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Cr Bruce Heron: “There’s only so much money to go around”.

Huon Valley Guessing Games Tonight (Monday, November 19), at the monthly Huon Valley Council (HVC) meeting, the public gallery will witness yet another demonstration of democracy Tasmania-style at work. Council, acting as a planning authority, will consider approval of its own development application (DA) to construct a car park behind the Cygnet Town Hall.

Surprise, surprise, the recommendation for DA-154/2012 — a car park and access road at land “generally to the east of 6-16 Mary Street, Cygnet with access between 4-6 Mary Street, Cygnet” — is “that a permit be granted . . .” The recommendation, like most DA approvals, lists a string of conditions to be met by the developer (in this case, HVC). A cursory reading of the conditions suggests that it will be at least many months before council will be able to get on with its project because there is little doubt that at least one representor will appeal council’s expected decision to approve the DA.


If this happens, almost certainly the project start date would be well beyond June 30 next, a date when Mayor Robert Armstrong, crying wolf at a recent council meeting, has warned the state funds available for it, about $300,000, may no longer be available.


But none of this is the really the big worrying aspect. The main issue here is that state law allows councils to decide whether developments they themselves are proposing should go ahead. The mind boggles that this can be so.


Precedents of elasticity in state law (either badly or, more likely, cunningly drafted) that allow governments to get away with almost anything they want are legion. In recent times, one need only mention fish farm issues in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Macquarie Harbour, a caravan park at Huonville, and the Parliament Square project in Hobart as examples of how officialdom can, through legal loopholes, circumvent democratic rights that citizens quite reasonably should expect to be honoured.


And, when there isn’t a law that will allow officialdom to get its way, laws are changed, willy-nilly, to ensure that democratic rights are curtailed or somehow else thwarted in the interests of “progress”. (Here, though it’s not really necessary, I mention the skulduggery of the State Government’s wriggling, despite huge public resistance, to clear the way for a pulp mill on the Tamar.)


In the case of the Cygnet car park development, council’s report, item by item, dismisses or sweeps away each issue raised by representors. And the report seems to assert that, despite some stakeholders obviously having strong reservations about how the project will affect their interests, the council is entitled to blunder onwards with the project.


Earlier this year, council, spearheaded by Cr Mike Wilson from across the Huon at Castle Forbes Bay, thwarted a Cygnet Township Committee and staff recommendation for a top priority Level 5 public consultation by voting down the recommendation and deciding that a much more limited Level 3 would suffice.


At last week’s Cygnet Town Forum meeting, Simone Watson, acting as general manager in the prolonged absence of GM Glenn Doyle, suggested that work on the car park could start as early as February, but only if the case doesn’t go to appeal. In light of the mood of some of the seven who lodged submissions to council, the hope that there will be no appeal at the moment appears little better than wishful thinking.


To read the full council report on the car park project, go to http://www.huonvalley.tas.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/November%202012%20Reports%20-%20no%20Closed%20Council.pdf, and look up item 18.063/12, beginning page 38. The most interesting reading is pages 46-52, where council lists and largely dismisses points raised by representors.


There is little or no opposition in Cygnet to the idea that more parking space is needed to cope with high-traffic times. What seems to be happening in Cygnet is that council, having endorsed a town plan in 2010 (a vastly watered down version of the plan rejected by Mayor Armstrong and his controlling group in 2004), really doesn’t seem to care to whether the plan is followed or not.


Ideally, Cygnet’s traffic movement and parking issues would be much better met if council were to devote its resources to immediately establishing a one-way north-south road along the back of buildings to the east of Mary Street. That would take a lot of pressure off Mary Street traffic movements (including truck deliveries at the northern end of Mary Street) while simultaneously providing many, many more parking spaces along the one-way street than will the estimated $550,000 car park proposal (37 cars, two disabled spaces and eight large-vehicle loading spaces).


When such a suggestion was put up near the end of last Tuesday’s forum meeting by Carol Murphy, a former Cygnet Township Committee (CTC) member, it was met with silence by councillors and staff and the forum was wound up.


Mayor Armstrong and his men have decided there will be an over-engineered car park behind the Town Hall and, as far as they are concerned, that’s that.


It was the same with the Loongana Park public toilet on the other side of Mary Street. Despite hugely popular petitions, council insisted on going ahead with demolition of the existing toilet block and spending, at the latest admission, $230,000 on a huge new block, for which it is hard to find a good word among the Cygnet citizenry.


Councillor Bruce Heron, chair of the CTC and master of ceremonies at last Tuesday’s Cygnet Town Forum, happened to remark during the evening, “There’s only so much money to go around.” If that’s the case, it would be a good thing if council took a long hard look at its repeated profligacy and thought about spending our taxes more wisely. — Bob Hawkins