The Courier: Editorial

Inverbrackie sale

The sale of the 80 houses at the former detention centre site at Inverbrackie is extremely welcome news.
The likely injection of 80 new families into the Woodside economy will bring widespread benefits to the town and wider region.
The impending sale will finally make good use of a taxpayer funded resource which, before it was used to house asylum seekers in late 2010, had remained empty for years following a decision by the Defence Department to house its personnel in the wider community.
The houses, mostly built in the 1980s, are of good quality and, although small by today’s standards, have recently been upgraded to the tune of $10m ($125,000 per home) and are located in pleasant surroundings.
They should be attractive to home buyers when they come onto the open market.
The purchase of 80 houses in a single lot makes them only available to a large investor and the future of the site is completely in their hands.
Mayo MP Jamie Briggs believes they would be suitable for development into an aged-care facility while the Mayor of the Adelaide Hills Council, Bill Spragg, would prefer they be occupied by a mix of family types and age groups.
Both are adamant the houses need to be occupied.
Both are correct.
Mr Spragg has indicated the property will need to be rezoned before any re-sale of houses can take place by the new owner.
The property was a farm when acquired by the Federal Government. The subsequent development – the Commonwealth does not have to abide by State or council planning regulations – has significantly changed its land use from Primary Production meaning it will need a more appropriate classification.
Mr Spragg believes the State Government is unlikely to allow the creation of any new titles in the watershed zone.
Whatever the nuances of the planning regulations, the State must surely recognise it is not allowing any ‘new’ houses to be built by granting new titles. They are already there.
The smooth transition of these houses onto the open market is imperative and for it to be caught up in red tape would make everyone a loser.

Water reform

Mt Barker’s Laratinga Wetland is one of the town’s biggest attractions and most appreciated pieces of public infrastructure.
Each day it draws visitors, walkers, cyclists, bird watchers and families to what is one of the district’s most picturesque spots.
It has become a haven for native bird and amphibian species, including some rare migratory birds, which makes it also an environmental asset.
But many forget that the wetlands were made by the council as an integral part of the town’s wastewater system, filtering treated water before it makes its way out of the system to be reused.
Selling that treated water brings in about $1m a year in revenue for the council.
That’s a significant boost for a council under financial pressure due to the region’s rapid growth.
In a natural system like the Murray-Darling Basin, wetlands undergo a wetting and drying process that benefits the health of native flora and fauna.
There are merits in mimicking such a process at Laratinga, but it is a delicate balancing act.
It should not jeopardise the long-term future of the species that call the wetlands home and it should not deter the hundreds of visitors that use the wetlands over summer.
Cr Carol Bailey’s call for a slower process to replicate the natural environment to allow native species time to breed and prepare for the coming dry period has merit.
To develop a plan that maintains the biodiversity of the area, the amenity of the facility while allowing for the commercial aspect of the wetland is a difficult balancing act but should be investigated.

Anzac sport

The State Government decision to allow sport to be played on Anzac Day morning appears to have caught everyone off guard.
The Hills Football League, the clubs and the RSL have learnt of this change at the last minute.
The communication has been poor.
If has caused confusion and anger on the centenary of the Gallipoli invasion.
It seems the lines of communication in this modern world have not improved significantly from the days of trench warfare.

Jumps racing

Racing Minister Leon Bignell’s increasingly vocal opposition to jumps racing in SA is fast pushing the controversial issue to a head.
Earlier this year he hit out at racing’s governing body, Thoroughbred Racing SA, over its decision to force the SA Jockey Club to host jumps races at its Morphettville track when it had requested the sport be dropped from the metropolitan racecourse.
He called for jumps racing to be phased out, as it has in every other Australian State except Victoria.
Over the weekend Mr Bignell was at it again – urging consideration of a ban on the sport at the same time that thousands were gathering at Oakbank, jumps racing’s biggest event of the year in SA.
His comments have understandably infuriated the head of the Oakbank Racing Club, John Glatz, who wants to know exactly where the Government stands on this issue.
Mr Bignell told a weekend press conference that he is unsure whether the Labor Government would support Greens MLC Tammy Franks’ Bill to put an end to jumps racing in SA.
It is also unclear how the rest of the State Labor caucus feels about the issue.
Parliamentary Speaker Michael Atkinson attended this year’s Easter races and was a vocal opponent of the Greens Bill on Twitter over the weekend.
Just two races out of a program of eight at each day’s Oakbank meetings are jumps races.
Oakbank draws more than 60,000 visitors to the Hills over two days annually, making it a huge tourism boon for the region – surely a good thing under Mr Bignell’s other hat as Tourism Minister.
What is unclear is how many of those visitors come for the jumps racing and how many would return if those races were deleted from the program.
Every year there is debate about the merit or otherwise of retaining jumps races and, with a horse 19 times more likely to die in a jumps race than on the flat, it is undoubtedly a risky sport.
Unlike most commentators and lobbyists, Mr Bignell is in a position to change things in the racing industry if he doesn’t like them.
If he is so opposed to the sport, then perhaps it is time for him to lead the charge towards that change.

Freeway interchange

The news that Mt Barker’s second freeway interchange will be done properly – with all four on and off ramps for traffic heading towards Adelaide AND Murray Bridge – is a win for the community and common sense.
It never sat well with the Mt Barker Council that after years of work one of the most rapidly growing residential areas in regional SA would end up with half an interchange – a similar scenario that exists at Hahndorf.
If that Adelaide-centric design had been built, the chances of the other two ramps being built would have been slim.
For once this community probably has the downturn in the economy to thank, in part, for creating such a competitive market so the council and the State and Federal Governments could get a better deal.
The work by the council over the past decade to make the interchange “shovel ready” by buying land on all four corners around the Bald Hills Road tunnel also helped.
However, it’s more likely that the project has benefited from a cautious financial approach, with governments over estimating costs to make sure they don’t get caught with a budget blow-out.
Whatever the reason, this four-way interchange will be a vital piece of infrastructure for a growing region and the persistence of the council and local Federal MP Jamie Briggs, and the co-operation between the three tiers of government should be applauded.
Once built the new exits will remove some of the pressure from the existing interchange at Mt Barker and provide an alternative route for motorists in the event of traffic issues on Adelaide Road.
It might even help the much anticipated expansion of Monarto as a business hub, with potential employees having easier access to residential areas at Nairne and further afield.
But the interchange won’t solve all of the region’s growing pains.
Internal traffic congestion will continue to plague Mt Barker, and Nairne residents should brace themselves for more through traffic at the Woodside Road/Old Princes Highway intersection as motorists take advantage of the new interchange and abandon the long trek along Onkaparinga Valley Road to Hahndorf.
Hills dwellers might just have to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Warrawong future

In its heyday Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary was a byword for environmental innovation.
Dr John Wamsley gained a well-deserved reputation for turning the degraded dairy farm into a feral animal-free habitat for the conservation of endangered Australian wildlife, including platypuses.
Now the 10ha property is less than a third of its original size and has remained unused as a working tourist operation for two years since Zoos SA walked away from the sanctuary because the business was unsustainable under a new planning regime.
It has taken two years for the land owners at the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to wind up the lease.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another two years to find a new role for this once landmark site.
The longer it stays vacant, the more the site and its amazingly valuable branding kudos will deteriorate.
It would be a tragedy if an asset such as Warrawong was left to wither on the vine and its history of educating people about the value and importance of Australian flora and fauna was not continued in some form.

Changing times

People play politics … nature does not.
The story in this week’s Courier that grape growers have noticed a significant trend towards earlier harvests and more compressed ripening periods between varieties is clear evidence that the natural world is changing as the climate warms.
Viticulture consultant Richard Hamilton’s evidence that his cabernet sauvignon grapes are ripening today more than a month earlier than was usual in the late 1980s is further proof of the changes.
Many farmers will recall regularly making hay in November or December whereas now it is often finished in October.
Such examples of major agricultural changes in just a few years indicate the rapid rate to which nature is adapting to climate change.
The policy makers and the general population would be well advised to take heed of these alarming warning signs because the cost of inaction might have us all in hot water.

A new town with a new future

Forty years ago Mt Barker was a very different place.
There were days when the air across town was anything but pure, with the Jacobs smallgoods factory and livestock pens where the Adelaide Hills Homemaker Centre now stands, a cheese factory next door, a foundry near the recreation centre and tannery roughly on the site of the Mt Barker Central Shopping Centre.
Cows and sheep were a far more common sight than latte sippers, and every local would have known the importance to the district of subterranean clover.
The Mt Barker of 2015 is a world away from that agriculture-dominated 1970s country town.
While its rural heritage is a vital part of its identity, there are many newer residents who know little of that past and fewer who identify with it.
The Mt Barker Council’s old logo accurately reflects the Mt Barker of its time, but it does not represent the region’s current reality or future potential.
The extensive research shows that view of Mt Barker is outdated and irrelevant to the region it is today.
While its farming heritage and natural environment are still upheld as ideals, Mt Barker is becoming increasingly urbanised and moving towards new industries and opportunities.
Local agriculture has moved on to value-added premium products such as skincare by Jurlique and jams and sauces by Beerenberg, boutique beers and wines.
If it wants to continue to attract similar businesses and create jobs to meet the needs of its growing community, the region needs to stand out against dozens of other high-growth areas in SA and interstate competing for the investment dollar.
The new logo, above, is a positive first step in a large-scale branding push that will bring a new vision of Mt Barker to the fore.
It won’t please everyone – no public art does – but it is a lot better than the old logo and may play a role in changing current  negative perceptions about the town when backed by the strategic marketing push.

More proof needed

Giant gum trees – some of them centuries old – are a real danger to out of control motorists.
These massive trees growing close to the bitumen are now in the sights of those tasked with reducing the road toll.
There’s no denying that car versus tree is one of the most common scenarios in serious injury and fatal vehicle crashes.
However, Motor Accident Commission chairman Roger Cook’s solution, for all the big trees close to the road to be cut down, needs closer examination.
Not all trees involved in fatal crashes are big, or right on the edge of the road.
You can remove the massive tree that is considered a danger but there are still the smaller ones beside or behind it that are directly in the line of fire.
What about other roadside obstacles that are just as deadly such as Stobie poles, fences and other cars?
If you accept the defining argument that lives should come before trees, then the only logical outcome is that all roadsides should be cleared of all obstacles or at least cordoned off.
No-one would be happy with either outcome.
Guardrails may be appropriate in many places but it is impractical and cost-prohibitive to box in every SA rural road.
Gum trees are integral to the Australian landscape, particularly in the Hills where the scenery is one of the reasons so many people visit and choose to live here.
Thanks to decades of clearing, it is often only on the roadsides that contain some of the oldest trees and rarest vegetation.
They provide vital habitat for endangered animals and they are integral to the ecology of the area.
Mechanisms exist for removing trees that are in danger of falling or that obscure motorists’ line of sight or directly encroach on the carriageway.
The wholesale removal of big trees simply because they make big targets for cars is not an adequate reason.
More analysis is needed into the factors contributing to cars leaving the road and hitting these trees.
What was happening in the car and in the outside environment prior to the crash?
Before they cut down several hundred years of history, authorities need to be able to prove it will save lives and not just shift the problem onto the neighboring tree.

Speed limit

The proposed changes to the speed zones along Greenhill and Onkaparinga Valley roads did not spring from the ether.
Back in 2013 the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) received an unusually high number of requests from Hills residents to lower speed limits.
They said they didn’t feel safe backing out of their properties, riding their bikes, walking their dogs or walking their children to school.
Rather than deal with each request individually, DPTI officials approached the Adelaide Hills Council and suggested doing a district-wide review of speed limits to try and capture the concerns and the wishes of the wider community.
From that partnership came a community consultation process that involved a survey (580 responses) and public information booths and workshops in different areas.
The feedback from residents was that they wanted more consistency with the speed limits within towns and better communication about approaching 50km/h zones and changing speed zones.
The result is a range of proposed speed limit changes affecting Summertown, Uraidla, Balhannah, Oakbank, Woodside and Charleston.
The changes have the support of the Adelaide Hills Community Road Safety Group which says the longer 50km/h zones will make it safer and easier to remember.
However, given the angry response from motorists when speed limits changed from 80km/h to 60km/h on the outskirts of Woodside a few years ago, the new limits might be struggling to obtain widespread support.
The stretches are long and when you consider the surrounds, some sections defy the consistency argument.
It’s hard to reconcile why a wide, straight piece of Onkaparinga Valley Road lined with vineyards on one side and industrial-style business and low density residences on the other would be proposed as 50km/h when residential Wellington Road in Mt Barker with a hospital, petrol station, childcare centre and supermarket is 60km/h?
These proposals are not set in stone – yet.
Residents have until April 1 to provide feedback, and now would be the time to have a say.

An each-way bet

The jumps racing industry is facing another hurdle, this time in the form of opposition from the State Government.
Racing Minister Leon Bignell attacked the sport in the media last week, calling it a “thing of the past” and saying he had expected a push to remove it from the Morphettville track would have been a midpoint towards its “eventual phasing out”.
Reacting to news that the sport’s leading body Thoroughbred Racing SA had overruled the SA Jockey Club’s desire to have jumps races removed from Morphettville, Mr Bignell said the decision went against public sentiment that the sport should go.
But he made an each-way bet – saying it was okay to maintain it at a regional level at meetings such as Oakbank.
Controversy over jumps racing is nothing new.
It makes the headlines in the media every year.
But the Minister’s comments present the most serious exertion of pressure on the sport to date because they come from the Government level.
Oakbank has weathered plenty of storms over its 139-year racing history.
There have been horse deaths in iconic jumps races, annual protests and the loss of sponsors.
But opposition to the sport has reached a new level when the Racing Minister himself indicates a distaste for it.
Mr Bignell, who would not speak with The Courier directly to clarify his reported comments, claims that most South Australians would like to see jumps racing phased out.
But Oakbank Racing Club chairman John Glatz wants to see some figures to substantiate that claim.
He argues that Oakbank’s crowds of about 60,000 racegoers each year bear out a different view – that punters enjoy the sport and the point of difference it offers at the world’s largest picnic race meet.
He also points out that Oakbank is a tourist drawcard that creates an economic return of about $10m for the region – without a cent of Government assistance – unlike the millions of dollars poured in to the likes of the Tour Down Under.
If he wants to see real change, perhaps it is time for Mr Bignell to lead the industry he is Minister for towards the exit strategy he wants, not just snipe at it from the stands.

Retail boom

A year ago Mt Barker’s retail centres seemed to be struggling with empty shops in the main street as well as the main shopping centre and the Mt Barker Homemaker Centre.
Now the town is on the cusp of a retail boom with over $13.5m in developments and expansions planned that will dramatically alter Mt Barker’s commercial landscape.
Gawler Street shops are full, as is the Mt Barker Central Shopping Centre and the Homemaker Centre.
Mt Barker, it seems, is bucking the trend of a sluggish national economy.
The move by three separate developers to pursue major developments in the town centre and beyond is a good sign that the town’s economy is on a healthy path.
No investor is going spend millions unless they are confident of a good return on that investment.
As Business Mt Barker chairman James Sexton highlights, many are realising that Mt Barker’s booming residential growth makes it ripe for commercial and retail development.
There has long been an appetite amongst local residents for more local shopping and service options. And it appears that if investors build them, customers will come.
According to Mr Sexton, two new petrol stations at Littlehampton and Mt Barker took in more than double their expected income on opening recently – a sure sign that more people are buying their petrol here.
That may have been aided by the fuel price reduction that the extra competition has brought with it, but it does show that if the options are there, locals will shop locally.
This retail boom is exactly what the district needs to kick start local jobs growth.
With more new businesses will come new local jobs and that in turn will spark a need for new services.
Doctors, childcare centres, pharmacists, dentists, even Government agencies and departments may well be enticed to set up in the town to cater for the more localised population.
If the region can also attract new industry and technology-based businesses, it will be well on its way to becoming more self-sufficient by providing local jobs that generate local income that in turn can be spent in local shops and services.

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