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"Stupidity": Duffy slams traffic committee as debate rages over Orange students parking on streets

September 10, 2022

Hamer Street on Saturday afternoon and (inset) images of Byng Street (top) and Hamer Street during weekdays.

By Peter Holmes

It was a section of Tuesday night's council meeting that began and ended with debate over clearing Hamer Street, parallel to Woodward Street, of P-platers who drove to Orange High School.

But in the middle of it, things went slightly off piste, and Orange City Council’s Traffic Committee unwittingly found itself under attack.

Residents in and around Hamer Street had been complaining about students with wheels clogging the streets outside their homes, including on Woodward and Byng streets, and along Coronation Drive. They also believed it had become unsafe for pedestrians.

Residents had written to council and the state MP Phil Donato, and a petition had been signed by 28 locals.

Among other things, the petition called for one way traffic in Hamer Street; No Stopping signs covering the entire western side of the street from Summer to Byng streets, and part of the eastern side; and the introduction of parking limits of two hours for non-residents.

Council papers show Hamer Street with red and yellow lines.

Orange City Council's Traffic Committee, which met on August 9, 2022, recommended “Council install ‘No Stopping’ signs on the eastern side of Hamer Street (Byng to Summer) … and install repeater ‘No Stopping’ signs along the western side of Hamer Street …”

However the rest of the residents' requests were rejected.

Having seen the results of the Traffic Committee’s meeting, Byng Street resident Richard Thomas arranged to put his case to council on Tuesday night.

“It’s clear from the report submitted by the Traffic Committee to the [Infrastructure Policy Committee] that there’s not an understanding of the full extent of the problem,” he said.

Thomas said he was worried about school students who crossed Byng Street at the corner of Hamer Street, as he said many were looking at their phones.

Councillor Jeff Whitton, for one, was not satisfied with the Traffic Committee’s recommendations being passed without further consultation between councillors and the relevant parties, and moved a motion that any changes to Hamer Street be deferred.

Bus driving councillor Kevin Duffy, who gets to see a bit of the city as he trundles about on his daily routes, also expressed his concerns over students crossing roads with heads down, faces mesmerised by the black mirror.

And then Duffy couldn’t help himself. Matters started to veer off track.

“Look, I’ll be upfront with you - I’ve never had faith in the Traffic Committee," he began, "because it's only made up of four people, and you have a lot of service industries not involved: taxis, trucks, SES, bushfire brigades, and all those types of things, not involved in making decisions.”

A No Parking sign on Hamer Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Before resuming his seat, Duffy reiterated his point, for those who may have missed it the first time: “As I said, I'm never a great fan of that Traffic Committee.”

In attendance at the Traffic Committee's most recent meeting last month were councillor and former police officer Tony Mileto (chairperson), Kylie Buckenhofer (Transport NSW), sergeant Adam Cornish and chief inspector David Harvey (NSW Police), Kel Gardiner (community member with experience in the field), and council's road safety officer, Works manager, manager Engineering Services, parking officer and divisional administration officer.

Apologies were sent from councillor Melanie McDonell and the senior parking officer.

At Tuesday night’s full council meeting Traffic Committee chair Mileto responded to Duffy’s no-fiddlesticks opinion: “Thank you councillor Duffy, I will pass on your comments to the inspector NSW police ... regarding their lack of-”

“I’ve made ‘em before, so I’ll make 'em again,” Duffy interjected.

Councillor Jack Evans, who was in the middle of chairing the Infrastructure Policy Committee part of proceedings at the time, weighed in: “Councillor Duffy, councillor Mileto has the floor.”

From the sidelines came the voice of councillor Jeff Whitton, urging Duffy to, well, just pipe down: “You could talk your way out of winning a motion. I had this [motion] won, councillor Duffy, now you’ve probably, I won’t use that word...”

Had he used the word, Whitton may have ended up in the naughty corner.

Mileto then referred to the “very productive [Traffic] Committee, but that’s neither here nor there” [the very mention suggested, of course, it was very much here nor there] before inviting Jason Theakstone, a member of the Traffic Committee and the council’s manager Engineering Services, to the microphone.

MP Phil Donato writes to council CEO.

Theakstone explained that the issue of Hamer Street had been debated in the Traffic Committee. The proposed solution was now being presented to the council for consideration.

“I appreciate the director’s comments,” Whitton said after Theakstone spoke. “[But] I think it’s of benefit for the councillors to look at it as well.

“And I have all faith in the Traffic Committee, councillor Duffy,” Whitton said.

Whitton told The Orange News Examiner that councillors were not obliged to follow the recommendations made by committees, or in staff reports, and that the Hamer Street situation required more careful consideration, as there were valid but competing interests in play.

“I put a motion up - ‘Let's have a briefing with staff rather than just whacking in these Stop signs’,” he said.

“It looked like everyone was probably, ‘Yeah let's do this’, then Kev said, ‘I’ve got no faith in the Traffic Committee’. Councillor Mileto is the chair [of that committee] and I said to Kev [words to the effect] ‘Good on ya mate, I had this won and you’ve just sunk it on me’.”

Whitton said Duffy would sometimes “rub everyone up the wrong way and [then] they'll say ‘Yeah, well we’ll stick with the committee's recommendation’.”

As it happened, Whitton’s motion to defer was passed.

"Simply ridiculous": A letter to Phil Donato.

In an interview with this news organ, Duffy was asked about his beef with the Traffic Committee.

“It’s not a beef at all,” he said. “When you’ve got the other major centres such as Tamworth, they have taxi co-ops on the committee, RFS, SES, bus companies, all these other people.

“This one here in Orange-Cabonne has always been stuck with the same four - police, RMS [Roads and Maritime Services], council representative and a public representative.”

Duffy, who said he planned to take the issue to the state government, said cabbies “drive all around town, they see the issues when it comes to parking and when traffic gets jammed”.

“I’m trying to change it,” he said. “It’s just stupidity, we’re all in the same boat. We all want safety for everyone and commonsense decisions.

Councillor Kevin Duffy.

Mileto and Whitton told The Orange News Examiner that the Traffic Committee was different to others in Orange in that it was a “statutory committee” and that it wasn’t appropriate to have private business sitting on it.

Mileto said bus, trucking and taxi companies - and individuals with relevant experience - were welcome to address the Traffic Committee.

“That does occur. But they have no power with voting,” he said.

Duffy said this was not sufficient. “Sure they can say come along to a meeting, but hang on, if you’re not part of the meeting, you're not going to have any input into the meeting.”

Mileto said Duffy’s claim that only four people sat on the committee was incorrect: “It’s made up of more than four people. There’s a reason it’s more than four, because some of the issues we deal with are quite technical and different expertise is required.”

Councillor Tony Mileto.

“They’re councillor Duffy’s thoughts and opinions but they’re certainly not mine,” he added. “There has been no representation at this time from anybody about the possibility of expanding the committee.”

Regarding Hamer Street and the comments before council of resident Richard Thomas, he said: “We believed the issues were addressed at the Traffic Committee.”

Mileto said that students had the right to drive to school, and that it was a period in a young person’s life where they could enjoy some freedom.

“For students in year 11 and 12 who have got their Ps, it’s an exciting time to be able to drive to school and show some form of independence amongst their peers. If they are complying with regulations we shouldn't be denying them that opportunity.”

He said that the suggestion that Orange High School provide parking for students on site was not possible due to land contraints, and that directing students to park on Coronation Drive was “just shifting the problem from one area to another”.

And he questioned whether it was fair for the people who had signed the petition to choose to live near a high school and then complain about parking.

"I’m not sure how long they’ve owned these residences, but when you buy you do your due diligence with regards to potential issues.

Councillor Jeff Whitton.
“Students have been parking legally around there as long as the high school’s been operating. And it’s human nature that people will park as close as possible to the premises they are visiting, whether it’s a school or a business.”

He said a request by Thomas and the signatories to the petition to make Hamer Street one way was considered by the Traffic Committee and “the expertise that was provided didn’t think it appropriate”.

Councillors will seek more information. Whitton said that as a “professional courtesy” the matter would then be referred back to the Traffic Committee.

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