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Save "Our" Coast from the locals
Russell Degnan

It must be fun being a local council these days. After suffering through amalgamations, structural changes, operational requirements and outright threats to toe the line or be summarily removed from office under the last government; they are being slowly stripped of their planning powers as well.

The main purpose of the original Local Government Act was to offload the burden of essentially local issues from the (voluntary) colonial parliament onto self-governing councils. But, this, and the long line of previous governments aren't troubled by having to deal with local issues. There is, apparently, nothing a centralised army of bureaucrats can't handle in today's world.

This is why the latest plan for our coastlines involves the state government applying the same strategic planning guidelines to coastal towns that it does in Melbourne 2030. Including, most importantly, an urban growth boundary, to prevent "ribbon-development" along the coast.

There are three reasons why you might want to take power from local government hands: one, the local council is woefully incompetent and incapable of handling planning issues at all; two, there are negative externalities involved for the wider community if you leave important decisions to petty local bureaucrats; or three, the local government - like decisions concerning Greater Melbourne - has insufficient control to affect an outcome.

The first - while possibly true from a State Government perspective - is insulting to local government, and to our system of local government in general. If that's the case you may as well pack it away now and run everything through the state. Democracy in general depends on local decision-makers to be properly representative, and shouldn't so willingly be disposed of. On the opposite side of the ledger however; many councils (including some of our coastal councils) are woefully unrepresentative because of the hodge-podge collection of amalgamations a decade ago. If the State Government was paying attention they'd notice this, and allow local people to decide their own council boundaries.

Skipping ahead, the third is not true of coastal councils, and reiterating my last point, should not be true of any council. State Government power-mongering to keep the City of Melbourne in it's place prevents a more rational division of power between state and local governments in Melbourne however.

The second point is the heart of the matter. This Age editorial sums it up nicely:

"Driving bumper to bumper, hour after hour, Victorians who recently endured the ritual trip to and from the coast would not have enjoyed the irony that the idea is to get away from the urban rat race. Every year the crush gets worse as a tide of humanity floods into the coastal towns and environs, and threatens to sweep away the very character that makes them such special, attractive places."

Which doesn't explain the hopeless naivety that could cause someone to state the obvious effect of an urban growth boundary, that "property values can be expected to increase", and then follow it up with this:

"There is a risk of turning the humblest towns into elite enclaves. The challenge will be to ensure state policy does not simply help the "we got here first" brigade keep the pleasures of the coast for themselves. The problems that will have to be managed are nonetheless preferable to allowing some of the most attractive features of the coast to be lost to development."

They don't go on to explain how they might manage this "problem". Local residents are already complaining that property prices are too high because of weekenders and retirees, the solution would appear to be drive them up further - it will, if nothing else, remove the local scourge. Wait and see, the next step is for city-folk to complain that bread and milk prices are too high over summer, because the owner of the general store will only be getting an income for the six months a year that people go to the coast.

If the locals want an urban growth boundary, that is their prerogative. But the State Government plan is either elitist, brain-dead or both. It might stop development along the coast, but it will be at the expense of local residents, who won't be able to afford to live there. Local councils are - or should be - well placed to decide what's best for their community. Perhaps they - and not city politicians looking out for their coastal retirement home they're going to buy with their extravagant tax-payer funded superannuation - should decide what happens on the coast.

Planning 28th January, 2004 12:05:32   [#] 

Comments

Local Councils are incompetent
Rural local councils are living, breathing examples of the Peter Principle (everyone rises to their own level of incompetence). Half are reflexive NIMBY-ists, the other half are in the pockets of developers (through fair means or foul). All are dominated by their own bureacracy.

Aside from this, have you considered that local councils are not in a position to take a statewide view of the health of the coastline? Sewage outfalls and use of coastal water supplies have statewide implications.
Robert Merkel  28th January, 2004 13:59:01  

True, but
The Peter Principle has a corollary. If you strip power from an organisation, and therefore require a lower level of competence to administer it, then the people in that organisation will get progressively worse. I'd prefer the opposite: grant power to local bodies to make them better. Certainly, local bureaucracies have the largest say in the running of country towns, but just as certainly, a state bureaucracy won't be any better. It is rare that important local issues register with the state government.

Regarding water and sewage. The state border is no less an arbitrary boundary than a local council, perhaps more so. The force of gravity implies that there are certain natural boundaries for water catchment and sewage that should be respected. There are lots of ways to do that that don't involve ceding all power to the hegemonic state.
Russell  1st February, 2004 13:33:48  


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