1:15 PMCommunity Expectations – well, not really.
Manningham Council often tell us that community expectations drive council expenditure. That is, Manningham residents expect certain services and facilities to be available. The council is expected to provide these and so community expectations drive the increases in council spending.
For example, Manningham Council is planning to spend some $16.2 million over 4 years on the Mullum Mullum High Ball facility. One reason they give to justify this expenditure is:
"2.1.1 Goal - Increased recreation opportunities to meet community demand" (p 1943, minutes of 24 July 2014.)
Is it really demand from the community that drives the construction of this high ball facility?
How does Manningham Council find out what community demands and expectations are?
Manningham council actually does a lot of things to discover community expecations. They organise public meetings, surveys, organise stakeholder meetings and so on. It sounds very plausible. It sounds as though the council listens to the community and plans accordingly.
But does Manningham council have selective hearing? Does Manningham council go through all these consultations but in the end do what they want?
I think Manningham council has very selective hearing. I hope to show, from the councils own minutes, that they hear what they want and ignore what they don't like.
First, lets go through some of the more obvious problems with the councils procedures.
The first problem is that stakeholder interviews, mail outs, surveys etc. usually focus only on a small number of residents who have vested interests in certain a project. Either they stand to gain expensive new facilities that they could make good use of or they stand to loose parkland, bush vistas and so on. However, in their favour, the council also receives submissions from residents via the internet which has a much wider reach where anyone can provide feedback to the council if they wish.
The second problem is that the council is left to collate and interpret the results of these meetings, surveys, etc. And, as we all know, it is possible to interpret the results in many different ways. For instance, it is easy to produce page after page of interesting but largely irrelevant information while at the same time hiding the most important details in out-of-the-way places, for example, as comments or notes in small font in the cells of spreadsheets.
The question remains. Does Manningham Council actually listen to resident submissions or do they only listen to what supports their programs and plans?
Submissions from 'the public'...
Let us take a look at the meetings on June 3, 2014 and on June 24, 2014.
At the meeting on June 3, Manningham council presented submissions they received from the public regarding their '2014/2015 Budget' and 'Strategic Resource Plan 2014-2018'. It is interesting to look at what was said and how the council responded.
There were 59 submissions from Manningham residents regarding the Budget and Strategic Resource Plan.
47 of these submissions supported the planned Mullum Mullum High Ball facility.
It seems there may have been some sort of letter writing campaign organised by the basketball clubs to promote the building of this facility. Of the 47 submissions, 43 were from people who were members of basket ball clubs that would use these facilities.
Now let's move forward to the next council meeting on June 24 2014 at which the Mullum Mullum Reserve Management Plan 2014 was presented as a draft.
On page 2003 of the minutes for this meeting we see this facility is going to be built in a bushland setting. The council plans to retain bushland vistas as much as is possible but the facility is large and will have a large carpark and will have a big impact on the reserve.
So Manningham council sought feedback from local residents. They did this in several ways. See page 2000 of the minutes for June 24 2014. There was a mail out to all local residents within 400 meters of the reserve and the Manningham Council website was available for comments.
Many of the local residents use the reserve for recreation. So what did the local people have to say about this proposed high ball facility.
We find that many are not in favour of it at all.
We begin to see who will be listened to and who will not....
But before I go into detail regarding the results of these surveys, let us take a look at how the chips are beginning to fall in the draft Mullum Mullum Reserve Management Plan 2014.
First, local residents met with Manningham council. But note that they themselves had to request these meetings with the council (page 2000).
Second, Manningham council, on their own initiative, met with all the sports clubs who would use the facility. The council went to meet with each club individually on site at their facilities at the Mullum Mullum Reserve. There is no mention, at all, that these clubs needed to request a meeting. The minutes give the impression that the council went to them of their own volition (page 2000).
Third, the Draft Mullum Mullum Reserve Management plan 2014, goes into great detail about the comments, needs and potential benefits the development will have for the various clubs. In fact, Man ningham council also, their own volition, met with clubs that are outside the study area (pages 2004 – 2007).
But note that Manningham Council were not able to bring themselves to say that the vast majority of residents they surveyed, who live near to or use the reserve, oppose the building of the facility.
Forth, the council echoes, in the minutes, the concerns the sporting clubs have regarding the campaign by local residents against the sporting facility.
The clubs want to present a 'monolithic' position to the council and to the community and note how the Council repeats the concerns of the clubs when this monolithic stand is undermined.
The basketball clubs "say there are deeply concerned about some comments from local residents." (see page 2004 point 4. Minutes June 24, 2014.)
It appears the managers of the clubs were upset when some of the local residents came onto the existing sporting facilities asking club members to sign a petition against the proposed new facility. Apparently the club management had 'determined their position' which was to support the proposed facility and did not like their club members being asked for their own private opinions on the matter. (see page 2005 minutes June 24, 2014.)
What the council and the clubs overlook, is the fact that under the constitution of Australia we have a right to freedom of speech in matters of representative government (See Lange v ABC 1997). This, in my opinion, includes the actions and plans of Manningham Council because Manningham Council happens to also be 'representative government' in the sense that we elect councillors to make decisions on our behalf just as we do with the federal government. We have a very strong case to say that each Australian citizen has a right to speak their mind freely and unhindered in matters of representative government - and this would include local government. The clubs and the council however, seem to think the otherwise.
So start to see where the chips are starting to fall.
The council goes out of their way to meet with sporting clubs to find out what they require, but on the other hand, is quick to side with the clubs to both share and repeat criticisms of the actions of local residents.
The Results of the Surveys...
Now, let's take a look at the results of the survey of local residents and seek to draw the conclusions that the council will not.
If you go to page 2004 of the minutes you will see that only 4.5% of residents who responded (that is just 2 people) support the Mullum Mullum High Ball facility.
Let us take a look at the council's own break down of the responses of local residents.
Please see page 2004 of the minutes for June 24 2014. Please see the table at top left of the page.
First, it may not be correct to simply add up all the percentages to arrive at a total that are against the proposal high ball facility because there might be overlap in the classification of responses.
Second, notice the classification 'Other' on the third line. This group is made up of 10 submissions.
The council explained the responses in the group 'other' as follows:
"The third theme was 'other'. This response picked up a range of key themes of which 22.8% or 9 responses related to reserve (not related to high ball facility), 13.7% or 6 responses related to opposition of the highball facility". (page 2004 minutes June 24, 2014.)
What we have here, regardless of how you want to classify, analyse or break this down, is the simple fact that the vast majority of the local residents and those residents who use the reserve oppose the building of the sports facility. (Note that 67% of the submissions came from people who lived near the reserve, while other submissions came from people who apparently made us of the reserve but did not live close to the reserve.)
So just what is 'Community Demand'...
So how can Manningham council say that 'community demand' is driving the council to build the high ball facility?
Put simply, they can't. Not if they want to be fair and balanced about it.
The people supporting the planned facility are the basketball clubs who will benefit from it.
Manningham council has about 50 or so submissions, mostly from members of basket ball clubs who support the high ball facility. While on the other hand they have about 50 submissions from local residents who strongly oppose it.
So what does Manningham council do?
What they end up doing is relabeling the demands. They call the demands of the basketball clubs 'community demand' and they basically ignore the other type of community demand from the residents who live near the reserve or use the reserve.
Interesting isn't it, how the clubs demands get elevated to being what we all need, and what local residents want is simply ignored.
Manningham Council gets their way regardless of what the community says...
As I said above, and hopefully you can now see from the council's own minutes, Manningham council is very adept at highlighting the conclusions they like and downplaying the conclusions they don't like.
Manningham Council has it's own reasons for wanting the high ball facility.
"To develop a high quality highball facility to cater for the shortfall of highball courts within Manningham." (page 1943)
"There is an identified current shortfall of at least 15 courts to cater for multiuse highball sports within Manningham." (page 1944)
We see that it is not really 'community demand' that drives the construction of this facility. What does drive it? Is it a preference for the sporting clubs, or objectives Manningham council has and are expected to meet?
I hope I have shown that Manningham cannot really appeal to the 'community' as the driving force unless they embark of a program of listening to some community groups while ignoring others.
Manningham Council is full of praise - for themselves...
What I find amusing to read is page after page of council self-congratulation in the minutes that support and justify Manningham's decision making process on this matter. Some examples are:
"To establish responsible and responsive open space management." (page 1943) [But just who is the council responding to?]
"To minimize the impact of new recreation facilities on the amenity of nearby residential areas." (page 1943) – [it appears our council intends to achieve this by not listening to these people.]
As you can see, the council's procedures, stakeholder meetings, surveys, mail-outs, pages of analysis and page after page of self congratulation in the minutes for a job well done is just largely noise and distraction. In the end, it is the council that ends up doing what they want.
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