Councillors pleased with community forum response

Mayor Ben Shaw, left, listening to speakers from the Derwent
Catchment Project Landcare program.

THE first of the Derwent Valley Council’s roster of regional community forums has been declared a success. Mayor Ben Shaw said the two-hour meeting at Westerway last night (Tuesday) had been a positive one.

The forum in the Westerway Community Hall attracted 12 members of the public, including people from Maydena and New Norfolk as well as Westerway residents, and there were seven council representatives and two guest speakers. Three councillors, the acting general manager and one of the two executive managers were absent.

Cr Shaw told the meeting that the new group of councillors was trying to find ways to better engage with the community, and regional communities in particular, but also New Norfolk. “It is extremely difficult to get that community engagement and get people involved in civic decisions, responsibilities and those types of things,” he said.

“So we are trying something different and as most or a few of you would know, council would bi-annually come to regional areas such as Westerway, Bushy Park, Maydena, Lachlan, Molesworth, Granton, and actually hold our council meetings there, and … there’s not a whole lot of interest as such in a council meeting, sitting, watching councillors sit around scribbling on pieces of paper and making a few decisions about things that might not necessarily be relevant to those regional communities.

“So, we thought how can we actually engage better with our regional communities and actually have that chat that’s a little bit more informal and a little bit, you know, catch up, how are you going, have a chat, what’s the issues in the area, and find out what they are. And if there’s anything that’s really pressing, invite people to let one of your elected members take that to the next council meeting as a motion on you behalf. That’s essentially one of our main roles, is to be a community advocate and be your voice.

“That’s why we thought, the easiest way to get in contact with these people is bring them to you. And also, we decided to have senior staff members here as well, at each of these regional forums, because there’s a lot of things that are operational that councillors always get asked, but we may not necessarily know or have the in-depth knowledge, so it’s great to have some of our staff members here and we’ll keep going that at our other regional forums as well.

“So I guess that’s a bit of a background of why we are here. But also, one of the other things we decided to do is actually make them relevant to your area so in each forum we are going to have some presenters and we’ve got three or four really topical things that are going on in Westerway and this regional community and out a bit further and of course into Glenora Rd, to give you a bit of a chance to say to us, the elected members and staff, what you feel about some of these projects and what you feel about some of these things that’s going on in your region as the regional community of the Derwent Valley.”

Cr Shaw then introduced Cr Natasha Woods, Cr Julie Triffett, deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove, communications officer Daniel Cheetham, Cr Luke Browning, and Richard Blackwell from the senior management team. He said councillors and staff would remain after the end of the forum for further discussions on an individual basis.

Guest speakers from the Derwent Catchment Project spoke generally about their program and in more detail about the Willow Warriors initiative which has a 10-year plan to remove crack willows and revegetate the banks of the Tyenna River between Maydena and Westerway. A resident asked when the council would match the work of the Central Highlands Council and remove willows from its end of the Bridge Rd bridge. He also asked when damage to the bridge would be repaired. Mr Blackwell said the council was working collaboratively with the neighbouring council to come up with a solution. It was also asked whether picnic tables could be placed along the riverbank and Mr Blackwell said this may form part of the council’s open space strategy.

Rob Clark was then invited to speak about the Westerway Primary School centenary which will be celebrated on February 29. “We are all working together to have a festival activity at the school,” Mr Clark said. “We’ll have chopping and shearing and hop-picking and hooplas, and all the things that might have been done over that hundred year period. We’ve got a horse and carriage and will do hop-on hop-off horse rides through the town, we’ve got tractors, a berry festival, and an old-time dance in the hall,” he said. Mr Clark said 100 tickets to the dance had been sold so far, and donors had contributed $7500 to the cost of staging the centenary events.

Glenora Rd was the next topic for discussion, with Cr Shaw saying the council was very pleased with progress on the $2.5 million upgrade. He also touched on community consultation that had been undertaken in relation to a proposed speed limit reduction on the road. A recommendation on the speed limit will be made to this week’s council meeting. Most speakers at the forum were in favour of a reduction in the limit.

Residents spoke about the dangerous nature of the junction of Gordon River Rd and Ellendale Rd, with its blind corner and single-lane bridge, which they were continually raising with the Department of State Growth to no avail. Cr Shaw said the matter could be raised by a councillor at a council meeting for him to take up. “If we continually keep getting ignored, what I’m saying, what I’m suggesting, is you do it on a political level. So then I will go as the mayor of the community and go to the minister and say ‘right, we will start making some noise and make you look stupid if you don’t fix it’.”

Residents also spoke of a duplication in services between the Derwent Valley Council and Central Highlands Council in areas around Westerway and National Park, where variations in the municipal border often required vehicles and equipment from one council to travel through the neighbouring council. Mr Blackwell said the council was improving its relationship and communications with adjoining councils.

Westerway Community Hall.

Next, Mr Clark was invited to speak about the Westerway Community Hall upgrade, which has been delayed due to several factors. He said the Hall Committee had been working to reduce the cost of the project while still achieving most of its aims, including the provision of public toilets. Mr Clark encouraged the council to develop a more flexible approach to working with suitably qualified local contractors. He also urged the council to develop one or more big projects to put forward for government funding at the time of the next state and federal elections, due in two years.

The forum was then opened to questions from those present, which included:

  • Access to the National Park tip
  • Lack of recycling facilities at the National Park tip
  • Better education to reduce contamination of recyclable material
  • Better notification of the next regional forum
  • Progress of the council’s waste strategy
  • Container deposit legislation
  • Need for additional rubbish bins at Maydena
  • Need for more frequent mowing of public areas at Maydena
  • How to contact the council
  • The status of funding for a footpath at Westerway
  • Cawthorns Lane speed reduction
With there being no further questions, Cr Shaw said the presenters, elected members and staff would be available for a further 30 minutes for individual discussions. “Can I just say, and I’d like some feedback as well, that this is our first one that we’ve done of this, and I really feel that it’s been a really positive move for us, from what we’ve got today, the engagement we got from you as a community … I think it’s really exciting that we’re going down this path.

The response from the room was that the forum had been a comfortable event where everyone was able to ask questions and get their point across, although more notice of the event would be appreciated. Mr Cheetham said exactly one week’s notice had been given. 

Cr Browning thanked everyone for their attendance. “This has been an initiative that I’ve been trying to drive and I want to put more effort in to see it succeed and improve so with every session would be an improvement and that’s important to get that feedback,” he said. “I want to make sure that you guys know how that you can communicate with council. “We’re people, we’re approachable, come and see us, but I know it can often feel like that, being further out that you don’t necessarily have that connection with the council, that we’re all about New Norfolk, not about the regional areas, but we’re here.”

Cr Triffett said anyone needing to contact an elected member could call the council to obtain councillor phone numbers and email addresses, and Mr Cheetham said this information was also on the council website.

Cr Shaw said he hoped it was only a misconception that councillors did not think about regional areas. “We certainly talk about different things to do with our whole region on a regular basis, and especially now that we have been doing that strategic stuff,” he said.

“I want to say thank you very much to everybody for coming, to all our presenters, elected members, staff members, community members. I’m excited about where this can potentially go. I like the style, I like the set up, I like the feedback, and I think we can take more out of it going forward. I appreciate your time and everything that the Westerway community do,” he said.

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