Stop and listen before doing the big change
Camden councillors will gain my renewed respect when they
1) acknowledge the alarm and dismay of huge numbers of local residents at the already council-approved project to "enhance" Camden town centre and
2) call a temporary halt to all aspects of the project.
Ratepayers such as myself did not respond adequately when the council survey was circulated some time back.
At the time I had much more confidence and trust in our council than I currently have.
For omitting to complete the survey I sincerely apologise to the council.
Some of the proposals have merit.
The details, it seems to me, need input from professional planners in direct consultation with a broad cross section of our community.
One approved change - to narrow the road width of part of Argyle Street — is inconceivable to me with regard to everyone's safety.
Our mayor advises that the council will hold some "drop-in" sessions at Camden Council "to keep our community informed of the works".
Tenders for stage one have already been called for.
For such major alterations that will massively change the look, feel and very essence of Camden now is the time to stop, reflect, consult and proceed slowly and caringly.
Helen Flett, Camden
In reference to the Camden town centre revitalisation saga.
I find it amusing that the upgrade of our town has now become a party-political mud fight.
If I as ratepayer (with some of the highest rates in Sydney) did not have to fund this mess, I would be rolling on the ground laughing.
Dear Ms mayor, how much do the full- page ads in numerous local newspapers, to defend your unpopular decision, cost us the ratepayers?
Could you then go on to explain how the widening of the footpaths for the benefit of local businesses should be funded by ratepayers and not said businesses?
I think it is quite obvious that the people of our little hamlet do not like and do not believe that the proposed upgrades are necessary.
If you believe the majority of Camden residents want these upgrades, wait till the next local election.
If you get in, go ahead: upgrade and waste our money.
Please do not do this upgrade before the election.
It is only 17 months away.
Fred Marais, Narellan
Ignored and upset
Engagement is a word of many connotations for CamdenCouncil.
There was the manufactured engagement associated with the proposed changes to the Camden town centre.
Rather than an open exchange of ideas, we had a tightly controlled operation in which the council pushed forward its own agenda and ignored the community.
Then the council placed large full-page advertisements in the local papers in response to the increasing indignation of the community disappointed at not having its voice heard.
This was an attempt to still the protests rather than engage in proper discussion.
This highlights the council's misunderstanding of what the community is requesting — proper engagement.
Finally, there is the extraordinary paradox of Camden Council failing to engage with the community in the creation of the community engagement policy.
There was scant notice calling for the public to be involved in the drafting of the policy and not a mention of the draft policy in the latest Let's Connect brochure — the principal means by which the council directly communicates with its residents.
The date for submissions from the community has now been marginally extended (to today, April 22), owing to the outcry of some local residents.
But this provides insufficient time for the community to provide a meaningful contribution.
Jennifer Wright, Elderslie
Please ask them
Are shopkeepers in Camden positive that their customers want the changes to Camden main street?
There are so many signing the Camden Community Alliance petition. Please ask them.
Betty Yewen, Camden
Deary me, what a failure, how is this possible?
Such disregard for Camden Council's residents is beyond belief.
Especially when councillors and staff are in hot debate with the Camden Community Alliance over a complete lack of community engagement with the current Camden town centre enhancement proposals.
"What am I on about", you say?
"Camden Council's draft communication and community engagement strategy and related polices which were prepared and endorsed for public exhibition for 28 days at its meeting on March 10, 2015," I say.
If there was ever to be a council policy where staff should want to talk to and discuss the development of proposals with the community, this surely must be it.
How can you reasonably prepare a community consultation strategy and related policy without discussing and developing it with the related community?
Camden's draft engagement policy has already been determined by staff and councillors before public exhibition.
Just like the Camden town centre enhancement proposals which were prepared without public input, marketed for eight weeks and then adopted with little or no change.
But to add insult to injury, the council then only advertised the draft community engagement strategy for comment and did not otherwise attempt to engage the community during the public review period.
What hope do we have for a say in our local affairs when Camden Council displays such ignorance in its administration.
Peter Standen, Harrington Park
Reading the Camden Town Centre Vision document I find myself doing a lot more looking than reading.
It features lots of photographs including loads of jacarandas (very reassuring), random visions from who knows where of presumably desirable streetscapes and two photos of the Camden Pool obviously in its unkempt "closed for winter" state.
It looks sad.
This is a pity as in summer the pool is a glorious affirmation of one thing the council has got right.
I enjoyed a season ticket — staff great and facility excellent.
The resources expended on producing this document, which seeks as much to confuse as misdirect, are our ratepayers' resources; just as, I can only assume, were those that funded the council's full-page "Council loves the jacaranda trees too" advertisements in this newspaper on March 25 and April 1.
Sue Way, Camden
Moratorium call on council's Argyle Street 'vision'
Camden Council's recently released "vision", outlining proposed changes to the Camden CBD would be more appropriately termed "limited vision".
By the council's own reckoning, a little over 500 submissions were received.
This is hardly "overwhelming".
In contrast, a petition calling for a moratorium on the proposal raised over 1500 signatures in a short amount of time.
One major reason for this response is a result of the council's proposal now becoming clear.
The questionnaire evinced a mixed response, especially around the carpark.
In the mayor's own words, "opinions are quite mixed on where the carpark should be".
What is not mixed is the opinion of three times as many people calling for a moratorium until a sensible, comprehensive plan for future development can be prepared.
The current plan will be an expensive disaster, a train wreck that no amount of traffic lights will save.
It will create gridlock, turning Argyle Street, like the M5, into a single deck carpark. The council's attitude to protests is dismissive.
Rather than recognise genuine and representative calls for a halt to the current proposal, the council has adopted a tunnel "vision".
Indifference to public opinion is a dangerous path for any elected representative.
We can only assume that when the council is bunkered down in their palatial Oran Park offices they can safely ignore the catastrophe they will have left behind.
David Nethercote, Camden
Council sales pitch
Mayor Lara Symkowiak: That no protesters were at the council meeting in November when the [Camden CBD] plans were adopted "baffled her".
"I don't know what their motive is but there is an agenda," the mayor said of the [Camden Community] Alliance.
Residents of Camden were invited to three so-called information meetings and submitted ideas to improve our town centre.
These events were only a sales pitch of proposals developed in council, no involvement of residents.
When concerned residents submitted their thoughts to council there was no acknowledgement or discussion about them revealed.
Each concerned resident thought they were alone and crying in the wilderness.
It was only after the council adopted some of the proposals that a few like-minded people met and decided to form a group whose only agenda is try to save Camden's look and feel, wide streets, wonderful trees in the median strip, and a sense of community.
That small group is now over 1000 and growing.
There are also many who knew nothing of the changes to the town until the coverage in our local paper.
As for wanting to improve our surroundings we met with Chris Patterson when he was mayor 2008-09 to urge work be carried out to upgrade footpath paving.
Charles Cowell, Camden
Not a 'stooge'
I feel compelled to respond to the letter from Camden MP Chris Patterson on March 31.
He refuses to name, very shrewdly, who in the Camden Community Alliance is a Labor "stooge".
I handed out for Cindy Cagney, Labor candidate, as I believed she would be the best person to represent and campaign for the area in a state government capacity.
It is my democratic right to do so.
Indeed, the mayor took time out from her mayoral duties to hand out at pre-poll and on election day for Mr Patterson, as is her democratic right.
I am not a "stooge" for Labor or any other party.
I am not a member of any political party and never have been.
I am a swinging, policy-driven voter.
I have previously run as an independent candidate at council elections.
Having stood and spoken with Mr Patterson during pre-poll at council elections previously, I am aware he does not believe in independent thought regarding politics; and that is the fact of the matter.
A vast number of people in Camden are concerned about the imminent town centre interventions.
I believe it is safe to say that no-one in the Camden Community Alliance is a "stooge" of any sort, and everyone in the Alliance would appreciate discussion around the issues and concerns regarding engagement and transparency in local government decision making and the changes proposed for the town centre.
These points were clearly made at the community forum, where Mr Patterson murmured all the right words — it was disappointing, but alas not surprising, to read of his about-face in the newspaper and to observe his absolute and complete disregard for wider community concern.
Maryann Strickling, Camden