A MAJORITY of Camden councillors have ruled out a moratorium on the council’s CBD works despite the growing number of people on a petition opposing the plan.
All but two of the nine councillors said they did not agree with suspending the town centre works – which are due to begin in June after being approved by the council last year – and that they were satisfied the council did enough to consult the community.
Only councillors David Bligh and Eva Campbell said they agreed with the Camden Community Alliance’s call for a moratorium.
The Alliance was set up in February to lobby the council for another round of consultation, saying too many residents were unaware of the council’s plans and so did not make a submission during the exhibition period last year.
Mayor Lara Symkowiak has accused the Alliance of distorting the truth about the council’s plans in order to gain 1432 signatures on a petition and pointed the finger at president Pieter Versluis.
‘‘In order to gain those signatures, the Alliance spread misinformation and did not provide people with the facts,’’ Cr Symkowiak said.
She said she asked Mr Versluis when they met three weeks ago to ‘‘be honest’’ when commenting on the number of jacaranda trees that would be removed from Argyle Street — which was just four.
‘‘How genuine is this group if their president point blank refused to give out correct information to the public?,’’ she said.
‘‘I asked (Mr Versluis) what more council could have done to consult with the community. He didn’t have an answer except to say he wanted ‘deep and meaningful consultation’. The Alliance are agitating for further community consultation yet when asked cannot actually articulate what they want council to do that we haven’t already done.’’
Mr Versluis called on Cr Symkowiak to release the minutes from that meeting or retract her statement.
‘‘If this is a sign of open and transparent community consultation then the Alliance is very justified in questioning the lack of engagement,’’ he said.
‘‘The Alliance is not opposed to change, we are opposed to the way council has implemented change and then told us we must like and support the change.
‘‘If the consultation was as open and transparent as the mayor would have us believe, why have so many now expressed opposition?.’’
We asked Camden’s nine councillors ‘Do you support the call for a moratorium?’’ and ‘‘Do you think council did enough to engage the community?’’. This is what they had to say:
Debby Dewbery: ‘‘Definitely not. What alternative do we have to address safety issues in Camden? I’m approached at least two to three times a week by seniors that trip over the pavers so we need to address that. In 2004 the first workshop I attended as a councillor was about upgrades to the main street of Camden. Ten years later we’re still talking about it. Lights are the only way we can address (safety) because at the moment it’s a death trap. I’m not backing down on this.’’ On the level of consultation: ‘‘I don’t know how much more we could have done.’’
Eva Campbell: ‘‘Given the number of people and the sentiments expressed at the (Camden Community Alliance) public meeting and a very substantial petition, I think (a moratorium) would be very appropriate for the councillors to listen to the community. We’re talking about just over 500 respondents (to council’s survey); that’s not significant. We put out a survey for our own convenience so we could run the statistics on it.’’
Theresa Fedeli: ‘‘I do not support a moratorium. Council gave sufficient information in their consultation with the community. Camden has been waiting for many years for a car park, we have safety issues with Argyle Street and we also have footpaths that are very dangerous that need upgrading. How long do we have to delay these improvements? Unfortunately we cannot keep everybody happy and a lot of misunderstandings come out from this within the community.’’
David Bligh: ‘‘I favour the moratorium. Most of the upgrades are ill-conceived and a product of the mayor’s imagination. The plan is for a small upgrade of the main street yet the rest of Camden village is being ignored. Council didn’t consult widely ... and that was brought out by one of council’s consultants.’’
Greg Copeland: ‘‘I don’t support a moratorium. I support the decision of council and we have to get on with it. The shopkeepers say to me they want this now. I’m comfortable with what we did to consult the community.’’
Penny Fischer: ‘‘I supported the proposal originally. It’s not 100 per cent what I wanted but saying no was far worse for the people of Camden. I think it’s the nature of democracy that not everybody is happy 100 per cent of the time. I can see every single day that I walk down that street that it needs help and certainly safety and traffic improvements. I think the consultation was fairly comprehensive. It’s difficult to understand how so many people could not have known at all after it received fairly significant coverage in the papers. If we go for a moratorium, Camden will suffer for it economically.’’
Greg Warren: ‘‘Only if my colleagues were of the mind to reconsider it. If it were a moratorium on the car park alone I would be glad but I’m unsure of what budgetary implications would be on a total moratorium. People have raised some valid points but I think if we sat down together to find common ground we won’t need a moratorium. It was on exhibition for eight weeks. That’s why I always say the community needs to engage in the process during the exhibition period. There are some exciting things as part of the plan.’’
Peter Sidgreaves: ‘‘I believe that council has already engaged in thorough and meaningful consultation with our community, considered the feedback provided in all of the submissions, and have made a decision that is in the best interest of Camden town’’.
Lara Symkowiak: ‘‘No.The Alliance is scaring genuine people who love Camden with lies that council are cutting down all the jacaranda trees which is completely untrue. Council consulted the community over an eight-week period using every medium possible (and) a letterbox drop was conducted to businesses and households within the CBD asking for their feedback.’’