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Grafton News

“Unreasonable complainant” vindicated

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Mayor Jim Simmons
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“Unreasonable complainant” vindicated

By Tim Howard

A Yamba woman Clarence Valley Council branded an “unreasonable complainant” has been vindicated in the findings of independent regulator the Information Privacy Commission.
In a report released last month, the commission found the council erred in refusing a GIPA request from Lynne Cairns for documents linked to a controversial development application for a property on the Yamba canals.
On November 5, council general manager Ashley Lindsay emailed an apology to Mrs Cairns for refusing her request.
“We got it wrong,” Mr Lindsay said. “I’ve apologised to Mrs Cairns and I have staff working on getting the documents she has asked for.”
He was reluctant to discuss how the council failed to correctly apply the GIPA (Government Information (Public Access) Act) legislation.
Although Mr Lindsay advised Mrs Cairns to make a GIPA application, by the time the request came in June, he was on sick leave and the decision to refuse was made by the acting general manager, Laura Black.
Also in April Mrs Cairns made a formal complaint to Mayor Jim Simmons, informing him she thought the council was failing its GIPA requirements.
Cr Simmons replied to Mrs Cairns in May, saying redacted copies of the documents would be sent to her within three days. That didn’t happen.
Mr Lindsay was at a loss to explain the handling of the GIPA request.
“We should have assessed the GIPA request in accordance with the legislation,” Mr Lindsay said.
“This is no excuse, but I wasn’t at work at the time, I wasn’t aware of the GIPA application until … we got that letter from IPC.
“So I can’t really comment on why we didn’t deal with it properly.”
Mr Lindsay agreed the acting general manager, Ms Black, during the period, was “well qualified”.
“I can’t really comment further,” he said. “My response to Mrs Cairns is that I’ve apologised and staff are working on getting the information she requested in line with the GIPA legislation.”
Council took another look at the development early in the year.
It inspected the works in February 2021 and ordered modification request and a fresh DA for works completed, under construction or to be built.
Mr Lindsay said council had provided some of the information she requested, which was included when the modification request and the new DA were submitted earlier in the year, hinting staff frustration with her persistent requests might have been behind the GIPA request refusal.
There are hints council staff viewed the residents’ objections as unimportant.
In reports to the May meeting about the new DA and the request for modification it noted the original DA approach “was not well received” and result in a “high level of scrutiny during the construction phase”.
Mrs Cairns said she and her husband were not the only ones concerned as council had removed the as built non-complying, unlawful structures into a new DA in order that these structures complied.
Council removed Point 14 of Conditions of Consent from the new DA “All structures located within the 7.5 metre rear building alignment shall not exceed 1.2 metres in height from existing ground level.”
Submissions against the DA included 40 signatures in a petition as residents knew this would set a precedent which could potentially impact their views, sun, breeze and devalue their properties.
But neighbours were not happy as the as built development differed from the original DA, did not comply with regulations and were not included in the original plans including a retractable privacy screen, a water tank and a 4m high privacy screen, from ground level, just behind the revetment wall.
Council’s May reports said “council progress inspections did not occur during construction works”.
“Residents in the canal have just watched the unlawful, non-complying development being constructed, emailed the general manager and he took five months until he finally had a staff member telephone the builder to stop working on the development,” she said.
Mrs Cairns emailed in May 2021 asking why council hadn’t acted in accordance with its planning acts, regulations and enforcement policy. No response was provided.
Mr Lindsay also noted the council was not the only organisation providing information for Mrs Cairns.
“It’s not just staff here that are running around after her,” he said. “She’s got people at the IPC, NSW Ombudsman and the Office of Local Government chasing up information for her.”
The dispute over the 19 Gumnut Rd DA goes back more than two years.
Mrs Cairns, and other residents who live near the property accused the council of mismanaging a development application the owners had lodged for a deck, studio, carport and awning council staff approved under delegated authority in 2019.
Council had ignored photos and wording in Mr and Mrs Cairns submissions in November 2019 prior to original DA approval.
These photos showed the development had been partially constructed prior to DA approval and asked whether a survey was done.
Council ignored this for nearly 18 months. Mrs Cairns received a copy of a basic survey, for the first time, on May 12, dated March 26 after the development had been constructed.
The constructed building is within the required setback and it did not meet the required floor height as required on flood liable land according to council flood mapping.
Between March and June 2021, she was in regular contact with the council, through Ms Black, seeking the documents.
On June 28 Ms Black advised Mrs Cairns that month’s council meeting had resolved the matter and the council would no longer provide her with information about the developments.
On June 30 Mrs Cairns lodged a GIPA request, which the council rejected a week later, based on Section 51 of the GIPA Act, which allow requests to be rejected if they cause “an unreasonable diversion of the agency’s (CVC) resources.”
A week later Mrs Cairns lodged a request with the IPC for a review of the council’s decision.
The council went a step further, late in July, when Ms Black informed Mrs Cairns council staff would no longer interact with her, unless it was regarded as an emergency or an electoral matter and that she had become an “unreasonable customer complainant” – a declaration that would stay in force for six months.
Mrs Cairns said her status as an unreasonable customer complainant had not been resolved.
She knows of two men who have been in almost constant email communication with the council since 2017 and the result was the governance office made an appointment to speak with them. Both men provided email confirmation of this.
“The governance officer stayed there for three hours discussing their issues,” she said.
“Neither of these fellows have been claimed as unreasonable complainants, so it’s inconsistently applied policy.”
In August Mrs Cairns lodged a formal complaint about Ms Black with Mr Lindsay, who had returned to work after a lengthy illness break.
At the same time she informed Mr Lindsay of her GIPA request, which he claimed to know nothing about until after the IPC findings were released.
Mr Lindsay said while the GIPA request was not handled well, the substantive matters behind it were not in question.
“We had three independent assessments of the work done at 19 Gumnut Rd and all agreed the variations were of a minor nature and the as built items were compliant,” he said.
“They had gone above and beyond the original DA approvals, but that’s why we required a modification request and a new DA.”
Mr Lindsay said the property owner’s decision to begin works before getting consent had put council in a difficult position.
“We have a policy of retrospective approval in these situations, if the work is assessed as complying with our planning codes,” he said.
“We can’t just refuse something because work began before consent was given. There are State laws which say if work is compliant, then it’s legal.
“We would be in real trouble if we refused it or ordered it to be taken down if a court found the work complied with the rules.”
Mrs Cairn said the variations were not “minor” as confirmed in the DA Lodgement Checklist Modification of Development Consent with s4.55(2) ticked.
She said council reports were not accurate.
Mrs Cairns said the reports mentioned a portion of the decking was exempt under the State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008.
“The area that exceeds the SEPP is conservatively calculated at less than 11sqm and is considered a minor variation.”
Mrs Cairns obtained assistance from a building surveyor to calculate the decking exempt under SEPP and this is 25sqm.
The amount of decking constructed as described on the new plans was 122.6sqm.
Upon inquiry to council’s planning section email replied “the codes SEPP does not permit variations and neither of the current applications before council are exempt/complying so the Codes SEPP is not applicable.”
She said there were 10 variations to council’s development control plan not two as claimed in the council reports.
Mrs Cairns wondered why Clarence Valley Council was so far out of step with other regional councils in providing information on its website.
“I’ve done research on Ballina, Armidale, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour,” she said.
“All of those councils have the majority of those DA documents available on their websites.
“Probably the most user friendly one is Ballina. It just brings up the documents and you can look at it. No redactions whatsoever.
“If our council would follow that, it would save them a lot of time and resources.”
Mr Lindsay said the council’s website was a work in progress.
“We’ve just made some changes to it and I know there are more changes to come,” he said.
“I’m not aware of what other councils are doing, but I agree in principle that easier access to documents is the best way to go.”
Mrs Cairns said she has been advised the outcome of NSW Ombudsman’s inquiry in relation to 19 Gumnut Rd states.
It said “the Ombudsman’s office cannot replace council’s discretion to make planning decisions.”
In relation to being branded an “unreasonable complainant” Mrs Cairns is awaiting a further response, however the Ombudsman’s office found “council had departed from its unreasonable complainant procedure.”

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Grafton News

2024 JADA Judge Announced: Michelle Newton

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Michelle Newton - New JADA Judge
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2024 JADA Judge Announced: Michelle Newton

 

Michelle Newton, Deputy Director at Artspace, Sydney, will judge Grafton Regional Gallery’s flagship drawing prize, the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award (JADA), this year.

Michelle Newton has been the Deputy Director at Artspace since 2012, and in this time has co-commissioned and co-curated significant projects with artists and in partnership with leading international institutions. She has recently written for and co-edited the monographs, Marco Fusinato: DESASTRES, Taloi Havini: Reclamation and Mel O’Callaghan: Centre of the Centre. Prior to joining Artspace, she worked with First Nations-led art centres Jilamara Arts and Crafts Association, Tiwi Islands (2006–09) and Jirrawun Arts on Gija Country (2009–11). She was Associate Director for private gallery, Grantpirrie, Sydney (2011–12). She is currently Chair of Cementa, Inc. and on the Board of Create NSW Visual Arts Artform Advisory Board.

The 2024 JADA will be judged in the days prior to the JADA Official Opening Gala, on Friday 27 September.

Entries for the 2024 JADA are open until midnight, Sunday 30 June. Artists from across Australia aged 18 and over and are invited to enter the award, with an acquisitive first prize of $35,000 and $5,000 early career award.

Grafton Regional Gallery would like to thank the major sponsors of the 2024 JADA, the Friends of the Grafton Gallery.

For entry details, terms and conditions, and more information, visit here.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Grafton News

BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB SCORES FUNDING TO UPGRADE ARENA AT HAWTHORNE EQUESTRIAN PARK IN SOUTH GRAFTON

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BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB
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BIG RIVER CAMPDRAFT CLUB SCORES FUNDING TO UPGRADE ARENA AT HAWTHORNE EQUESTRIAN PARK IN SOUTH GRAFTON

 

Big River Campdraft Club (BRCC) has been awarded $6937 from the NSW Government to upgrade the centre arena rails at Hawthorne Park Equestrian Park in South Grafton, Nationals MP for Clarence Richie Williamson announced at the annual Big River Campdraft on the weekend.

Mr Williamson said the current centre arena rails were in dire need of replacing to ensure all users are provided with a safe arena and was thrilled the BRCC had been successful in securing funding through the NSW Government’s Local Sport Grant program to begin the project.

“Local grassroots sporting clubs like the BRCC are essential to the community, and this investment will increase both competitor and spectator experience,” Mr Williamson said.

“I thank the BRCC volunteers who made this possible as without their commitment and dedication to the sport, none of this would have been achieved.”

President of the BRCC, David Gillett said grants manager Lynne Hugginson had been working tirelessly to obtain funding to upgrade facilities at Hawthorne Park.

“The funding to begin replacing the rails on the centre arena is a tremendous bonus for not only BRCC but all ten clubs and their members that use the facility,” Mr Gillett said.

“The upgrade not only enhances safety but also improves the visual appeal of the arena.

“Hawthorne Park infrastructure is built and maintained by local club volunteers with the support of generous donations and grants.

“We would like to thank our local MP, Richie Williamson for supporting the community and investing in local equestrian activities.”

The Local Sport Grant program is annual program that aims to support grassroots sporting clubs to increase participation, host events, improve access and enhance sport and recreation facilities.

Mr Williamson said he will be announcing other successful recipients under the latest funding round in the coming weeks as he moves around the electorate.

“I encourage all sporting clubs across the Clarence and Richmond Valleys to jump online and subscribe to receive updates on when the next round of Local Sport Grants program open,” Mr Williamson said.

Further information can be found here.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Marketta concept expands around Valley

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Marketta Grafton stage
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Marketta concept expands around Valley

 

By Tim Howard

After wowing all concerned in 2023, Grafton Marketta makes a return to the Jacaranda City on June 8.

The evening of food, run and entertainment was a huge success at its inaugural outing and organisers say even more businesses have got behind the event this year.

The NSW Government has also come to the party with $150,000 to cover this event and four similar events planned for other Clarence Valley centres during rest of the year.

The Eli Fahey Band at Marketta

The Eli Fahey Band gets the crowd rocking at Marketta last year. Eli and the band is back again fun 2024.

Event organiser with Clarence Valley Council Deborah Merritt said more Clarence food businesses and dance groups had expressed an interest in this year’s event.

“It’s great to see, because it shows the word is getting out and people understand how they can make this work for them,” Ms Merritt said.

The funding this year will also be distributed around the Valley with a total of five community events to be held before the end of the year.

Ms Merritt said there would events in South Grafton, Ulmarra, Wooli and Maclean, with the only stipulation that each event was totally community driven.

Marketta Grafton stage

The big centre stage in Prince St was a focal point for the crowds that flocked to Grafton for the inaugural Marketta in 2023 and is sure be so again.

“Each one is going to be different from the other and represent what each community wants to say about itself,” she said.

“For example something like Marketta, which is designed to give bricks and mortar businesses a street presence, would not work in Wooli,” she said.

“The community there is looking to celebrate its natural beauty with the river, beaches and National Parks.

“And Ulmarra would be looking to do something different again, more quirky with something that captures the spirit of the community.”
Ms Merrett said the entertainment in Grafton on June 8 would top notch.

“A lineup of talented performers including Uncle Ken Gordon, Lennox Monaghan, Garimaa Ngahri, Sam Dyball, Eli Fahey Band and Pistol Whip will put on an unforgettable show,” she said.

“Entry is free, so bring your friends and family for a night filled with entertainment and good eats.”

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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