A select nine councillors and candidates hoping to get a seat on the forthcoming second term of Inner West Council participated.
The first half of the forum made evident addressing the climate emergency is top of candidates’ to-do lists should they be elected in December.
Greens candidate for Baludarri/Balmain Kobi Shetty said in her opening remark, “because of COVID, the importance of open space and the liveability of our neighbourhoods is felt so much more keenly than it was even just a couple of years ago.
“Because of the pressing need to tackle the climate crisis, so much time is spent lamenting the lack of action at a federal level, which is important, but I think that we really need to remember that local councils can be really powerful agents for change.”
Fellow Greens candidate for Damun/Stanmore Liz Atkins said her first two priorities will be addressing the controversial Tree DCP and action on affordable housing.
Labor candidate Philippa Scott for Gulgadaya/Leichhardt echoed the need to act on housing.
“I am committed to a vision of a truly inclusive inner west, and that means lots of different ethnic and language backgrounds, making sure that our community is accessible for people with all different abilities and ages.
“But critically, also that it’s an inclusive environment for people of all different economic backgrounds, and to that end, we do need to work on our affordable housing policy.”
Labor councillor Mark Drury for Djarrawunang/Ashfield said investing in community public facilities will be Labor’s approach.
“The reason we focus so heavily on investing in facility and the best possible services is because we believe that advantages those people in our community who need it most.
“The ability to go to a subsidized swim, to play on a subsidized field, or go to a free library is something which advantages those people who have less in their pockets than others,” he said.
Independent candidate Vera-Ann Hannaford, formerly a Liberal councillor and Deputy Mayor of Leichhardt Council said she is “disillusioned” with the local members of the Liberal Party.
She supports community consultation and participation, which she said has been left by the wayside by Inner West Council.
The controversial Inner West Council Tree DCP (the rules applying to removing trees on private land) contributed to the loss of fourteen hectares of canopy since its instatement.
Six hectares of tree canopy was gained on public land, but twenty was lost on private land.
Deputy Mayor Pauline Lockie for Damun/Stanmore said, “what we saw was the process that by which those changes happened was not great.
“As a result, that DCP has actually got some unlawful provisions in it now, particularly around the automatic two metre rule, because there’s no ability within the current rules for the council officers to be able to assess whether or not that tree removal is necessary or if other solutions could be found.”
“We’re never going to be able to catch up if we don’t also correct the imbalance we’ve got now and protect our canopy on private land,” she said.
Independent councillor Vic Macri for Midjuburi/Marrickville said of the process by which the Tree DCP was initially instated, “we had to change something to encourage people to plant trees.
“The motion I put forward was bastardised, and that’s the only way I can put it, by multiple amendments […].”
“It was not about allowing people to rip out trees willy nilly, it was about people in difficulty where trees were too close to properties, where a lot of heritage homes were being affected by trees, allowing them to remove and replace.
“If you get a tree that’s growing wrong or inappropriate, you need to be able to have the ability to remove or replace it, and that’s what the motion was designed to do, but it was changed on the floor by multiple parties, and then they walked away from it,” he said.
Independent councillor John Stamolis for Baludarri/Balmain said according to his recent statistics, “with 804 people per hectare of open space, we have the second lowest open space ratio of all 130 councils in NSW, possibly the second lowest ratio in this nation.
“Over the last five years the population of the inner west increased by over 13,000 people.
“As a statistician, I can tell you that the next five years it’s going to pop up by another 13 to 15,000. You can imagine where those ratios are heading in the future,” he said.
Councillor Stamolis and Macri co-moved a motion at the council meeting of November 2nd to begin investigating what mechanisms and tools council can use to increase open space, including available funding and achievability, and the development of a strategic plan to increase open space.
Socialist Alliance for Damun/Stanmore Pip Hinman said, “finally cycling is coming in as an active transport and we have to adjust.”
She said the problem of cyclists on roads and how drivers deal with cyclists must be addressed.
Lockie said according to Transport for NSW, “around 70% of Sydneysiders have said they would ride more if there was safe separated and connected cycleways for them to use.
“One of the things I’m really excited about with the next term of council is we have over twenty million dollars’ worth of cycleways in the budget […].”
“Once they’re there they get used, the streets are better, they’re calmer, they’re better for everyone,” she said.
Macri said he prefers a staged approach to prioritising cycleways, with shared paths to begin with.
“What we really need to do is where we’re headed, and that’s actually reduce the speed limits on our streets so that bikes can actually feel safe.”
Scott said Labor’s program to increase wayfinding around public schools has been successfully trialled in Damun/Stanmore ward, and she is interested in concentrating that program around high schools, especially since the light rail will be down for up to 18 months.
Part 2 of the Inner West Independent’s coverage of the candidates forum will be live tomorrow.