Council should act in the interests of ratepayers

I REFER to your article in The Northern Daily Leader on February 14, 2013 relating to the Tamworth Regional Council’s decision to approve a cross-country event track and overflow camping area at AELEC.

I am writing to express my disappointment with the council over this decision. My property adjoins the area where the cross-country events and camping area will take place.

As a ratepayer of this community, my understanding has always been that the council acts in the best interests of its ratepayers. There are three components to this.

Firstly, the internal body of Tamworth Regional Council (the planning department) should investigate and consider comprehensively all matters raised by its ratepayers before arriving at decisions that affect us all.

Secondly, the actual councillors who are elected by ourselves should also investigate, consider and analyse all of the matters that are raised at any meeting. If they are unsure about any issues, then our elected representatives should defer the meeting until such time as a proper, impartial and thorough investigation is made.

Thirdly, the general manager, the mayor of our council and the planning director have the power to defer any meeting if they are unsure of an issue raised by a ratepayer which is relevant to a major development application.

After all, that is the function of local government. Without this process happening, the democratic nature of our electoral system of local government would disappear.

As a ratepayer, I was sadly disillusioned with our council when I attended the meeting on Tuesday, February 12.

My solicitor, Patrick O’Halloran, raised a number of legitimate and valid concerns at the meeting which were relevant to the development application under consideration.

Issues relating to zoning, lighting, noise and odour were all raised and the evidence for such issues was also highlighted by my solicitor.

Sadly, I lost faith in our system when our councillors did not adjourn the meeting in order to consider the matters that were raised. Instead, they voted on the matter without even examining or scrutinising my concerns. 

I felt my interests were being ignored by a council that did not appear to consider the real issues that affect me as an adjoining resident. 

In council’s business paper, they produced no report, survey or data that supported the application. In fact, the application was approved without any objective report or analysis being done as to zoning, lighting, noise and odour. The councillors simply accepted bald assertions from the planning department. As this was a significant development application, our council should have taken steps to obtain such independent reports before voting on the matter.

Personally, I felt that I was betrayed by an uncaring council. I felt a miscarriage of justice had occurred. At the meeting, the general manager, the mayor or planning director should have said to its councillors that in the light of matters raised by Mr O’Halloran, that the meeting should be deferred for two weeks to enable those matters to be considered. But that did not happen. Any other council would have adjourned the meeting to consider the fresh objections raised by my solicitor. The only councillors to show support for me were councillors Woodley and Rodda.

This was my first experience with council meetings. If that is how business is conducted by our council, then we are in serious trouble as a community. It is my view that the council has over looked the basic rule; namely, that it serves the community and ratepayers. Also, the ratepayers should be treated with dignity, respect and compassion when a serious objection is made to a planning application. In my case, I was treated in a most unsympathetic manner.

The general manager and mayor must implement reforms to prevent this from happening again: adjourn meetings to consider new matters raised; have conciliatory meetings with its ratepayers; the planning department has to be restructured so that it can appreciate and consider impartially all objections raised by its ratepayers. 

They have to act in a fair manner. There was no fairness about my matter.

I am having my solicitor look at the legal ramifications of what happened on Tuesday night.

I hope that our council can learn from what I experienced and I hope that our council will not treat people in an appalling manner as I was treated.

Finally, I would like to convey my appreciation to your journalist,  Jacqueline van Aanholt for her fair and balanced coverage of the matter in your newspaper on February 14 and to my legal team of Patrick O’Halloran and Doug Biffen.

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