Your editorial last week (21 January) does our community a disservice.
Your assertion that Council’s land use planning approvals process is slow and obstructive is unsubstantiated – so let’s look at the facts.
The State Government monitors the performance of every Council planning service and publishes the results. The figures for 2011/12 show that Bass Coast and Surf Coast shire councils handle more planning permits annually than any other rural municipality. During this period, Council processed 673 permits, of which 590 (98%) were approved. Ten applications (2%) were refused and 28 (5%) were reviewed at VCAT. The total value of works approved for the year was $78.5 million, which has a direct flow-on to the local construction sector. State legislation sets a target for Council to process permits within 60 days. Council met this target with 69% of applications (the rural average is 68%). Council is constantly working to improve turnaround times without compromising consultative and informed decision-making. In recent years, it has reduced the requirement to obtain permits in many situations and increased delegation to staff to speed up decision-making.
The Council Plan is the key strategic document that sets the direction of Council for its four-year term. The current Plan was adopted in June 2013 after extensive community engagement conducted through January to June 2013, involving three well attended community ‘Speak Up Speak Out’ workshops held around the Shire, an online survey and three follow-up workshops on the draft Plan. The level of engagement and amount of positive feedback exceeded previous Plans. Given this, I am at a loss to understand why you believe the current Plan should be thrown out. The specific examples quoted in your editorial are all projects developed over time that enjoy strong community support.
• Phillip Island Waste Services – Council acted swiftly to provide an alternative recycle centre in Dunsmore Road when the lease on the Rhyll site expired in June 2013.
• Funding for swimming pools – Council committed to a financial viability assessment for developing and operating two aquatic facilities in September 2013. A survey is currently underway.
• Bass Coast Education Precinct – Council developed a master plan with in-principle support from the State Government, which was endorsed by the Gippsland Tertiary Education Plan as the way of the future. We are currently awaiting State Government funding to redevelop the Wonthaggi Secondary College Senior Campus as the first stage. Council’s new Education Plan 2013-2017 will be considered at the February Council meeting, which will continue the effort to improve access to education and training for Bass Coast residents.
• Special Charge Schemes – These schemes are used to finance capital works (where a property owner gets a special benefit, such as a sealed road, pathway or drainage) and where it would not be equitable to expect general ratepayers to meet this cost. With a legacy of over $150 million of unmade roads and drains in urban areas, Council has been progressively constructing roads, drains and footpaths across the Shire using this financing model. Over the past year, Council has commenced construction of Graham Street (McKenzie Street to Fincher Street) in Wonthaggi and is currently in the consultation phase on improvements to Cape Paterson roads and drains.
• Port of Hastings advocacy – Council has been maintaining a watching brief on the planning associated with the Port development and will advocate as necessary. We also have voice as a member of the South East Melbourne group of councils representing all communities surrounding Western Port.
• Local road maintenance – Three exceptionally wet years have tested the road infrastructure of VicRoads and councils across the region, making it difficult to maintain sealed and unsealed roads to agreed standards. Despite this, the Community Satisfaction Survey results for 2013 recorded a strong improvement over 2012.
• Neighbourhood Character Rules – Council has funded a project in the current budget to identify townships in most urgent need of further planning controls.
Progress on most of these projects is regularly reported on at Council meetings and through media releases, and find their way into your newspaper.
To suggest the Council Plan be thrown out and a new one developed is disrespectful to the many community members who contributed to its development. It also misunderstands the role of the CEO. The Local Government Act requires Council to adopt the Plan. It is the CEO’s role to implement it; similarly with service reviews. It is Council’s role to set service levels and the CEO’s role to engage the resources to deliver services to that level. Council has already commenced the process to review all services, which builds on work done over the past year when staff developed new business plans and gathered benchmarking data from over 80 councils around Australia. One of the new CEO’s initial tasks will be to assist Council to complete these service reviews.
Allan Bawden, CEO, Bass Coast Shire Council.