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Woollahra: Dixie Coulton runs in controversial Cooper Ward

Dixie Coulton. Photo: Rowena Hamilton.

Opinion by ANDREW WOODHOUSE

The Machiavellian machinations inside Woollahra Council tickle my fancy.

The controversial six-year-long imbroglio over the concrete skateboard structure in heritage-listed Rushcutters Bay Park has taken its first scalp.

Woollahra Council’s Cooper Ward representative, Anthony Marano its original proponent, has now been disendorsed by his own Liberal Party. He will not be running as a candidate in the forthcoming 4th December Woollahra Council elections in the Cooper Ward or any other ward.

His political career is over. Yes, champagne corks have popped.

The Cooper Ward includes Woollahra, Double Bay, Edgecliff and Bellevue Hill – the bluest of blue-ribbon political areas.

All council positions are up for grabs at the election.

Perhaps Marano’s capering comment to skateboard structure objectors that “they will all be dead in ten years” was a trigger for his demise?

Local View

A quick fact check that locals were selfish in opposing his scheme, the NSW Police Force actively support the scheme, or that Woollahra Council is the only council in NSW without such a structure didn’t add up. Voters want to retain their open green space park retained to enjoy freely, not corralled off for one limited use.

So the Liberal Party has endorsed Dixie Coulton, former City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor, with her years of experience, common sense and planning acumen, along with Jeannette Mitchell and Sarah Swan, both locals in Marano’s Cooper Ward, as their candidates. Ms Coulton opposes the skateboard structure and the loss of open green space in the last remaining vestige of this cherished harbourside parkland.

Rushcutters Bay Park was nominated and accepted for heritage listing by the Friends of Rushcutters Bay Park group (FORBP), the local driving force, who have nominated it for the Register of the National Estate and state government Blue Plaque recognition. The park also has serious Indigenous significance. FORBP has been instrumental in protecting it.

The listing provided the heritage management rules. They are not “obstacles” according to Councillor Matthew Robertson (The Greens). They are important protection mechanisms to ensure the best community outcome for future generations.  Ironically, his party’s core beliefs include ecological sustainability.

Bringing in the bulldozers is heritage heresy.

But council is blindly pursuing its scheme and has under an FOI request admitted that it “is currently undertaking a Conservation Management Strategy [and] a Heritage Impact Statement will also be prepared”. However, their Capital Works Budget clearly shows it would be plunged into debt if they recklessly pursue their scheme. At its Finance Meeting of 5th November, it noted the progress of the scheme is on track but “based on forecasts, council’s ability to mitigate the impact of pressures on its budget will reduce as cash reserves need to be addressed longer-term … noting the $3 million impact of COVID-19”. So, they don’t have the money.

Is this council a nonsense on stilts?

Hopefully, a new council will finally put this misconceived, unsustainable concrete skateboard bunker permanently to rest.

Ms Coulton says “there shouldn’t be a skateboard structure like this … [it’s] totally inconsistent with … the park as it is. It should go elsewhere”.

She is standing for councillor in the Cooper Ward based on her experience as a former Deputy Lord Mayor.

She stands for integrity; she is not afraid to oppose overdevelopment and has a passion for green open spaces, heritage, good design, vivifying the arts, improved transport, footpaths and better parking. She promotes a practical “Shop local, eat local” motto and putting the “local” back into local government, right where it belongs.

Looking to the State 

Her experience also tells her that council’s recent decision to endorse a state government Edgecliff Planning Proposal (EPP) as its gateway to the eastern suburbs is not in the community’s best interests. It slipped through just before the pre-election closing date for initiating new projects came into effect.

This myopic EPP promoted by His Highness, the Prince of Privatisation, Planning Minister Rob Stokes, encourages building heights between 17 to 89 metres (four storeys to 26 storeys) on New South Head Road. It allows for 500 new homes in Woollahra by 2026. It will overshadow local residential streets and parks and bring even more petrol-burping, farting cars and congestion to the area. Existing private amenities like the carwash and the petrol station on New South Head Road will be rezoned for 12-storey apartment buildings. No new significant community infrastructure is proposed. Council’s consultation stated residents don’t want further site intensification. Its commitments to protecting what the community values such as lifestyle, heritage, local character, open spaces, boutique villages, tree canopy, gardens and the natural environment are inconsistent with an already overburdened infrastructure.

Cui bono? (who benefits) as Cicero asked.

Answer: the state government with its abacus mentality. It’s imposing a pro-developer will on the area to increase housing density targets and its stamp duty revenue.

Government has an edifice complex.

The idea is opposed by the Rose Bay Residents’ Association and the Vaucluse Residents’ Association.

Council has already exceeded its development targets by approving over 890 new homes, say voters.

President of Double Bay Residents’ Association Anthony Tregoning says, “we oppose unsympathetic development including the EPP. Woollahra is Greater Sydney’s seventh-most densely populated LGA, with 76 per cent of residents living in apartments.  The state government has failed to invest in improving transport and other infrastructure. Roads are already congested.

Their housing targets reflect its autocratic approach to development. Its policy seems to be ‘Damn the residents; we’ll do what we can to encourage property developers’.

Through its planning panel system, the government has taken control away from local councils. As a result, [areas have] become a honeypot for developers, helping Woollahra exceed the government’s previous housing target. We’d like the new council to push back against the government’s autocratic approach to planning. We need our councillors to take residents’ frustrations more seriously. If there’s a valid reason why it endorsed this housing strategy it should tell it to residents but so far it hasn’t.”

Hard-working Federal MP Dave Sharna also called for the repeal of these housing targets in May.

Yes, the residents are revolting, figurately and literally. After all, they have a right to live in their chosen environment.

Turning Cooper Ward into another high-rise wall and forest of mega-towers like “Bondi Jungle” (Bondi Junction) is not good planning.

It lacks consistency, clarity and certainty, the three Cs of good town planning.

So battlelines are drawn. It’s down to voters at the polling booths on 4th December.

A Cooper Ward “Meet the Candidates” meeting is at the Phoenix Hotel, 1 Moncur Street Paddington Wednesday 1st December 6 pm. All welcome.

I-Voting and postal voting are available. Pre-polling stations are at the Woollahra Returning Officer’s Office, Level 4, 202-233 New South Head Road, Edgecliff and the Church in the Marketplace, 400 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction. Both venues are open Mon. to Sat. 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday 22nd November 2021 to Friday 3rd December.

Voters are ready. They’ll make their marks count with their sharpened HB pencils poised inside their pop-up cardboard carrels on the Saturday 4th December.

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