Community Plans For All Neighbourhoods
When it comes to exciting people about local government, “community plans” are way down the list. They don’t sound very exciting, and they prompt images of endless meetings. Let me try to convince you otherwise.
But first, what is a community plan? Community plans are formed by residents getting together (usually with a facilitator) and deciding on what things they want to work on for their community. Things like art and culture, infrastructure, business development, community connection etc – basically anything that concerns their community. Sometimes there are persistent issues in the neighbourhood that make it into the plan.
The key argument in favour of community plans is that they give residents some control over what happens in their neighbourhood. Often residents feel like they are just the powerless recipients of whatever the council wants to do, or at best the council asks their opinion sometimes. Community plans give an opportunity for us to be involved at a more active level – where we actually make things happen.
The other reason why community plans are great is this – once your neighbourhood has one, it gives you some authority to go to local government and say, “Look, this is what our community wants. Give us support (personnel and funding) to make this happen”. Of course, that’s always a slow process but if the council knows that this is what the community wants, they are always more likely to back it. Then, keep them accountable to it!
Bendigo council does provide assistance to communities to develop plans, if we ask for it to be done. You just need to show that there is a substantial group of people who want to get it done. However, there is also a problem on the council side. Right now, it is my understanding that although council is keen to help with community plans, it actually has no specific person to do this job. The council to expedite this process and employ someone to fill this role. In addition, there needs to be at least one council officer whose role is dedicated to regularly touching base with communities about their plans.
If you’re passionate about your neighbourhood, then phone council and request help to develop a plan – ask for the “Strong Communities” team. If want to check whether your community has a plan, then go to the Bendigo Council website and search for “community plan your neighbourhood” and see if one pops up.
Right now, two of the largest neighbourhoods in the Whipstick Ward lack a community plan – Long Gully and White Hills/Epsom. If council is serious about taking residents’ ideas seriously then this is a huge gap.