Willow Court Committee dumped

THE controversial Willow Court Redevelopment Committee has been disbanded in favour of what is planned to be a more open and inclusive approach. Meeting tonight to resolve a membership impasse on the committee, Derwent Valley Councillors were unanimous in their opposition to the body in its present form.

After its longest debate in many years, councillors voted as one to disband the committee, completely restructure it and expand the membership. Despite general opposition to what was described as a draconian confidentiality agreement enforced by the failed committee, Mayor Tony Nicholson spoke of the ongoing need for confidentiality if the new committee was to win the confidence of potential developers.

Councillor Richard Parker was the first to speak when the special meeting of council opened at 6.3opm and one of the last to speak when it ended 75 minutes later. Seven members of the public were witness to the most detailed council debate in many years.

Cr Parker launched straight into a proposal to discontinue the Willow Court Committee and replace it with a new body including representatives of the council and community. He agreed with the need for confidentiality where necessary but rejected the blanket confidentiality agreement that had been put forward, saying it would discourage the community from taking part in the new process he was proposing.

Cr James Elliott expressed concern about doing away with the existing committee and expressed a view that it was important to keep the redevelopment process at arm’s length from the council. He said bringing the process back under the council could have an adverse effect on public opinion and he preferred a similar option of expanding the membership of the existing committee and having it meet more often. Cr Elliott also said he would like to see more leadership of the committee and a firmer direction rather than “plodding along”.

Cr Craig Farrell agreed with Cr Parker’s proposal. He noted that the committee had not held an annual general meeting during its existence and had not often reported to the council. He favoured starting again with a new committee involving anyone from the community who wanted to take part. Cr Farrell said the proposed confidentiality agreement was a heavy document and he favoured a common-sense approach to the matter.

Speaking briefly, Deputy Mayor Scott Shaw said he was in complete agreement with Crs Parker and Farrell. He foreshadowed a motion to disband the committee and review and restructure the process.

The need for independent leadership of any new committee was raised by Cr Judy Bromfield, who agreed that the current committee should be disbanded. Cr Bromfield said the replacement committee needed broader membership, more community members, an independent chairperson, new terms of reference and more frequent meetings.

Councillors Parker, Elliott and Farrell spoke again, before Mayor Tony Nicholson entered the discussion and remarked that perception and public attitudes had changed since the committee was established in 2006. “I concur with some of the views expressed. The committee certainly needs to be expanded to resolve the current hiatus situation and move on,” he said.

Cr Barry Lathey asked about the membership of the existing committee and was told it had six members. He expressed a preference for the committee to be restructured and expanded but not disbanded. Mayor Nicholson then remarked that there were two councillors who had not yet spoken and called on Crs Martyn Evans and Narelle Molan to have their say. Speaking briefly, both said they concurred with the opinions already expressed by the majority.

The nine councillors voted unanimously to disband the Willow Court Redevelopment Special Committee and to replace it with an expanded and restructured body. Councillors are expected to discuss the matter further at their closed-door workshop next week and report back to the May council meeting.

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