Report to Council – January 2021

Hi all. Each month at the public council meeting, a councillor gets to give a longer report to council. This is mine from 25th January 2021.

I want to start my report with a small anecdote which I think helpfully opens up a few of the opportunities and challenges of council over the next few years.

I had a request from a resident in the Whipstick Ward – let’s call him Rob. Rob lives in an older house right next to a relatively new housing estate. Thus, the new asphalt roadside, and kerb and channel which the developer had been required to build, did not extend to his property, nor to the sweeping bend of road beyond the estate. Just a gravel edging was left. Rob contacted me with 2 concerns: a pothole was developing where the new and old road met. This was annoying for Rob as he backed out of his driveway, but he was also concerned about cars sweeping around the bend and losing control on the gravel. I visited Rob, put a request into the Council for information, and pretty soon Rob reported that someone from council had been out to assess the situation and hopefully action would be taken soon.

I think this small snapshot of a councillor’s life shows a few things.

First, the simple things we do as councillors can have a large impact on people’s trust in local government. Rob told me that he was so impressed by the quick response of council that he would be telling all his friends about it. It’s by these small actions and large that we can begin to rebuild the trust that so many of our citizens seem not to place in council.

Second, I have been impressed by the professionalism of council staff, and their hard-working ethos. I know everyone will have a story about being disappointed by council, but disappointments always speak louder than the everyday work that council staff put in to make our city a better place.

Third, we have a serious issue in Bendigo regarding the tension between population growth and liveability. Apparently, we will grow to about 200,000 people by 2050, made up of infill development but also many new housing developments. We need to be asking whether that is an outcome we want, and whether we can implement the kind of measures needed to ensure our city remains a healthy place to live.

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On a day to day level, I have really enjoyed the first few months of being a councillor. The everyday issues that people contact me about may seem mundane from the outside – parking issues for their business, safety of road crossings, noise issues, pool opening hours, an idea they have for their local area. But these small things, along with the larger things, are what makes a neighbourhood tick. It’s a privilege to try to help get a good outcome.

In particular, I have really enjoyed the listening posts Ward councillors have conducted – they are invaluable for allowing ordinary people to talk about what is important to them. I also look forward to our ward meetings this year which will allow people to come together for deliberative discussion and decision making on the issues that concern their area.

As a big picture thinker, I have relished getting my teeth into council strategies, and to putting my mind to future plans and priorities:

  • for the Peter Krenz Leisure Centre development
  • for a comprehensive walking and cycling network around Bendigo
  • for giving local people a voice through community plans in places like Long Gully and smaller towns
  • for a wide-ranging vision for how we work with young people in our city
  • the necessity to keep our eyes open when it comes to the real poverty in our city.
  • for the difficult and thorny issue of swimming pools across the municipality.

I must also thank my fellow councillors for the way in which we have melded together as a group so far. The more experienced ones among you have been so generous with your advice and guidance, which has made my landing into council very smooth. I hope our current ability to work together continues into the future despite the inevitable disagreements that will come.

Lastly, I want to keep encouraging all my fellow citizens to positively contribute to our civic life in whatever way you can. Join a local club or committee, object to a planning application, come to councillors with a great idea for your local area, call up a councillor to ask us to explain a decision we’ve made. It’s only by contributing in small and large ways that we will make our neighbourhoods and our city as a whole a better place for all of us.