Newsletter no.1 from Ald Anna Reynolds - Jan 2015
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Happy 2015!
Welcome to my first monthly newsletter from Hobart City Council.

Over the Christmas break I’ve had time to reflect on my first five weeks working for you as an Alderman, from the November swearing-in ceremony to the final meeting for the year in December. In this period I attended Council and committee meetings each week and voted on around 200 matters.

On a practical level, I’m spending an average of 35 hours a week on my Council work - apart from the official Council and committee meetings, there are events, briefings and meetings with the community. It's not paid as a full-time job but I wish it was, as it would be great to devote all of my working hours to this job.

It's an interesting experience to learn about the workings of local government and the 500+ staff that work for the Hobart City Council. Of the many things I’ve observed, a few notables are....
  • there’s a lot happening at Hobart City Council that residents know little about.
  • local government is doing a huge amount of work with part-time, after-hours decision-makers who have few resources...there’s a lot to respect about this, but it's also a little worrying that such an important level of decision-making is under-resourced.
  • Council is a forgotten level of government, in that there isn't a great deal of lobbying or campaigning by residents and NGOs for initiatives and reforms.
  • seven votes are needed for any change, and so relationships with fellow Aldermen are essential and there’s a surprising and unpredictable mix of views on issues.
While many decisions are on seemingly small matters, I think it's important that all decisions are made well. I want to be consistent in my decision-making – so my proposed amendments and my votes have been based on the need to:
  • improve Council transparency and public consultation
  • respect the existing rules and also be thinking about the future
  • encourage Council to be more innovative, and
  • ensure decisions are based on good and clear process.
One of my challenges is how to keep you informed, when there’s so much material coming to me several days a week in inch-thick meeting papers. Here are a few of the bigger issues that I worked and voted on in the run-up to Christmas....
Macquarie Point
At the final meeting for 2014, Council voted on the rezoning of the entire Macquarie Point area – 8 hectares of land in the waterfront precinct - to allow for temporary uses over the next five years. I voted against this because I thought that Council should not approve the rezoning before a master plan is presented for the area. Given the Master Plan is due in March 2015, I saw no need for Council to rush this process. I was particularly concerned that staff suggested that there be no need for a public meeting or forum to explain the rezoning, even though this is normal practice. Given the public interest in Macquarie Point and concern about potentially controversial use of the area, I feel that the public should have an opportunity to be informed. I spoke about my concerns, but most Aldermen voted for this rezoning to occur. We will have to find other ways to influence the development direction of this important piece of Hobart.
Council transparency

During the election there was much focus on the Myer deal and the community’s legitimate concern that millions of dollars of ratepayer funds were committed in this hidden agreement. I want to keep an eye on this deal as it is paid out over coming years, and ensure Hobart Council never again agrees to such a substantial and secret commitment of public funds to a private development.
In a debate on this matter I moved an amendment that Council will advise all parties that any grants or incentives, if approved, will be made public. This was agreed by a majority of Alderman so now we just need to ensure this makes its way into Council procedures.
I also supported Alderman Helen Burnet's motion to publicly release all of the decisions and votes on the Myer deal, but sadly with only two votes in support, the motion was not approved.

So for now, the full history behind this deal will remain a secret to the community.
Housing for homeless

At the final meeting for 2014 we debated whether the Council should grant the Common Ground housing organisation a total rates rebate. It was a difficult decision because while everyone supports the goals of this organisation, their ask was significant and focused on themselves alone, rather than the charity housing sector as a whole.
There are a number of other organisations in the Hobart Council area that currently pay rates and also provide homelessness and affordable housing services. Any decision we make has to be applied fairly to all such service providers. I want to ensure that Council does not pick favourites, or do deals for some groups and not others, simply based on who asks for money first.
When it was clear that Common Ground did not have the support to get their requested rebate, I moved an amendment, which was agreed to unanimously - Council will now receive urgent advice on providing a rate reduction for all organisations operating in Hobart that provide housing for the homeless. I think this is the fairest outcome.
Height limits

There have been a couple of building proposals for the city approved in the last few weeks. I voted for one hotel proposal in Macquarie Street, but I was the only Alderman to vote against a hotel development proposal in Argyle Street.
I did so because the Argye proposal is another city building that breaches our current height rules, this time by 7.6 metres (a 15 storey building).  Currently Hobart's maximum building height is meant to be 42 metres (around 10 storeys). However, it seems that more and more proposals are coming to Council that exceed this level, and it's very possible that we’ll lose this restriction over time.

Many small cities in cool, high-latitude climes avoid high-rise because of concern that tall buildings can cast significant shadows on public areas and city streets, creating an urban environment full of dark wind tunnels. In Hobart there has also been a plan not to overwhelm an urban character full of valuable heritage buildings.

I think we should stick to and defend our current 42 metre limit. If we are to 'bend the height rules' now and then, why not learn from the experience of a city like Vancouver? It has a 'density bank' that allows developers to exceed maximum building height restrictions in exchange for preserving heritage buildings.

I'm enjoying my role of Chair of the Parks Committee - more than half the area of Hobart is ‘the bush’, and the Council manages almost 3,000 hectares of bushland within the city boundaries.

In the few weeks before Christmas I worked on some bushfire management issues, and celebrated 21 years of the Bushcare program. We also approved a new mountain bike track and a new park for remembering guide dogs.

In the midst of another bushfire season, this story from CSIRO about lessons learned from previous fire disasters is worth a read.
Macquarie Point Development Corporation

Fire destroys the Myer building in 2007 (pic: The Mercury)
Rebuild in 2015



Please stay in touch!

I'd love to hear your ideas and opinions, and receive your feedback on Council decisions.

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Call me on 0423222149
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