Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cairns Regional Council Community Plan consultation.

Cairns Regional Council Community Plan. It's a mouthful and it's an ongoing process that has taken up several months of Council time and has garnered several interesting responses.

There are a few questions regarding the data collected that need addressing first. The collection has taken place in several different ways (online survey, community postcards and engagement by officers at community events and at shopping centres in the region). Out of all of these methods and with all of this time spent, the total responses to date number 171 in total. This figure is actually a bit skewed because those who collated the information (Governance Branch of Cairns Regional Council) deemed that each response to each question of the online survey would be given full weight so of the 56 responses there is a strong possibility that only 16 people had a hand in those.

With a population estimated at around 164'356 (a response of .07% of the population) it appears we could quite accurately call this process insufficient in terms of providing an accurate snapshot of what this community's vision is for the future of the Cairns area. It must be noted that the process states that 'Council will be inclusive and connect with those in the community who are hardest to reach' and it appears by all intents and purposes that this was achieved. The problem seems to be that this was the primary focus and the broader community was left out of the loop to some degree. Unfortunately, the information given by those who did respond will form the basis of the plan and those who's views differ but were not engaged will not have a say in the future of the region.

15 of those responses were essentially useless and included answers like 'Waste of time' and 'Have you nothing else to do'. This shows a distinct lack of awareness as to the importance of this process and perhaps a lack of trust in local government that they will get it right. With such a small amount of the community engaged, perhaps they were right in those assumptions.

The Local Government Act 2009 requires Councils across Queensland to develop a long term community plan.Elements included must be Economic Development, Environmental Management, Social Wellbeing and Governance. Section 127 of the Local Government Regulation 2010 states that Community Plan 'must state how the local government engaged with the community in preparing the plan and the extent to which the engagement was consistent with local government's community engagement policy'. This statement would indicate that this consultation process has failed.

The hope is that there will be further consultation and it will be broader and more active so that all residents will have the opportunity to take part in the process. This could include ensuring that the shopping centre stalls held throughout the region were repeated on a fortnightly or monthly basis, the online forum was advertised on the Regional Council Facebook page every time it is utilised, community groups are engaged through a speaker from the Council (preferably the Councillor of the Division) regarding this process at meetings, school newsletters and community newsletters contain the relevant details for parents to access the survey in all forms and the survey could be placed in full in The Cairns Post each day for one full week, with drop off points at every shopping centre and library in the region.

Perhaps the response levels would still be minimal but the ability of the public to negate the results would be greatly diminished if it can be proved that every member of the public was given the opportunity to take part. Personally, I would prefer to see more responses.

With the information gathered to date it has become apparent that the running theme of sustainability and the environment has considerable emphasis in all areas. Whether they be transport, future growth, suburban goals or culture and the arts, the environment of Cairns features in most responses.

The largest response to any question was the issue of public transport, specifically the need for a light rail system throughout the greater region. This garnered 13 responses (or 4% of ALL responses). When an idea was deemed a good one a small lightbulb icon appeared on the page with the item further reiterated to indicate it was considered a good idea or point. This particular idea was given no weight. I am sure that this will surprise no one but it's disheartening to think that the most common response did not rate a further mention.

Second most common was the results regarding the Cultural Precinct. Can I go on record to say that the results were welcome but surprised me a little. More people support the Precinct than oppose it. Several respondents would like the site position questioned further but overall the support rated much higher than the 6 who did not want the project to go ahead. The indication here is that the general public are more interested in provisions for the cultural and artistic community than any other lifestyle category.

While 4 people stated they would like a rectangular sporting field, youth activities and youth development in sport was more widely recognised as a priority. The responses included requests for more outdoor movie nights, lighting and upgrades to suburban sporting areas but more commonly a simple 'youth activities' did the job.

There was a strong response by many in regards to the Indigenous Community and Multicultural Affairs. The 'Social' category featured answers such as 'Indigenous engagement', 'Multicultural community' and 'understanding of Indigenous Community'. This category also asked for a focus on creative residents, families and volunteers. Essentially, this indicates a need and want of a more inclusive community with better access to information and support.

Bikeways and footpaths will always feature in any questionnaire or survey regarding any city. This one is no different. While public transport was a major focus and ideas such as having a regular service running from the airport to the CBD and replacing or fixing up the Lake Street bus terminal were repeated, having a cycleway run from the CBD to the southern suburbs was an idea that I thought had merit (again, no lightbulb) and a few thought to join the two concepts together with the provision on buses for bicycles for those who need to utilise both forms of sustainable transport options. I am sure that this would prove to be a difficult undertaking but nothing is impossible and perhaps some further study into this idea is warranted.

After bikeways and footpaths, the Edmonton Hospital garnered plenty of interest. The Southern Corridor did not rate it's own category (although it must be noted that Cairns Esplanade, Machans Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Redlynch, Babinda, Bramston Beach, Daintree and the CBD did) but the south side was represented anyway. People wanted a Medicare centre in Edmonton, a cafe, movie theatres, general facilities, Edmonton Town Centre and one did not support the Mt Peter plan. All responses regarding the southern corridor indicate that the community is sick of the excuses and the extensive consultation and planning processes and would like to see some results. The community is without any of the major facilities and developments promised over the past few years, with not one block of land that is designated for a project uncovered by a long layer of grass. The State Government projects are all underway and it's noticeable that the Council and Federal projects have either stalled or are simply taking too long to begin.

As eluded to in the beginning of this post, the environment was the top priority for all respondents. While the question sometimes did not include the environment or sustainability, the response did. Maintaining Queenslanders, design to climate and appropriate hillside development were the top responses in the 'Development' category, followed by sustainable development, maintaining low rise character, keeping a 'Cairns style', having white roofs, designing for climate, and the list goes on. There were only 6 responses not related to the environment and included co-locate aged care and child care, Edmonton Town Centre, homeless accommodation and aged accommodation.

Many residents would like to see the start of kerbside rubbish collection for both green waste and hard rubbish. The regularity was not given in the responses but previous suggestions have been for twice yearly green waste removal and bi-monthly hard rubbish removal.

In the category of Environment I was a little surprised by what some of the results were. The number one response was 'maintain cane fields', followed by 'edible landscapes' and 'community gardens'. 'More shade' rounded out the top responses and the rest were varied but essentially along similar lines. The Edmonton Community Gardens is something I have had a bit to do with, my husband being one of the founders and the original Treasurer. With a lack of cohesion and community interest, this venture is floundering and will close, if it hasn't already. It's a real shame for the area because it was identified as filling a real need, yet did not work out as expected. Many projects in the region suffer the same fate and there is a simple solution to this.

Every year the Council needs to produce a simple, black and white brochure that lists every community group in each given suburb. Not the Government run groups, they are listed in the front of our phone books. I am referring to the other groups that exist in our communities but nobody seems aware of them until it's too late. The plant collectors, the community gardens, the parents groups, the baby groups, the various support groups and the times and places that these groups meet, or contact details for them. Stick a magnet on the back and each suburban region could have an individual list of all of the ways they can take part in something they have an interest in, right in their own backyard. The larger organisations such as Lions Club and Rotary could also be listed as these groups are essential to community engagement and do a great deal for their region.

There are other responses in the results of the second stage of consultation but they were very small in number and they can be accessed via the Council for those interested in seeing them. As far as the lightbulbs go, there was only one. The answer? We need a second bridge over Freshwater Creek (on the Cairns Western Arterial).

Several of the respondents had one of their answers stated in full and the one which I liked the best and I thought summed the whole Plan up was the following.......'Cairns- A unique region in which urban, economic and social development are balanced with the natural environment. A region in which we have a sense of our past and a shared understanding of our future, where differing views and new ideas are accepted and encouraged.'

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