A PROPOSAL to defer a decision on the placement of the proposed Peter Hudson statue was defeated 3-2 at Wednesday night’s special meeting of the Derwent Valley Council. The meeting was called after the December meeting lacked a quorum on this subject.
At the start of Wednesday night’s meeting, Councillors Paul Belcher, Jessica Cosgrove and Natasha Woods declared conflicts of interest and left the room before the debate started. During the ensuing discussion, Cr Frank Pearce sought to have the matter of the statue separated from the rest of the streetscape master plan but did not win majority support.
The five councillors present then voted unanimously to approve the New Norfolk Draft Concept Urban Design Plans for the Town Centre and Precinct Connections and its specific recommendation to erect a statue of football great Peter Hudson at New Norfolk’s Arthur Square, although mayor Ben Shaw said the statue was not actually in the plan.
Debate on the started when Cr Julie Triffett moved that the council receive and note the report of the contracts and projects officer. This was seconded by Cr Luke Browning. The staff recommendation was to note the community feedback received and to include a number of additions and alterations to the streetscape master plan, the first of which was that “the Peter Hudson statue be located within Arthur Square as part of a future Local Heroes/Achievers/Champions interpretative walk and the concept plans be revised to show this outcome.”
Cr Triffett said the streetscape plan gave a good indication of where the town is going. “It’s unfortunate that it’s kind of been hijacked a little bit by one element of it, and that’s the placement of the Peter Hudson statue,” Cr Triffett said. “It all depends who you talk to, whether it should be in Arthur Square or whether it shouldn’t be, and whether the square was the first place where football and cricket was played, so there was a connection there. But yeah, but I think yeah, let’s get on with it and do it.”
Cr Frank Pearce then asked for clarification on the funding that may be dependent on the decision on the streetscape master plan being made sooner rather than later. “And if the plan is going to be approved, would approval without the Peter Hudson statue jeopardise the funding in any way?” he asked.
Cr Shaw said the council had not officially allocated any funding to the streetscape plan. “But we do have some Federal Government funding through COVID response, which has been flagged to be spent on the streetscape plan, not necessarily on the Peter Hudson statue – that has its own funding model,” he said.
Cr Shaw then said the statue was not in the draft plan currently before the council. “It speaks of it, but it’s not actually in the plan, so you’re not actually approving the plan. It’s actually in the Arthur Square design which is a secondary part of this.” He said removing the statue from consideration would not jeopardise the funding for the streetscape plan. “But also, you are not voting on the statue itself, so, yeah,” he said.
Cr Pearce said he had been contacted by a number of members of the public about this item over months, and in particular regarding the Peter Hudson statue. “I would like the opportunity to explain my thinking for the record so the people who contacted me know why I’m thinking the way I am,” he said.
“Apart from the actual argument about whether the statue should be at Arthur Square or even exist at all, some of the concerns raised to me were inadequate consultation. It could always be argued that there should be more consultation but in this instance there were multiple ways in which people were consulted in which they could express their views.
“The process did identify a whole range of issues and concerns, and these types of consultation aren’t about the numbers of people who support or oppose a particular thing, they are about raising the ideas and getting the comments. If we wanted to actually look at numbers, we would do statistical sampling, on all sorts of consultation, which would be an incredibly complex and detailed thing to do. Consultation is about identifying valid issues so they can be addressed. The consultants have heard the issues that have been raised and they have addressed them, so that’s why I don’t think that’s a relevant issue.”
Cr Pearce said it had been suggested to him that the council was rushing this process through prior to Christmas with unseemly haste. “There is a reason for it to come tonight, which is the funding opportunity, but in addition I expect the general manager and staff to work on projects and reports and when they’re ready, to bring them to the council. I wouldn’t expect the general manager to delay a project or bring a project forward routinely. If it’s been considered and is ready to come to council, it should come to council. So I don’t think there’s any issue about unseemly haste in bringing this forward.”
Cr Pearce said it had also been said that the consultants who developed the streetscape master plan should have declared a conflict of interest. “This was addressed at the December meeting in Public Question Time. I don’t see how a claim of pecuniary or non-pecuniary interest could be justified, and any suggestion that council can’t employ the services of anyone just because they had a family history in the Valley is just nonsense,” he said.
“One query that I do think has some merit is why the council would consider a matter that it knows to be somewhat controversial in what is effectively a closed meeting. Over the last year, council has justifiably held closed meetings due to COVID and this is just one of those. But I think we ought to get back to open meetings as soon as we possibly can, COVID allowing, subject to public safety.
“On the specific matter of the Peter Hudson statue, the August 2019 decision to place the statue in Arthur Square was subject to the Open Space Strategy identifying it as a suitable location. Unfortunately, the Open Space Strategy didn’t address it at all. So the council’s preference expressed in that motion wasn’t an absolute decision, it was simply an indication that it would be supported ‘if’.
“The idea of Walk of Achievers has been suggested through the consultation process and has been suggested by the consultants with the Peter Hudson in Arthur Square seen as part of that walk. I think that a walk or trail of achievers is an excellent idea to celebrate those who made significant contributions to our community in a variety of different ways and endeavours. The Maryborough Walk which has been cited as an example, I think is a really great example of how tourism can be improved through such a thing. Such a walk or trail can be another reason for people to stay within the Valley.”
Cr Pearce said the recommendation that the Hudson statue be included in such a “walk” was underdone and should be deferred for further consideration. “I think that the idea is actually a little bit undercooked. All we currently have is a concept and the location of one particular item in Arthur Square. We don’t have any understanding of where such a trail might be, in addition to Arthur Square or throughout the Derwent Valley. We don’t have any understanding of the criteria, the selection process, or the appropriate manner in which these achievers will be celebrated, or could be celebrated.
“So while I support the report’s recommendations as whole – I think the plan is a really good one – I’d like to move an amendment to defer consideration of recommendation 3a, pending a report on how the proposed walk of achievers would actually work,” he said.
Cr Pearce’s amendment, which the mayor called an “alternative motion”, was seconded by Cr Luke Browning. It was immediately put to the vote by the mayor, without inviting debate. The amendment, to approve the streetscape plan but defer the statue placement, was defeated 3-2, with Crs Shaw, Evans and Triffett voting against it.
Cr Shaw then called for any further discussion on the “original motion”, and there was none. The motion was then put and carried 5-2. While waiting for Crs Belcher, Cosgrove and Woods to return to the room, Cr Shaw offered further information about the funding available for the streetscape works.
“Just for clarification, while we are waiting as well, the COVID relief funding, I’m not sure if you know, is basically ‘here’s funding’ – and I’m happy for to be on the record – ‘here’s funding to do some community infrastructure projects, but you pick’. So I think the discussion that’s been had is what are projects that we have upcoming, but it also puts a timeline on having to spend it in a certain amount of time, so it’s a difficult one. But the streetscape was coming, so I think, you know, we think that’s probably good for the community to see some upgrades to the streetscape and funding was there from the federal government,” Cr Shaw said.
Recently-promoted infrastructure executive manager Amanda McCall added: “It’s contingent upon us spending the first lot to get the second lot, which is, I guess, the reason why it’s come back tonight. We have to spend the first round of $300,000 to get the second round, the $500,000, which has to be spent by the end of the year. So there is a push.”
Cr Pearce said the purpose of his earlier question had been to get that information on the record.