $552

Richmond Valley Council DA file 2014.008 for the new Sports Stadium at Casino shows that $552,345 have been waived by the General Manager and Mayor.  The reasons for the waiver are unclear.  VWD assumes that all councillors know about this waiver as it is not a small amount and eventually someone has to pay the costs of doing all these works.

In the view of VWD there is a further problem here with regard to Iron Gates development and that is how “arms length” is council from the developer when it comes to making an assessment of any DA.   It is now clear from media reports that Council has been in discussion with the Iron Gates proponents for some time including Iron Gates Pty Ltd  which has been under “External Administration” for a long time now.

ASIC information about the status of Iron Gates Pty Ltd

ASIC information about the status of Iron Gates Pty Ltd.  Note that it is under “External Administration…..”

But more than that Council has been pushing for development of the Iron Gates. 

Extract from The Casino Times

Recent extract from The Casino Times

Limits to Growth and Development

Quite apart from an ‘economic’ case for the Iron Gates, which has still to be made by Council, there are the more important and longer-term environmental consequences of such a development.  Our economy is dependent on a healthy environment which provides a enormous range of ‘services’ such as clean water and air as well as a range of amenities important to the Evans Head economy such as a clean and uncontaminated river system.

Development of the Iron Gates will not only put a load on our existing sewerage treatment system and water supply but also has the potential to impact the health of the river through run-off and contamination from fertilisers, riparian loss, and so on.  The Evans River Estuary is already under threat from many thousands of tonnes of silt and blackwater from the Richmond River and its catchment.  Does it really need this additional burden?

Doesn’t anyone in political power get it?  There are limits to growth, etc.  The 2001 “Region of Villages” study demonstrated this very clearly. We were past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land for this region even then.   Do we really want to have a satellite suburb on the already threatened Evans River?

The now forgotten but important NSW Coastal Design Guidelines (2001) made it clear that  “…The qualities that make the NSW coast attractive are rapidly being eroded by poor development…….with little regard for the impact…..

The Guidelines set out “overarching principles” to govern what happened to coastal development  with the primary question being “where to build and where not to build“.

‘The principles included ‘ecological’, ‘urban form’ (is this the best place to optimise existing infrastructure?) and the ‘visual character’ of the place which made it unique and should be protected.

Sadly, none of these principles seem to have been considered. Alleged economic benefit is the only argument. So we get urban sprawl which eventually leads to the destruction of why many people live here plus the economic burden of subsidy which ratepayers get to wear.  Not a good look.

The controversial Iron Gates area is shown in the bottom left of the picture above the sand island in the Evans River Estuary

The controversial Iron Gates area is shown in the bottom left of the picture above the sand island in the Evans River Estuary and is partially defined by the lines in the vegetation which line up with the main runway at the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.  The diagonal line on the right is a canal which was dug by the developer to drain the site.

A number of areas of the Iron Gates have been cleared by a specialist Komatsu Bulldozer.  The dozer was seen leaving the Iron Gates recently following unsuccessful attempts to burn off the trees and vegetation which had been cleared by the dozer.  The photographs were sent to VWD anonymously.

Komatsu bulldozer at Iron Gates 9 May 2014

According to an observer a container of accelerant was left nearby at a fencepost

Attempted burn-off of trees, many of them paperbarks.  According to an observer a container of accelerant was left nearby at a fencepost.  Clearly the burn-off was a failure as the trees were too green

One of the cleared sites at the Iron Gates. The area cleared of trees would appear to be considerably larger than that required for a firebreak. In this picture you can see the original controversial development in the top middle of the picture now with substantial regrowth

One of the cleared sites at the Iron Gates with wind-rowed trees for burning . The area cleared of trees would appear to be considerably larger than that required for a firebreak. In this picture you can see the original controversial development in the top middle of the picture now with substantial regrowth.  The picture shows the outline of two canals which were dug to drain the site.  The Courts in 1997 required the canals to be filled in but State governments have sat on their hands and done nothing to enforce the court orders.

4.5ha cleared site adjacent to the Evans River Estuary.

4.5ha cleared site adjacent to the Evans River Estuary

Ground shots of the clearing at the Iron Gates

Ground shot of the clearing at the Iron Gates

The original approved development is very prone to flooding.  No wonder, part of it is in SEPP 14 wetlands.  How could the former Richmond River Shire Council be so dumb as to approve a residential development in a wetland!  And they appear to want to do it all over again. They seem to have forgotten the enormous financial costs that came from litigation, somewhere around a $million.

One of many occasions where the site has been flooded. Little wonder this happens as part of the site is wetlands. The recent clearing will make the flooding worse

One of many occasions where the site has been flooded. Little wonder this happens as part of the site is wetlands. The recent clearing will make the flooding worse.  The Iron Gates canal estate!

Posted in Editorial, Evans Head, Iron Gates | Leave a comment

Valley Watchdog Returns to Active Service

We’re Back!

After a three-year holiday Valley Watchdog is back and ready to serve by keeping an eye on various happenings around our community including all three levels of government.

Local Press Fails Us

The impetus to return is driven by the failure of the local Murdoch rag to keep us fully-informed on local affairs. Examiner? Nonsense. It is just a megaphone for Richmond Valley Council propaganda and ‘feel good’ stuff. There’s precious little ‘public interest’ journalism any more as there was in the early days of the Rivertown Times and later on in The Richmond River Sun.

Rates Slug Again

So, what’s news? Well we’ve learned that Richmond Valley Council is up to its usual tricks of  wanting to impose a further Special Rate Variation above the level set by the State government of 1.5%. It wants to do this every year until 2026 and probably right out to 2030. It wants us to pay for everything without State or Federal help.

By any measure the proposed rate hike is unfair on poorer communities. Make no mistake Richmond Valley Council is one of the poorest local government areas with many kinds of social disadvantage. Ratepayers and residents don’t deserve  the ‘user pays’ approach to government funding driven by the State government particularly given the size of the local government area which has lots of roads and State agencies which use them.  Why are we picking up the tab for them.

Evans Head Punished With Much Higher Average Rates

The proposed rates structure is particularly onerous if you live at Evans Head where the rates burden is the greatest across the whole local government area.  Council has a long history of punishing the folks at Evans Head because of its opposition to amalgamation many years ago.  It dresses up its rates structure as being a unified or uniform rates structure across the whole area but because rates are based on property values and properties are more expensive at Evans Head we get to pay much much higher rates.

Council:  Mouthpiece For The State Government

The sad thing is council is not speaking up for ratepayers. It is just a mouthpiece for the State government, nothing more, which is run by the big end of town.   Local government is, after all, just a branch of the State government and has no genuine autonomy.  Gladys barks and we roll over!

To get a handle on this connection take a look at the NSW state government’s Integrated Planning and Reporting Guidelines which council uses to direct it in what it does. The Guidelines clearly stated that Council “…must give due regard to the State Plan and other relevant state and regional plans” Notice the word “must”, not “should” or “maybe”!  Council states quite clearly that it uses these Guidelines to deliver its plans for the future and has an obligation to do so.  So much for independence!  So the message we get from council is: ‘We want you, the ratepayers, to have your say, but ultimately we answer to the State government.

Loss of FAGS Grants

The State government wants to look to be the ‘good guys’ in all of this but it has set the agenda for the big rise in rates by cutting back/suspending Federal Assistance Grants (FAGS) and demands local governments increase rates to cover the loss. They’re forcing the issue by starving us of funds. They are making big savings by doing this but VWD has the view that the savings will be used at the next election for pork barrelling particularly for marginal seats, at our expense.  You will be paying for their election campaign.

So say NO to any proposal for an ‘above peg’ Special Rate Increase.

Council Has Poor Management Track Record: Get Your Own House in Order

Richmond Valley Council has a poor track record when it comes to managing ratepayer funds.  It has wasted millions on failed projects, failed to bring projects to completion, and had major cost blowouts on big projects.  And guess who the bunnies are who get to pay the price – the poor bloody ratepayers!

In the view of VWD, Council needs to tidy up its own mess and  live within its means.  It shouldn’t be coming to us all the time for extra funds.  Enough is enough.

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Crap Town Entrance Signs Come to Evans Head

Evans Head has just become the lucky recipient, at ratepayers expense of course, of two new crappy entrance signs.

Wow, now isn’t that impressive.  Just like the monolith straight out of 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Now doesn’t that wonderful monolith given your standard visitor to Evans Head a warm and fuzzy feel about the place.  Wow, what welcoming signs. Dirty concrete and faded triangles.

VWD couldn’t help but overhear a tourist extolling the virtues of the new signs: “As soon as I saw the sign I knew I was at home.  The faded triangles reached out to me in no ordinary way.  I was moved deep down inside just like I was the last time I had the runs….and we’re not talking cricket here!”

“Look Mum, an upside down set of fading triangles which were ‘stone washed’, or was that stoned before they were mounted!  The letters hang over the side.  How good is that!  How post modern in the way it deconstructs the essence of Evans Head”.

People will flock to Evans Head to see the signs.  We could even have a ‘festival of the sign’ to recognise this world class, best practice, benchmarked extravaganza of visual nothingness.

Close inspection shows the signs aren’t made of of dirty concrete.  No, they’re made of some type of plastic made to look like dirty concrete. How good is that!  Ain’t the aesthetics grand!  Plastic parading as stone. Facade parading as substance.

And of course this delightful sign followed extensive consultation with the community.  Yep, we all wanted faded colour triangles.    There were all kinds of meetings to nut out the best way to represent Evans Head and this was what the community came up with: Crap!

A new marketing tool perhaps for the local pub.  What better way to get people to go to the pub.  The signs are enough to drive people to drink they are just so bad.

It’s clear the faded triangles give us the narrative.   Feel the spirit of Evans Head and its rich history from World War II, Fishing, Sport, Aboriginal History and Culture and Natural History.  By looking at the faded triangles we are immediately moved to imagery befitting that history.  Yes we are, we really are.

For god’s sake Richmond Valley, stop wasting our money on crap. Stop wasting our 39% rates increase on what will soon be tip material.  Check the plastic side panels up close and you’ll notice there is already bubble.

And check the lettering and the way it has been set up.  Where is the attention to detail and why weren’t the blue pencil marks removed after mounting?

What VWD would like to know is whose brilliant idea was this and why wasn’t the community consulted?  What was wrong with the old parrot?

As a strategy to rebrand Richmond Valley the signs are a great success.  VWD gets the message. Council is trying to get across the image that Council is plastic and doesn’t give a stuff about the environment notwithstanding the fact that the signs are solar driven. All appearance, no substance.  Just fading away…………….!

And where did the population, now “pop” number of 3,000 come from.  Exactly 3,000.  Not one person more or less.  Yes, exactly 3,000 even though that’s not right.

And whatever happened to the village atmosphere the community has been saying for many years it wants to preserve?  How do these awful signs tell that story?  Looks like Sanctuary Cove or Las Vegas has come to Evans Head.

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