The delay of the NSW local government elections until 4 December 2021, is a double-edged sword for disgruntled communities desperately seeking a change of council representation.
For the second time – just two weeks away from entering caretaker mode – the elections have been postponed due to COVID-19, giving councillors another three months in their seats.
A number of community groups and some councillors on the NSW South Coast fear the extra three months will provide outgoing councils with an extended opportunity to rush through developments.
Communities in Eurobodalla have been up in arms over a series of developments and subdivisions in the villages of Tuross Head, Dalmeny and Broulee, and they fear the extra three months will provide a window for what they claim could be more “disastrous” decisions by their council.
Tuross Head resident Simon Cox is concerned council will “use this as an opportunity to push through a whole lot of stuff”.
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He claims the current Eurobodalla Shire Council “does not engage with the community” and has “refused to provide information to the public” about developments such as a 70-lot subdivision proposed for an area of bushland near Coila Lake.
“Clearly the community can’t make reasoned, informed judgements if council holds all the information and is unwilling to share it,” said Mr Cox.
“They do not seem to consider it necessary for themselves or the developer to respond to the community’s submissions.
“There seems to be no transparent process by which valid issues raised by the community are reviewed, assessed and shared back with the community.”
However, Mr Cox is encouraging the community to make the best use of the extra three months to continue to lobby existing councillors and liaise with election candidates in the hope a new council will review the subdivision application.
Current councillor Anthony Mayne agrees a series of developments have been “rushed through” with “minimal consultation”, including another subdivision proposal that could effectively double the size of Dalmeny village.
He said during the coming three months in the lead up to the election, the community “needs to be proactive” to prevent further developments being pushed through by the council.
The Dalmeny Matters community group is also calling for council to reconsider the sale of a parcel of community land, and member Giovanna Hounsell said the election delay could provide an unexpected window of opportunity for the community.
“I hope the community has an extra three months to lobby council to defer the sale before it goes into caretaker mode,” she said.
Ms Hounsell said the community is petitioning council to wait for the election to further the consultation process.
“I will be writing to council for answers, and I encourage anyone who cares about this matter to do so as well,” she said.
Nicole Dukic, from the Snowy Monaro region, said in a community Facebook group that she is relying on the new council in her electorate to overturn or make certain decisions that will now be made by the current council.
She is seeking a mandate that the caretaker period commence as it would have on 4 August, 2021.
She said some form of restrictions should be implemented to ensure further damages to communities by poor decision making does not occur.
“Extending caretaker may not be the final solution, but some form of cautionary approach needs to be implemented to ensure a board which has had its term extended twice now, is unable to lock communities into resolutions of long-standing negative effect – in our case, the impending sale of our community-owned aged care facilities.”
Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council mayor Tim Overall said the extra three months would provide the community with additional time to engage with candidates.
“It is important the community feels safe to participate in the voting process and that candidates have an opportunity to campaign in a safe environment,” he said.
The postponement comes after the elections were deferred last year, again due to COVID-19 restrictions and the current local councillors will have held their positions for more than five years instead of the usual four.
The new councillors will hold their seats for less than three years as a result of the two delays.
NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said the decision to postpone NSW local government elections was made after extensive consultation with the NSW Electoral Commission and NSW Health.