Would it sound strange to read that I am relishing every moment and opportunity of Councillor life? With the diverse backgrounds and skills that each Councillor brings to the table, discussion has been rich, rewarding and, most importantly, centered on what is best for our vibrant community. Challenges are acknowledged as diverse but so are potential solutions. I feel honoured to be representing the Eppalock Ward and, in particular, the small towns in our municipality.
At the March Ordinary Council Meeting, there were several important decisions in front of Council which will help set the direction of the entire municipality. These included formally responding to recommendations delivered by the first Citizens’ Jury, the release of the draft Plan Greater Bendigo Discussion Paper, the establishment of a strong governance structure to continue the implementation of ITLUS (the Connecting Greater Bendigo: Integrated Transport and Land Use Strategy), the commencement of the Heathcote Township Plan process and the decision for Council to not register as an NDIS provider to name just a few.
As your local Councillor, I put our communities’ needs front and centre and supported all the above decisions for the following reasons:
With the former council taking a leap of faith to establish the very first Citizens’ Jury, Greater Bendigo has now forged its way into the exciting world of participatory democracy. That is, ‘individual participation by citizens in political decisions and policies that affect their lives, especially directly rather than through elected representatives’. It is exactly the sentiment and feedback I repeatedly heard on the campaign trail. Engage and utilise our residents, ratepayer’s and community in new and innovative ways, empower them with the information and tools to make decisions that deliver on directions that the community are seeking. It was a momentous occasion to formally respond to members of the Citizens’ Jury and assure them their significant effort has resonated with this Council’s ambitions and directions. The jury has most certainly influenced what is being prepared in relation to the strategic direction, four-year Community Plan and budget.
As Councillors analyse feedback from the community to develop the new Community Plan, we hear loud and clear that careful and strategic planning for the growth of Greater Bendigo is at the forefront of your minds. For this reason I supported the release of the Plan Greater Bendigo draft discussion paper. Plan Greater Bendigo is a first-of-a-kind collaborative plan for a regional city, which is being prepared jointly by the City of Greater Bendigo and the Victorian Planning Authority. It is based on the assumption there will be 200,000 residents living in Greater Bendigo and 300,000 living in the wider region by 2050, and is the first phase of implementing the Loddon Campaspe Regional Growth Plan. There is an opportunity to plan now for future infrastructure needs, to be aspirational, to make bold choices and to advocate for projects that have the ability to transform the shape of the city and the broader region. Through careful planning and delivery, we will be able to increase liveability, create new jobs and attract investment to make Greater Bendigo an even better place to live in the future. Planning for new infrastructure has to take place well in advance of its delivery. As a first step in the process, the City has prepared a draft paper that sets out a list of 70 proposed projects for community comment and input. This list has been prepared based on discussions with City staff and feedback from government agencies and key stakeholders. The projects range from those that are ‘shovel ready’ through to ambitious ideas. The aim is to reduce the list to 15 priority projects, so many of them will not make the final list. The Council is yet to assess in detail the merits of each project because it is important residents evaluate the benefits for themselves. Council is consulting the community early in the process and asking for feedback on the projects included. What do you consider to be the most important and least important projects and are there any projects not on the list? I urge you to get online and download or request the summary brochure and/or full discussion paper to be part of the consultation process at www.bendigo.vic.gov.au/plangreaterbendigo
You may have heard about ITLUS before? The Connecting Greater Bendigo: Integrated Transport and Land Use Strategy (ITLUS) sets out the City’s strategy for how Greater Bendigo will grow and how people and goods will move within it in the future through a range of initiatives and actions. At its March meeting, the recommendation to form a strong governance group consisting of a Steering Committee and Community Reference Group was adopted by Council to ensure the numerous actions contained in ITLUS are progressed. Many actions require the participation of varied agencies outside of Council and the specialised committees with Mayoral representation will ensure that progress continues and a collaboration with agencies works to successfully implement ITLUS actions for the community. Importantly, the State Government recently announced the establishment of Local Transport Forums. These specialised forums will be critical for Greater Bendigo’s rural towns and areas. The local forums will be designed to explore and trial innovative transport ideas to address public transport challenges. I share community concerns about public transport (or lack of it) in our McIvor Highway corridor, a message which came through loud and clear during my campaign. I intend to use every advocacy opportunity to explore new solutions for our communities and these Local Transport Forums will be a good start. You can find out more about ITLUS at https://www.bendigo.vic.gov.au/About/Document-Library/connecting-greater-bendigo-integrated-transport-and-land-use-strategy
The Greater Bendigo Residential Strategy identifies the preparation of a Township Plan for Heathcote as a priority in future strategic work. There is no current structure plan for the growth of Heathcote but despite this the town has been growing by an average of 25 dwellings a year over the past six years, with strong growth also seen in commercial, retail and tourist services over this time. I was pleased to support the project brief for the preparation of the Heathcote Township Plan, which will provide a framework for the future growth of Heathcote and will consider issues around housing, commercial development, transport, community facilities and services. Importantly, the Township Plan will be developed in partnership with the Heathcote community. It is anticipated that the process will take approximately nine months to complete.
The future of disability service funding and provision is a changing space and the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Bendigo has resulted in the Council considering its role into the future. The NDIS provides participants with more choice and control over how, when and where their support is provided. It also provides certainty that they will receive the support they need over their lifetime. The introduction of the NDIS will see a shift away from generic disability block funded programs to individualised funding responses i.e. each package of care will have a different cost. Disability services will move to an open market, where any organisations can offer services as long as they are registered as a provider and clients have the option of choosing the provider/s that best meet their needs. For Council to proceed as an NDIS provider it is necessary to adapt service provision to a market-driven and competitive environment, to maintain competitive neutrality and review service models to ensure robust quality and safety. These aspects are likely to have financial and administrative implications. It would be unlikely that Council could compete on price with other providers. As a Councillor I considered the fact that currently the City has 208 clients who are under 65 years of age and that the estimated number of clients who would be eligible for the NDIS would be around 87. An increasing challenge is to ensure funds in a now rate-capped environment are best utilised, so this is why I supported the decision for Greater Bendigo to not register as a NDIS provider but rather work with other agencies best placed to assist with the transition of potential NDIS participants from the City’s programs to appropriate providers.
Today I was chaired the first meeting of the new Rural Communities Committee. Born from the recognition and priority in the City of Greater Bendigo’s Rural Communities Strategy, which was adopted by Council last year, the committee has been formed with excellent representation from all our rural communities to provide advice to Council on issues affecting communities. I look forward to working with all the representatives and my fellow Councillors Jennifer Alden and Julie Hoskin to make a real difference to rural residents.
The next council meeting is to be held on Wednesday April 19, 2017 at 6pm at the Bendigo Town Hall, perhaps I might see you there? Or you can tune in via the live broadcast on Phoenix FM 106.7.
Yvonne Wrigglesworth is a Councillor in the Eppalock Ward, City of Greater Bendigo Council.