15 Minutes With The Mayor of Ryde

posted in: Community 💙, Life | 0

We met recently with City of Ryde Mayor Jerome Laxale and asked him some questions that have been burning the brains of Ryde District Mums. Grab a cuppa, there’s lots to learn!

 

What made you want to become a Mayor?

Describe a day in the life of The Mayor of Ryde

What is your favourite part of the job?

And least favourite?

How do you like to spend your weekend?

What is your favourite hidden gem in Ryde?

What is the most common question you get asked as Mayor?

What is the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done in your role as Mayor?

What is the least satisfying?

What kind of working relationship do you have with (please provide detail): 

  • Victor Dominello (State)
  • Anthony Roberts (State)
  • John Alexander (Federal)

What’s the deal with the Parking spots at Top Ryde City Shopping Centre that are allocated for Ryde Council?

How have so many dwellings been approved? What influence does Ryde Council have over big development applications?

What is your plan to stop the further overdevelopment of Meadowbank and Sheppard’s Bay?

What is your view on the new ‘Independent Planning Panels’ for development applications?

What are the plans for much-needed schools and for the situation with the amount of demountables?

How is the council planning for the rail shutdown later this year?

What is happening with the plans for the old council building?

Will all new playgrounds have sunshades?

What is being done about the following traffic issues?

Will you fight for a train line for our area?

When is Ryde library going to sign up with Kanopy?

 


What made you want to become a Mayor?

I was first elected to Council in 2012, and if you had told me that three years later I would become only the second ever Labor Mayor of Ryde and the youngest, I would have laughed. My real attraction to this job isn’t the title, or the robes (I don’t wear the ugly things), it’s the ability of this position to help people and make things better.

 

Describe a day in the life of The Mayor of Ryde

My day starts like most Ryde dads’ – being woken up by my three-year-old with around 45 consecutive questions. After breakfast, I drop my twin girls off to school (I do two days a week and my wife, Karyn does the others), I usually head to a local café for either a meeting with a local resident or to go through my mammoth inbox. Throughout the week, I juggle my responsibilities as Mayor and a Small Business Owner. No week or day is the same.

Most weeknights, I attend community gatherings and meetings, including citizenship ceremonies and Council meetings (which have been known to go well into the early hours of the morning).

Other nights are spent at home returning calls, or answering correspondence through my Dear Mayor of Ryde Facebook forum, or via email.

When I’m not Mayoring, I’m Hairing. I run the family business which manufactures and imports hairdressing products. My father started it in 1987, and we now employ 12 staff. I do the finances and set direction for the company in my role as General Manager.

Being a dad to young kids, running a business and being Mayor can be a real challenge at times, particularly for the night time events. I always try to get home at 6:30pm to put the kids to bed, then head out again for an evening function.

 

What is your favourite part of the job?

 Helping people. Despite being a massive introvert, I do enjoy meeting people face to face, hearing their problems, and solving them. Sometimes I just can’t, and that sucks, but when I can, it’s what keeps me going.

 

And least favourite?

The politics. Like many of you, I get frustrated when Councillors, State and Federal MPs make no attempt to work together and put politics ahead of progress.

 

How do you like to spend your weekend?

I start my Saturday morning early, usually around 5.30am when I go for a 10-20km run. . I go with a great bunch of locals (a couple are Ryde District Mums!) who I have been running with for about 10 years. I then have breakfast with some close friends and the family at Zig Zag café in Marsfield. We then usually spend some time in Waterloo Park with scooters and footballs. I usually have one or two events to attend, or I spend a few hours knocking on doors across the city to meet residents. On Sunday morning, we go as a family to Macquarie Chapel Church. I try to keep Sundays Mayor free and spend the day with the family.

 

What is your favourite hidden gem in Ryde?

I really love West Ryde (and here’s a hot tip, it’s about to get better). There are some amazing café’s down there (Café e Crèma, Element 6, Lab Kitchen and Once Upon a Time), there’s the Library, model trains and Anzac Park, and there’s some amazing places to eat out (Tatsuya’s and The Barn). Council is about to spend a whole heap of money upgrading West Ryde Plaza to make it much softer, greener, and family friendly and there is a huge upgrade to Anzac Park coming in 2019.

 

What is the most common question you get asked as Mayor?

“How old are you?“. For the record, I’m 34, and first became Mayor at 31. Also, people often say that I don’t look like a Mayor, which I take as a compliment.

 

What is the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done in your role as Mayor?

 Saving Eastwood Park. The state Member for Ryde, Victor Dominello tried multiple times to build a carpark on top of, then underneath, then alongside, Eastwood Park. Each plan was undercooked and did not have community support.

I worked very closely with local residents and the business community, who valued open space and proper planning, and we campaigned to protect the park.

Across the City, we were able to get the support we needed, the right candidates elected to the new Council, and one week after I became Mayor, Mr Dominello pulled his plans for the oval.

I am now working closely with Council staff to heritage list the entire park so that no Council and no Government can ever develop this piece of open space. We are also awaiting a comprehensive traffic and parking study to direct us on best options for parking and traffic improvements in Eastwood.

Other satisfying things:

  • Stopping the previous Liberal council’s plans to build 600 units on the Civic Centre site at Top Ryde, not once, but twice.
  • Changing the City of Ryde’s heritage policy which will stop developers from knocking down our beautiful heritage homes. Under former Liberal-led Councils, a developer had veto as to whether or not homes could be heritage listed. It was the most stupid policy I’d ever come across. What developer would heritage list their own property?!?!?! Anyway, I changed that and our most beautiful homes will soon be protected forever.
  • The creation and implementation of the City of Ryde Affordable Housing Policy which will deliver 750 affordable rental units by 2031.
  • Promoting equal access to sporting facilities for women, by helping the North West Sydney Koalas Women’s Football Team finally find a home in Ryde.
  • Rolling out a state-of-the-art Synthetic Fields programme across the city. From zero synthetic sports fields to three in three short years.

 

What is the least satisfying?

Missing putting the kids to bed or taking them to one of their activities because I let my calendar get on top of me. Sometimes I find it hard to say no to meeting with a resident, or attending an event, and then before I know it, that weeks’ calendar is full and I’m out every night of the week. I try really hard to have a good balance between work and family, and I find this role the least satisfying when it completely consumes me from time to time.

 

What kind of working relationship do you have with (please provide detail): 

Victor Dominello (State)

Unfortunately, this relationship is non-existent, and it’s not through lack of trying. In the years that I’ve been Mayor, I’ve requested a meeting of Mr Dominello on many many occasions. In all that time, he has either not acknowledged my request, or even worse, set a time and date and not shown. Regardless of your political persuasion and regardless of your like or dislike of someone, the community would expect that you work together. It is disappointing that Mr Dominello has chosen not to have a working relationship with the Mayor of the City he represents.
Anthony Roberts (State)

To be honest, I haven’t had too much to do with Mr Roberts. My office had discussions with him recently in regards to a matter in Marsfield and they have been cordial and professional – as you would expect. I believe that Anthony gets it and we get along well enough to work together when the community expects us to.

 
John Alexander (Federal)

John and I get on well, and I’ve heard many of his tennis anecdotes. I’m meeting John in April about the Federal Government announcement to build a bus interchange at Macquarie Park. I’ve been calling for this infrastructure since 2013, so I’d like to help John deliver this quickly as it’s long overdue.

 

A hot topic in Ryde District Mums Facebook group – when are you moving the prime parking spots from Top Ryde Shopping Centre to a level that isn’t used?

In short, I’m working on it. Long form, this is a complex web of legal documents and bureaucratic-ness. I too have observed how, for most of the time, many spaces remain empty. Ever since Coles moved into Level 1, council’s spots have become in high demand. I also know that many spots are required for staff during office hours and for councillors for when we meet after hours. But we don’t use them 24/7, and I’m trying to find a middle ground where the community can use them when we don’t need them, and where the council can use them when we need to. To give you an idea, I’ve had to involve Human Resources (some staff have parking requirements in their contract), our properties section (we have agreements with Top Ryde City who, I’m informed, would need to ultimately approve any change), and of course the General Manager. There’s a solution. Bear with me, it’s just taking a little while to finalise it.

 

Another area of great concern is the overdevelopment in the area. How have so many dwellings been approved? What influence does Ryde Council have over big development applications? 

The planning system is stacked towards developers, and despite promises by Mr Dominello and the State Government “to return planning powers to local communities” the opposite has occurred. In fact, as of 1 March this year, no elected representatives will have a say on Development Applications (DA) (I’ll expand on this at a later question).

Prior to 1 March, all the big DAs, by-passed your local Council and were determined by a panel stacked by the State Government. On these panels, there would usually be three State appointed experts and two local Councillors. Votes were often 3-2 and your elected representatives were out-voted.

The biggest issue in Ryde has been the rezoning of land from commercial / low density residential to high-density residential.

Along Epping road, the State Government have rezoned land to allow for 13,000+ new dwellings from Epping to North Ryde. Parramatta Council has rezoned industrial land and sold open space to allow for 5000+ new dwellings at Melrose Park, and Meadowbank was rezoned by the Council before my time.

Once land has been rezoned, and given the State’s broken promise of returning planning powers to local communities, the only way we can stop over-development is through advocacy and leading community campaigns.

In my time on Council (first elected 2012), I have fought to stop overdevelopment at Macquarie Park, the Ivanhoe Estate, North Ryde, Allengrove, Blenheim Park, on Council’s own Civic Centre site, West Ryde and of course Meadowbank.

 

What is your plan to stop the further overdevelopment of Meadowbank and Sheppard’s Bay?

Through advocacy and hard work. I’ll also be asking for your vote at the State Election in March 2019. This Government have stripped all power from Council to determine most of those mega-developments. Our only role now is to send submissions along with members of the public and to lead community campaigns against some of these proposals. I have grave concerns about a current proposal to increase heights at one site in Meadowbank from nine storeys to 27 storeys, and I’ll be following this, along with other proposals closely.

 

What is your view on the new ‘Independent Planning Panels’ – are they a bandaid for their unrealised super councils to take away all planning controls from LGA? If elected could you persuade/lobby State Government to have the last say on developments in all LGA?

I have real concerns about what this Government have done around Development Applications and Planning since 2011. Let’s not forget that they promised to “return planning powers to local communities” when they have in fact done the complete opposite.
The State’s latest move is the final nail in the coffin. No Development Applications will be determined by elected representatives on the Council. That is a significant shift and impinges on your democratic rights. The panel is appointed by the Minister, and as such, not accountable to the community.
The old system, while obviously imperfect, at least had a reset button: an election every 4 years. Elections are kind of cool because you can boot out politicians who aren’t performing. This is something you can’t do with an IHAP or these various State Govt appointed panels. To me, this latest power grab is just Council amalgamation by stealth.

I think elected officials should always have the opportunity to determine a development application or planning matter where there is significant public interest. A model of IHAPS that I have and could support, would be one where Councillors retain the power to take a matter out of the IHAP, and bring it to the elected body for determination.

Council resolved last year to seek a meeting with the State Government so I could put forward this compromise position, but guess what, the State ignored my request.

An example I can give you is about Boarding Houses. Nearly every boarding house DA that I have seen has been recommended for approval by Council staff as some of them have met certain planning guidelines. However, many times the Council has overturned those recommendations and refused them due to significant public interest in the matter. This is a Councillors role – to be the public’s representative and protect your interests.

However, now that the Liberals have stripped you of your democratic representation, most of these DAs will breeze through.

NSW Labor has great concerns about IHAPS and planning legislation. The Shadow Minister for Planning will be making detailed policy announcements in the lead up to the next election about issues including Planning Panels and has already announced that the next Labor Government will abolish Priority Precincts.

I am committed to ensuring an ongoing and significant role for local government in planning. We are committed to finding better ways to do planning in New South Wales and to work with local government to restore some balance, and not just ram these sort of laws down your throat.

 

Can you enlighten us on the plans for more schools locally as well as issues schools are currently facing such as demountables covering precious play space? 

This topic is the one that is raised with me the most over my 6 years on Council. Parents have been concerned about over-crowding in local schools for a long long time. All action currently proposed by the State should have happened long ago. Recently, the State Government announced that they are closing Meadowbank Primary School and opening a new Primary and High School at Meadowbank at the expense of about 1/3 of the Meadowbank TAFE site. I’m yet to be convinced that shutting down Meadowbank Primary School and further eating into TAFE is the wisest thing to do. The devil of this proposal will be in the detail, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of detailed plans for these announcements

 

How is the council planning for the rail shutdown later this year? Those that work at Macquarie Park are dreading the effect on traffic, particularly with so much construction around Herring Rd, which also impacts traffic and parking. 

The rail shut-down will be total chaos. Council have been very vocal about the lack of adequate plans by the State Government to deal with increased traffic on the local road network.

Mayors of both political persuasions have sought meetings and assurances from Mr Dominello and this Government that adequate road upgrades and notice will be given to locals and businesses in Macquarie Park. These have fallen on deaf ears.

At the time that I write this, we still don’t know when the rail line will close, nor do we know when it will re-open. We know that the majority $60m worth of road upgrades, designed to ease congestion during the shutdown, will commence construction after the rail-line reopens (yes you read that right… madness).

Council has allocated a lot of staff time to try and help the State Government with their plans, but their plans are undercooked and Mr Dominello has shown no interest in working to solve this challenge.

 

What is happening with the plans for the old council building? It seems to have stalled.

Ok civic centre… where do I start? I’ll try in point form. 

***breathes in***

2010-2012 – On a casting vote of former Liberal mayor Artin Etmekdjian, Council wanted to build 2 x 24 storey towers with many many units on the site.

2012 – new election with a non-liberal majority elected. I voted with the majority to cancel that project based on overdevelopment and other issues. 

2014 – balance of power on this issue changed due to a by-election and one independent councillor changing their mind. 

2015 – $1 million dollar (😡😡😡) international design competition for a new building on the site. I maintained it was a waste of ratepayer funds at that the design would never be built (spoiler: I was right)

2016 – International Design Competition design released and cost analysis done

2017 – cost analysis shows winning design was unaffordable (surprise surprise) and an extra $100,000 (😡😡😡) was budgeted by the Liberals to redesign the winning design 

2017 – redesigned design whacks 2 x 24 storey towers (sound familiar) or 1 x 40 storey tower on in with 600 units. 

2017 – your new Labor mayor (me) stops the plan to build 600 units on the civic centre site and calls for designs for the site that will 
a) retain public ownership of the land 
b) ensure significant community space 
c) return council staff to the new building (saving millions in rent per annum) 
d) require leaseable commercial space on the site to bring more jobs into Ryde.

This plan was endorsed unanimously by the Council. 

So now we are waiting for these new options with costings to come to us. A report with plans will come to council in April for review. Hopefully, we can then exhibit these concepts to the community for comment. 

***breaths out***

 

Will all new playgrounds have sunshades?

Council is currently in the middle of a massive programme of upgrading playgrounds. Since I became Mayor, I’ve actively sought feedback on parks and playgrounds and how to make them better, probably because I’ve got kids and use playgrounds more than your average Mayor.

Residents consistently give me feedback about shade and fencing. At the next Council meeting, I’ll ask staff to review the installation programme specifically looking towards

  1. Making larger playgrounds completely inclusive (no bark, more soft fall, equipment for all abilities etc.)
  2. Identify playgrounds (old and new) that require shade
  3. Identify playgrounds that require fencing

Once this report comes back to Council, we will then need to identify funding and programme approved upgrades into our schedule of works.
Fortunately, shade and fencing can usually be retrofitted.

 

What is being done about the following traffic issues:

  • making Devlin St southbound and Church St northbound under the Victoria Rd overpass 3 lanes without the need to merge? The bottle-neck this creates especially northbound is incredible
  • the Epping Rd / Pittwater Rd / Blenheim Rd intersection for morning peak hour?

Devlin street is a State road and Council has no authority over it, however, I am aware that the State Government are currently seeking feedback on a new design for the area. They want to take one of the right turning lanes (from Lane Cove Road turning right into Parkes Street) to open up the intersection and remove priority bus lanes. While I agree with upgrading the intersection, I have concerns that public transport priority lanes are being sacrificed.

Council understands how important these intersections are to residents and we’ve stumped up $10m of your money to help contribute to these upgrades. Nothing has happened since Mr Dominello appeared in the newspaper welcoming the funding in November 2015. He needs to do a bit more work, instead of making announcements.

 

Are you willing to fight for the liberal proposed rail from CBD to Ryde (which might run through Inner West) to be given to this side of the river? The Inner West has an existing rail service direct from CBD.

I’m willing to fight for any proposal from any government that improves public transport in Ryde. In fact, at the February Council meeting, I supported a motion from Councillor Trenton Brown which said as much.

 

When is Ryde library going to sign up with Kanopy?

***googles Kanopy***

I’m informed that staff are currently evaluating Kanopy and they’re checking out if it’ll suit our City. I’ll keep an eye on it.