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Townshend warns of council cuts

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Retired Shire president Pam Townshend.
Camera IconRetired Shire president Pam Townshend.

Outgoing Shire president Pam Townshend has cautioned about the return to a “conservative majority” on the Augusta-Margaret River council.

The weekend election saw former councillor Kylie Kennaugh voted back in with a strong result — scoring almost a quarter of all votes, despite a low slack voter turnout and – and retiree Brian Daniel endorsed by the business community, along with Augusta-Margaret River Clean Community Energy’s Paula Cristoffanini.

With Ms Townshend’s retirement, along with fellow green -minded councillor Peter Lane, the new council could squeeze existing councillors Julia Meldrum and Naomi Godden into a minor voting bloc.

Ms Townshend questioned why candidates representing the “dominant ideology of growth and development” were deemed “orthodox”, while councillors “on the side of ‘conservation ideology’ ” were seen as “ideological”.

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“It appears that there may be a bias towards growth and development ideology on the new council,” she told the Times.

“Only time will tell.

“I hope that the Augusta-Margaret River Shire that we know and love is not destroyed, albeit at a slow-paced ‘one-cut-at-a-time’, by growth and development ideologues,” she said.

During the campaign, business figures expressed concerns about the council’s focus on issues such as social justice, homelessness, and the environment — viewed as State and Federal portfolios.

A public election debate heard businessman Terry Nichols acknowledge major main-street operators had privately quizzed candidates to determine who to support, ultimately backing Mr Daniel, who claimed the third council seat at the weekend.

The previous council’s refusal of a resort project at ruined Wallcliffe House also crystallised opposition from the pro-development sector.

Builder Gary Wightman said the rejection came as development proposals for the region languished, with a knock-on effect for jobs in the private sector.

“You could poll 50 of the biggest employers in this district on staffing levels over the past 12 years and most would have decreased — except for our local government,” he said.

Business operator Lloyd Shepherdson agreed concerns around Shire and council priorities were a regular feature of community talk.

He and others expressed concerns about annual rates rises while the local economy struggled, spending on non-priority projects, and staffing levels at the Shire.

“All these forums that are set up really cost,” Mr Shepherdson said.

Former councillor and practising accountant Brian Middleton said the council did not focus enough on supporting “business and development”.

“Maintaining balance between development and amenity need not become a question of either/or,” he said.

“And with over two thirds of our shire comprising State forest and national parks, it is an absurdity to claim we are destroying the environment.”

Shire president Cr Ian Earl said managing developments and protecting the region were crucial council roles.

“I believe that we need to make sure that any developments are sympathetic with the area and the environment,” he said.

“It will always be difficult to get all people to agree, but I believe most people now are putting the environment and the region at the forefront of their thinking.”

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