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Queanbeyan–Palerang Council first three months


But first a NEWSFLASH from Bulletin editorial desk: A rail trail from Bungendore to Captains Flat on the old railway line between the two towns gained in-principle support from Queanbeyan–Palerang Regional Council at its 23 March meeting. This was a major breakthrough for the regional residents who have worked on the Molonglo rail trail plan for the past seven years — funding and completing a positive feasibility study along the way.

A major sticking point had been the opposition of the previous council. The suspected explanation was that one councillor objected to the route as the disused railway line passed near his property. The mayoral faction on that council needed his support for an enduring majority vote.

With this no longer the case, a seven-to-four council vote has QPRC supporting the rail trail proposal as it proceeds through its next stages at the state level. Why four councillors with links to the Coalition political parties or the former council would vote against a tried-and-true model to boost regional tourism and recreation remains a mystery for them to explain.

The vote FOR: Winchester, Livermore, Willis, Taskovski, Preston, Webster, Wilson. AGAINST: Grundy, Burton Ternouth, Biscotti.

Three months in with new council

By Katrina Willis, Greens Councillor QPRC

THREE MONTHS AFTER our new councillors were confirmed, we’re starting to see some changes on Queanbeyan–Palerang Regional Council (QPRC).

There’s a new dynamic, more energy and more debate in the chamber. Good community engagement with the new council is reflected in the number of people making written submissions and making presentations (usually online) in the Public Forum. A few people have said to me they are enjoying tuning in to meetings via Zoom This is all good to see.

Even with a steep learning curve (9 of the 11 councillors are new) and many legacy issues handed on from the previous council, the new group is forging ahead with election priorities and reflecting their values in matters that come before us.

This feels like a more collegial body than we saw with the first merged QPRC. As with Federal Parliament, most decisions are non-controversial and are passed unanimously. It’s easy to forget that council is an administrative body as much as a political one representing difference values and priorities.

Sometimes, there are stark differences of opinion. What’s important is that people can work with each while disagreeing on one matter or another. This includes working across party affiliations.

Below are some highlights of the first months as well as some of the challenges confronting the new council.

Generational change

While councillors range in age across several decades, there is a younger leadership team in Mayor Kenrick Winchester and Deputy Mayor Esma Livermore, who is also the first Indigenous woman elected to QPRC. This gender balance in the leadership team reflects the boost in female representation from two in the previous council to six. Similar trends were seen in other councils across NSW, bringing fresh ideas and new ways of thinking to the role.

Getting on with business

In the five council meetings [up to 9 March]:

— Council withdrew its support for a high school on Bungendore’s Town Park and offered to work with the NSW Government to find a better location.

— A review of advisory committees is underway to ensure they are properly resourced, their purpose is clear and relevant, and that council is making the most of the volunteers from across the community who give their time as committee members.

— Council opted to retain conservation land adjacent to the quarry on Old Cooma Rd in Queanbeyan rather than accept an offer from the operators to buy the land so the quarry could expand.

— Councillors emphatically rejected the idea of a waste-to-energy incinerator being built at the Woodlawn Eco-Precinct near Tarago. This proposal, in neighbouring Goulburn-Mulwaree Council, will be designated as ‘State Significant Development’, which means the local council won’t have a say in deciding if it goes ahead.

— An affordable housing strategy will be developed for our local government area. Housing advocates and the NSW Government will be invited to contribute to developing the strategy which will also draw on similar pieces of work that other councils have prepared.

— Council voted to retain two, conjoined 100-year-old sheds which form part of the historic Albion Hotel complex in Braidwood which is listed under both State and Local heritage protection laws. The sheds would have been demolished if council agreed to a requested sub-division boundary. The owner has been invited to submit a new application with a boundary line that retains the sheds intact onsite.

— QPRC will join the Cities Power Partnership, linking with 500 cities and towns across the country including some in our region. Council will commit to five priority actions to help us get to zero net emissions with the support of the Climate Council’s tools and networks.

— In a move designed to improve transparency, council agreed to publish details about its regular workshops which are closed to the public. These are valuable forums for staff to brief councillors, for questions and discussion in an informal format not possible at regular council meetings. Details of topics, any external speakers and the date of workshops will be published in the next business paper.

A draft 2022–23 community strategic plan will be released for feedback in late April.

Coming up, plans and financial challenges

The Community Strategic Plan is being developed, with public input on a draft, due by 3 April. This is the blueprint for where QPRC will focus its attention and guides funding decisions over the term of this council.

A draft 2022–23 plan will be released for feedback in late April. After the rate cap for next financial year was set at just 0.7%, budget planning is challenging. The NSW Government will allow councils to charge a one-off special rate variation of up to 2.5% to help make up the shortfall in funding needed not to go backwards. Council has yet to decide whether to.

There are bigger financial challenges ahead as the new council finalises a long-term financial plan. Further special rate variations of up to 27.8% have been recommended by QPRC staff.

QPRC is not alone in some of the financial challenges it is facing. Mayor Kenrick Winchester earlier this month delivered a Mayoral Minute on the topic following debate at the NSW Local Government Conference. Councillors unanimously supported QPRC backing a state-wide demand for urgent action by both the NSW and Australian governments whose successive decisions have contributed to the difficulties ours and many other councils are facing.

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