Council has put its case for survival and now awaits the decision of the minister

Some of the packed audience at Friday night's extraordinary council meeting, including Lithgow mayor, Cr Stephen Lesslie (in mayoral chains).
Some of the packed audience at Friday night's extraordinary council meeting, including Lithgow mayor, Cr Stephen Lesslie (in mayoral chains).

Blue Mountains City Council has put its case for survival to the local government minister, arguing it has done everything possible to fix serious asbestos issues.

The council submission is that it is meeting all deadlines imposed by WorkSafe NSW, which on Friday lifted improvement notices at Wentworth Falls Pre-School, Lawson library storeroom and Heatherbrae House at Lawson, all now cleared.

Other sites have also been decontaminated or will be soon.

The 12 councillors now await the judgement of Gabrielle Upton, who last week issued a notice of intention to suspend them and install an administrator because of concerns over how asbestos contamination was being handled.

In a lengthy address to an extraordinary meeting last night, the mayor, Mark Greenhill, listed all the actions council had taken since the asbestos crisis was revealed in May.

These included providing health testing for 168 workers concerned about their exposure, preparing a new asbestos management plan and policy, updating and improving standard operating procedures and establishing an independent investigation into council’s asbestos management practices.

“Minister, what else do you want? Let us know and we will comply,” the mayor repeatedly asked.

The meeting was packed, with people standing in the aisles, sitting on the floor and filling the foyer. They applauded the mayor as he outlined the sites that have been or will shortly be remediated.

Work is finished at Katoomba-Leura Pre-school backyard and is continuing on Warrimoo Hall, Currawong Avenue in Valley Heights and Springwood depot.

As of Friday, SafeWork had given approval to lift the closure of the small vehicle area at Katoomba tip, which will allow it to be reopened to residents. Two other sites – Lawson stockpile and the old Blackheath tip – will take longer to settle.

Cr Greenhill said more than $800,000 had been allocated to asbestos response and remediation. Over the last three weeks, licensed assessors had inspected more than 27 sites and facilities.

“We have met every deadline for SafeWork notices that were due today. We are providing weekly updates for SafeWork inspectors on the progress on the notices falling due on December 22.”

He also said the United Services Union, which represents council workers, did not want the councillors suspended.

“If the union is saying don’t do this and WorkSafe NSW is saying we’re doing well, why are we here,” he asked the meeting.

The audience applauded, cheered and held up “Hands off our council” signs when Cr Greenhill spoke of the threat of suspension.

“I don’t believe that a government elected by the people of this community should be dismissed with the stroke of a pen… It ought not be this easy to set an elected administration aside.”

In a departure from normal procedure, at the suggestion of Greens Cr Kerry Brown, six members of the public were allowed to speak to the mayoral minute.

Several referred to 2GB broadcaster, Ray Hadley, who has been talking about the issue for several weeks, calling for government action.

Roger Grealy, from Blaxland, said Hadley had the government “scared”.

“To buckle, as the state government has done, to a shock jock … I think it’s just appalling.”

Lithgow mayor Cr Stephen Lesslie said he was there to support fellow councillors and to defend democracy.

“My message to the minister is, get a backbone and do your own job, don’t do Ray Hadley’s job.”

The mayoral minute, which endorsed the preparation of a submission to Ms Upton, was passed unanimously. The submission will be considered at another meeting next Tuesday night before being forwarded to the minister to await her decision.