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The Coast was the “forgotten coast “ as John Singleton described it, and unable to attract major industry and government funding. The Coast was the “forgotten coast “ as John Singleton described it, and unable to attract major industry and government funding. Featured
25 October 2020 Posted by 


What went wrong at Central Coast Council?
Exclusive comment by CR BRUCE MCLACHLAN
CENTRAL coast may have previously lost the Super Cars bid to Newcastle, but the losses didn’t stop there.
The Central Coast should be coming out of the bocks with all cylinders firing as a new Regional Council status, taking advantage of new scale and economy. Using the increased political influence of Region of 330,000 residents as the second largest Council in NSW and the 6th largest in Australia.
Finally given the opportunity to come out behind the curtain of North Sydney or the Hunter, and be a standalone Region, pursuing increased Grants funding in our own right.
Instead the newly amalgamated Central Coast Regional Council hit the political speed bumps, with majority block Labor Council pulling on the handbrakes, hellbent on derailing the NSW Liberal initiative of merging the two lesser Councils.
Fast forward three years on, the new Regional Council Is potentially facing the largest losses in Local Government History and staring down the barrel of being placed back in Administration.
So why bother amalgamate in the first place?
Well most people would agree as a Region, the Central Coast compared to other competing Regions, had stagnated, and was being left behind. Gosford had become almost ghetto like after decades of inaction and neither Councils were performing at a Regional level. 
We were the “Forgotten Coast “ as John Singleton described it, and unable to attract major industry and government funding.
In some Departments, if the Hunter or Nth Sydney received government grants, then that was ticked off against funding for the Central Coast. So a new Hornsby Police Station, or roadworks in the Hunter, would be considered as funding for the Central Coast.
Something had to change, Gosford CBD was decaying, the Coast was becoming an increasingly litter strewn, dumping ground of Sydney’s affordability issues. Our unemployment and low income social and economic problems were growing.
So the NSW Liberal Government decided to finally inject major economic support into the Region, with the new Gosford Medical Precinct, and backed it up with appointment of the NSW Gosford Architect, and CBD Revitalisation program. 
With that it merged the two lesser Councils, in order to bring a Regional approach to the Central Coast.
The Coast was finally moving forward, and we now after decades of stagnation, we saw cranes in the sky in Gosford.
An Administrator was appointed and the Councils came together to start the lengthy (approx eight years) process of merging the two organisations, to try and bring savings and efficiencies and remove the duplications. 
Despite the loss of councillors, your bins were still emptied, and water still flowed from your taps under the Administration, under a new Central Coast Council blue dot logo.
In reality the Central Coast doesn’t need two Council administrations. Two CEOs on $500,000 PA each, two Mayors on $130,000 PA plus vehicle and expenses, and five extra councillors. 
We don’t need two Council Chambers, two IT systems, duplicated Council depots. We still mow same amount of parks and gardens, empty same amount of bins, regardless what logo is on the Council truck.
Our water services were already shared, we don’t need a duplication of admin, whilst potholes grow and roadside verges remain overgrown.
A well run Regional Council can bring status and pride to the area, yet still recognise our differing local villages amenities. However it needs councillors to want that to happen, and not just do the bidding of their party, who may not benefit if the Central Coast was to progress.
So what went wrong?
Well from outset the same party politics that have crippled the Coast for decades took hold.
As it was a NSW Liberal amalgamation, so Labor in opposition must pull it apart. Regardless of any benefits the amalgamation could bring or the massive tear up costs to the community of going backwards. 
Instead of bringing the Central Coast together, it was to impede progress at any opportunity, with the view to run a divisive demerger campaign.
Except Labor councilors were not telling the community that any demerge must be paid by a Special Levy Rate Rise. An absolute tear up of ratepayer monies, to simply go back to where we were.
So why would Labor be opposed to a Regional Council?
Well, it has the potential to bring change and prosperity, an improved local economy, and a lift in household incomes. With a change in economic standing, brings about a change in voter demographics.
Labor benefits politically from the low socio-economic economy with high percentage of welfare voters. If the Coast's economy progresses, with more local jobs, then it becomes aspirational voters, and that welfare vote decreases.
It’s just not in Labor’s political interests to see the Coast economy improve. Next minute Toukley will be voting like Terrigal and Labor seats would fall to the conservatives.
So there is a desperate attempt by Labor to hold the Coast back.
Meanwhile residents oblivious to the underlying politics, just wonder why nothing ever happens and other regions move forward, whilst the Coast remained a backwater politically and economically.
So with that underlying agenda, right from the start the tear up was on. Instead of moving forward on major employment initiatives like $450,000 Deloitte Airport Masterplan, Labor and the green leaning Independents Mayor Smith and councillor Greenaway used their numbers trash the plan, bin the $450,000 report, and set about tearing up existing aviation leases, that cost ratepayers millions in damages.
No consideration to the costs to the community or the fact a Council was actually paying to send badly needed jobs away from the Coast.
From there on almost every staff recommendation for planning reports, DAs and projects were delayed, amended or voted down, at massive cost to the community.
DA approvals that should have been passed we sent off to Land and Environment Court, including a well landscaped Killcare Colour bond fence, that cost the community $30,000, and still stands today. 
No doubt in my opinion, that frivolous case would have been a deciding factor in Central Coast Council being stripped of its planning powers.
We saw the Labor majority Council oppose almost every initiative the NSW government tried to bring forward, including the Gosford Revitalisation project, and the three hundred jobs at the major Kangy Rail Centre.
The party driven politics persisted. Expensive policy initiatives on non-core State and Federal responsibilities such as Climate Change, Affordable Housing, Sister City Partnerships, Social Inclusion Policies etc. dominated the Council debate. councillors virtue signally to the electorate and their party, but delivering very little on the ground for Ratepayers.
Meanwhile local issues like the Lakes and Entrance Channel were not addressed, flood warnings ignored, until finally locals like Ben Webber took the issue in their own hands with backhoes in an attempt to save their flooded homes.
These same hard line divisive party driven politics that ground the Ettalong Ferry to a halt in political impasse on dredging, saw Labor tear up the Coasts largest Tourism Grant cheque at Winney Bay. A 4.6m grants cheque’s that took one million dollars and years and years of staff time to win the competitive grants submission tender, just torn up.
Key stakeholders, such as 5 Lands Walk, the disabled community, and the Darkinjung Land Council told their input was not wanted or allowed, despite community surveys showing residents were majority in favour, just to stick it up the local Liberal member Adam Crouch and the NSW Government. All done in the guise of environmental concern.
The Winney Bay saga epitomises everything that was wrong with the politics of the new Council. 
Party Interests came first, the community a long way second. Just like the airport, the majority public opinion surveys was ignored, and good governance went out the window. 
It caused major reputation damage and we are the only region to ever hand back a major Tourism Grants cheque, which would obviously not assist the Central Coast in future funds application. Originally promised $400M from the sale of the Snowy Hydro scheme we were then told it was to go to other regions, which left a funding hole.
It ignored our MOU with the Darkinjung as recognised cultural custodians, and flew in face of the spirit of reconciliation of the 5 Lands Walk Committee, all while pandering to the noisy minority interest that had populated Council committees.
The bloody minded politics became worse with Labor using numbers to ignore any sensible business recommendations, such a councillor Best and myself's request for independent audit of the Performing Arts Centre business plan, now blown out to $171M and finally scrapped, costing ratepayers millions in failed plans.
Opportunity to acquire Old Sydney Town in public / private partnership with local businessman Tony Denny was rejected out of hand, and the opportunity for a game changing adventure tourism precinct next to the Reptile Park was squandered and now overseas Chinese interests own the site.
Council’s failure to move forward on the Lakes issues despite calls for action of flood risk and to lease - buy a decent dredge as far back as Feb 2108. 
Now in 2020 Council faces a class action from hundreds of angry flood victims and probably similar from Wamberal residents, that have been trying to resolve their damaged homes since 2016
So whilst councillors have been tearing through ratepayer funds like a personal piggy bank, behind the scenes we have had four CFO and three Director of Governances changes. 
The audits raised serious issues, yet councillors ignored any requests to have the financials reviewed, even voting down NOM on ballooning staff numbers and casual contractors earning $1300 per day. Councillor Best in particular has been consistently warning Council it is falling of a financial cliff, only to be ignored by fellow councillors.
To add insult to financial injury, councillors voted for themselves to receive a pay rise whilst the economic performance deteriorated.
Whilst the amalgamation has been an expensive exercise, it alone cannot be blamed for the poor financial management. The new Regional Council was handed $64M from the Administrator in 2017, and is now facing accumulative losses totaling $194M over this term.
This year alone Council is facing an $89M loss, however amalgamation costs account for only $18M of the $89M loss.
For these reasons myself and councillors Best, Pilon, and Marquet some weeks ago have lodged a formal complaint to the Office of Local Government, requesting an investigation into Councils finances and requesting a Financial Controller be appointed.
Now the CEO has come out publicly and advised of the serious cashflow issues and Council finances are being forensically examined by the OLG. 
Whether Council survives and avoids Administration, is yet to be seen. However the public are the losers with increased rates and cuts in service, whilst adding a further $100M borrowing just to pay staff and keep basic services running.
Instead of councillors getting on with the job they were elected to do, all this petty political point scoring of Labor opposition to the NSW amalgamation process, will be felt by the ratepayers pockets for years to come.
Yet we see no contrition or accepting responsibility from Labor Clrs for the deliberate impediment and waste of ratepayer funds, in pursuit of their Party’s political agenda.
Instead we will see a litany of excuses as to why it’s the amalgamation, not the councillor's fault.
Cr McLachlan is a leading businessman and lifelong resident who was voted the Most Influential person in the region in a media survey. 


Michael Walls
P: 0407 783 413
E: Michael@accessnews.com.au

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