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Toby Whitelaw - 26 July 2016

Toby Whitelaw made the following comments in the Public Access Session at the Ordinary Council Meeting 26 July 2016.

Good morning Councillors and Mayor,

I have asked to speak today on the subject of the new town signs recently unveiled for Narooma, Moruya and Batemans Bay, and the Town Sign Policy of May 2015 that was written specifically to apply to them.

The Draft Town Signs Policy was placed on public exhibition in September 2014, and represented the public’s only opportunity to contribute to the design of the new town signs. According to a Council press release in August 2014, the policy would dictate the design of the new signs, as, I quote;

'The existing legislation was quite general and did not set out exactly how town and village signs should be developed.”

Following public consultation the Town Signs Policy of May 2015 was written and approved.

Apparently a working group consisting of members of the Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma Chambers of Commerce and Council then selected and worked with the designer, Danthonia Designs, and presented draft designs to Council at a briefing on 3 November 2015, where Councillors signed them off.

Danthonia Designs is a trading name of Church Communities Australia, a registered charity operated by a controversial Christian group from their intentional community near Inverell. Their staff work for no pay and the sign making company pays no tax.

Danthonia Designs was also awarded the construction contract. The wider community remained completely in the dark about the design of the new signs until they were installed and unveiled through June 2016. Their only input is represented in the Town Signs Policy.

The designs presented at that November briefing did not comply with the Town Signs Policy in a number of areas, chiefly section 6a : Design – Main town signs.

“The Main Town Sign shall have a surface area no greater than 3.5m2.”

The designs presented and approved were a row of 7 pillars of faux stone, 4m wide and 2.4m high. The surface area of the pillars is 6.5m2. This however includes the negative space between the pillars, which would be included in all accepted methods of calculating a signs surface area, we can conclude that the area of the signs is at least double that allowed under the policy.

The form of the signs, seven pillars with gaps in between, causes legibility issues where the thin letters of the town names pass across the gaps. This might have looked acceptable on paper, but in the real world the background can be a dark colour like the letters. These signs fail at their primary function, to inform the viewer of the name of the town.

Section 6a also states-

The Main town sign must be composed of no more than:

a. “Welcome to [insert the name of the town]”;

Our new signs do not include ‘Welcome to’.

Articles 4 – 7 of section 6c Design – Other Town Signs also apply to Main Town Signs.

“Where a town sign is visible to a person leaving the town, the rear of the sign carries a message thanking people for visiting.”

Our new signs do not carry this message.

“The design includes provision for the addition of temporary event additions (section 9 below) such that, when installed, the additional signs appear as part of the town sign. “

A great idea, but I don’t think it is part of our new town signs.

“Design specifications and content material of the signs shall, in the final event, be approved by the Council. “

Council is clearly responsible for the design and specifications of the signs.

And lastly the final sentence of section 6c, cited by the General Manager as justification of the inflated size of the signs in her letter to me of 21st July,

“larger signs for other towns will be considered by Council on merit having regard to the aims of this Policy, Schedule 1 Assessment criteria of SEPP 64 and the specific characteristics of the proposed sign and its location. “

This clause clearly refers only to Other Town Signs.

The policy defines;

“Main Towns – For the purposes of this policy, the Main towns in the Eurobodalla Shire are Narooma, Moruya and Batemans Bay.”

and;

“Other Towns – Town or village not defined elsewhere in this policy. “

Clearly, therefore, the signs in question are Main Town Signs, and do not comply with the policy. To recap, they are double the size, illegible, do not carry a ‘you are now leaving’ message or a panel for upcoming events.

It concerns me that the the Town Signs Policy was written, exhibited and then disregarded during the design process and also disregarded by Councillors when they accepted the designs.

Arts NSW awarded $5000 to Council for ‘Granite Town Signage’ and this was apparently put towards the inclusion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the Moruya signs. The previous Moruya sign declared us “The Birthplace of the Sydney Harbour Bridge”. The new sign just leaves the viewer wondering what the Sydney Harbour Bridge is doing on the Moruya sign. This is inappropriate use of public arts money in my opinion and the Public Arts Advisory Panel should have been consulted.

Lastly I think the signs do a poor job of recognizing and respecting the Traditional Owners of each region.

If Council had invited community feedback, or consulted the Public Arts Advisory Panel, someone might have picked up some of the many problems with them while still at the design stage. If the signs were a maximum of 3.5m2, they might not have cost $118.614.80 plus installation ($47,000). The result of this poorly considered design process is the six enormous, illegible signs of faux stone that stand as a welcome to the main towns of the beautiful place I call home. I would love Council to replace the signs with compliant ones, perhaps using genuine local stone and designed by a trained design professional who understands the Eurobodalla, but I realize that this would cost even more than the $167,000 already spent. I don’t think replacing them would be a good use of public money, but obviously this decision must be made by Council. I would like Council to acknowledge that in this instance the policy has not been adhered to and that in future it won’t develop policies it intends to ignore.

Council's Reply

We appreciate you have differing views in regards to various aspects of the recently erected town signs. Our view is that Council has abided by its Town Entry Signs Policy, and the process utilised involved community representation through the three Chambers of Commerce and Council itself. Danthonia Designs is a reputable company well experienced in town signs design.

We note Council has received significant positive feedback from the community and the Chambers of Commerce on the new signs. Nevertheless, we value and appreciate your alternative opinion on the aesthetics and design of the town entry signs.