The Courier: Editorial

Intervention could cause a Rau

The unrest likely to be felt by many in the Strathalbyn community over another push to have a retail complex built at the entrance to the town will be significant.
This issue galvanised the town like no other when it was first proposed in June last year.
Locals gathered in their hundreds at community meetings and told the council in no uncertain terms it feared a new commercial hub, if allowed to be built separate from the existing retail centre, would divide the town and lead to problems experienced by other regional centres which have allowed similar developments.
The council was clearly listening.
It believes there is plenty of available retail space already existing in the town centre to cope with Strathalbyn’s expected population growth and, after extensive community consultation, developed a 10-year plan for the town in which it committed to restricting retail businesses to the current zone.
The community was happy.
The developers were clearly not.
Their approach to Planning Minister John Rau, if successful, would remove the council from the rezoning and planning process and make a mockery of not only the council’s vision for the town’s future but also the input of the community.
The whole issue of developers applying to the Minister for special treatment when they don’t get their way is galling to many and difficult to comprehend.
It would perhaps be understandable for a Minister to override a community and council with regard to a major development such as the approval of an airport, a power station or a shipping terminal … something significant in the national or State interest.
But this is a shopping centre!
They exist in their thousands across the country.
One wonders how carefully Mr Rau will be able to comprehend the nuances of this issue unless he attends the public meeting planned for next Wednesday.
The meeting in the Strathalbyn Town Hall must be an improvement on the last and organisers must ensure that Mr Rau and the developers are shown respect and courtesy and be allowed to put their case.

Sensible decision

The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) decision to scrap plans to introduce significantly longer 50km/h limits along Onkaparinga Valley and Greenhill roads is a win for common sense.
When the plans were first proposed earlier this year it took many Hills drivers by surprise.
Residents who took part in DPTI’s community consultation process – as part of the long-running Adelaide Hills Council Speed Limit Review – were also puzzled because the proposals seemed out of step with their calls for realistic and consistent speed limits in towns and better communication about approaching 50km/h zones and changing speed zones.
It could be argued that making everything 50km/h from Summertown to Uraidla, as well as from Balhannah to the other side of Oakbank, for several kilometres through Woodside to the Lobethal Road intersection, and through Charleston, would bring about consistency.
The Adelaide Hills Community Road Safety Group liked the idea, saying the longer 50km/h zones would make it safer and easier to remember.
However, making 50km/h the default speed limit is not consistent with the landscape when compared with other districts and commuter routes in metropolitan Adelaide.
The stretches of road under consideration were long and, in the case of Onkaparinga Valley Road, the sections were straight and wide.
Some of the landscape – rural and light industrial – also seemed unrealistic for 50km/h.
Most motorists understand that dense retail areas, residential areas, school zones and even bikeway cross overs require lower speeds for everyone’s safety.
Forcing unrealistic speed limits outside such areas will not lead to willing compliance.
However, DPTI’s decision to trial new signs – including “50 Ahead” signs – and road markings along Onkaparinga Valley Road is a sensible move.
When travelling for extended periods of time along a road that changes in landscape, it’s not uncommon to question where an 80km/h or 60km/h zone might merge into a 50km/h zone.
The extra signs and markings on the road will help to reduce driver confusion.

Tourist drawcard

The 15,000 who crammed into the Strathalbyn harness racing complex on Saturday night for the biennial Balloon and Aviation Regatta were a clear indication of the event’s popularity.
Sadly, the same conclusion could also be reached by watching the snaking lines outside the toilets and food stalls.
The event’s popularity exceeded everyone’s expectations and the hard working volunteers of the organising committee – who personally bankrolled the event to the tune of several thousand dollars – deserve congratulations, not ridicule, as was displayed by some disgruntled patrons on social media.
Yes, there were some problems but almost nobody expected 15,000 people to attend.
The State Government needs to immediately approach the committee and help develop the event so it becomes a regular feature on the region’s calendar.
It is a real tourist drawcard and nothing like it exists in SA.
It has winner written all over it.
It would be a tragedy for the event to be forsaken – or lost to another region – for the sake of a few portaloos and some more food stalls.
The volunteers have come up with the original idea and have done the hard work to build it into what it is today but have clearly signalled the need for some assistance.
This is the perfect opportunity for the Government’s expertise to shine.
The committee is not asking for money, they want help.
It is easy to imagine Jay Weatherill extolling the virtues of the next event in 2017 from the basket of a hot air balloon floating gracefully through the dawn stillness above one of SA’s most historic tourist towns.
It’s a marketer’s dream and the fantastic publicity for both the event and the Government are obvious.
The regatta was a family-orientated event at low cost with all the profits returned to the local CFS, SES and Rotary club.
A host of smaller community organisations such as sporting clubs and Scout groups were welcomed to piggyback on the event and use it as a fundraiser.
Most of that money will stay in the local community.
Event organiser Kate Knight has offered the Facebook critics a seat on the organising committee.
It’ll be interesting to see how many take up the offer.

Internet access

Country people are used to paying higher prices for more limited services than their city cousins.
It’s long been a fact of life that things like petrol cost more and some services such as specialised health care are just unavailable in some towns.
Now, internet access has been added to that list for many Hills residents.
While it’s just over 30 minutes from Adelaide and one of the district’s fastest growing towns, Nairne might as well be in the outback when it comes to new technology.
Many residents and businesses are being forced to pay more than double the usual city rates for limited internet access  because infrastructure growth has lagged behind the town’s expansion.
There is no doubt that demand is there for more ADSL broadband connections, but what locals can’t understand is why telecommunications giant Telstra won’t upgrade its exchange to meet that need.
The answer may lie in the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which would replace the ADSL network when it rolls into town.
Telstra wouldn’t comment on whether it was holding off on upgrading the Nairne and Littlehampton connections until the NBN arrives, other than to say it planned to continue to manage the national network and maximise or upgrade assets where possible until the rollout was complete.
But there are no plans for immediate upgrades in either town.
As a major corporation, it is under-standable that Telstra may make a cost-saving decision not to increase ADSL connections if the technology is going to be replaced in the not too distant future.
The NBN expects to start connecting Mt Barker, Nairne, Blakiston and Littlehampton in the next 18 months, but how long it takes for those connections to be widespread is anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, school students need reliable internet to do their homework, while businesses need to maintain an online presence and communicate with customers and suppliers.
So new Nairne business owners and residents are left to pay more for something that is considered a basic necessity for a modern enterprise or lifestyle.

CFS cash cow

It is a worrying indication of the state of SA’s finances that an emergency such as the Sampson Flat Bushfire has led to a 9% tax hike through the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).
Admittedly the Adelaide Hills Council is crying poor and has introduced a 1% levy in its 2015/16 budget to pay for a $500,000 blow-out in bushfire-related tree removal costs.
But its levy is a one year only increase and, to be fair, $500,000 is a significant hit for an organisation with an income of about $40m compared with the State Government’s much larger annual budget.
This ESL increase is not a once-off, its a permanent fixture that comes on top of some significant increases last year when subsidies were axed.
It is, effectively, a tax increase that is being framed as a much-needed income source for the poor old CFS volunteer.
The CFS Volunteers Association is understandably annoyed at having the goodwill of its members used to mask political expediency.
It has even accused the Government of double dipping by pointing out that the Treasurer Tom Kousantonis has failed to identify that past bushfire emergencies have been paid for through a contingency fund and that Federal funding is allocated when a State of Emergency is declared, as was the case with Sampson Flat.
What is particularly galling is that by using the ESL to squeeze out more money from householders, the Government is adding to the misinformation and ill-will about the work of the CFS from the general population, particularly after last year’s price hike.
Many city and regional people don’t understand that CFS members are volunteers.
A recent letter to the editor in a metropolitan paper complained that Hills residents should pay for the Sampson Flat fire because they made the lifestyle choice to live in a high bushfire zone.
This year the ESL raised about $266m of which the CFS received $66m and the MFS – which provides a 24-hour paid service for a predominantly urban population – received $124m. Having well resourced emergency services should be a right for all residents, rural and metropolitan, and the Government should stop using the ESL as a convenient cash cow.

Cleland koalas

It’s often the case that people fail to realise the treasures they have on their own doorstep.
Many South Australians are guilty of taking our beautiful State for granted.
There are few cities in the world that can offer their own equivalent of natural bushland and native animals within half an hour’s drive of the CBD.
Adelaide can.
Research shows the city’s mix of metropolitan facilities and proximity to an authentic Australian bush experience is appreciated by the growing Chinese tourism market.
But perhaps what we have to offer isn’t packaged appropriately for international visitors.
The State Government is trying to change that as part of multi-country trade mission it is kicking off this weekend.
Among the range of big projects about to be spruiked to would-be foreign investors is a master plan for a koala centre combined with a five-star luxury resort at the Cleland Wildlife Park.
The centre would be a leading hub of research and education on koala health and habitat while offering treetop walks to see koalas in their natural environment plus koala handling experiences.
The resort would offer luxury accommodation and fine dining, hopefully taking advantage of Mt Lofty Summit’s stunning views and SA’s top quality food and wine.
It sounds ambitious and with a $100m price tag it is certainly expensive which is why foreign investment is needed.
This is beyond our means.
Besides the problem of finding the cash, the Government will also have to negotiate a maze of planning and environmental concerns in order to avoid the same fate as the discredited Waterfall Gully cable car and summit hotel project of the late 1980s.
However, if it can find a backer and if it can produce a “major project” that delivers a world class facility capable of operating sustainably in its environment, then the Hills could be poised for a tourism bonanza.
A high profile Cleland Wildlife Park opens up many opportunities for visitors to explore the neighborhood and the hidden treasures we all enjoy.
The region needs a point of difference to market itself on an increasingly crowded world tourism stage … and this could be the answer.

Luxury resort

The Mt Barker Council’s Development Assessment Panel faces a difficult decision today over the proposal to build an $8m luxury resort near Hahndorf.
The five-star facility, aimed at meeting demand from high-end tourists is, in the council planning staff’s own words, a finely balanced proposal.
It does not meet several of the planning criteria for the Watershed Zone, including provisions that stipulate tourism facilities should be small scale and set up in established buildings.
While the Promient Hill Resort is arguably small in capacity because it will only host up to 22 guests for overnight stays and up to 50 diners in its private restaurant, at 225m long it is certainly physically at the large end of the scale.
For local residents, this development proposal presents legitimate concerns.
It will be visible from neighboring properties, could increase local traffic and noise and some argue it could set a worrying precedent for future non-complying developments in rural areas.
On the flip side, as the SA Tourism Commission points out, the region has a real need for top-level accommodation.
There is an under supply of high end luxury accommodation in the area and an increasing demand among wealthy overseas tourists who are seeking out our fine food, wine and cultural experiences.
A facility of this level, while it may not be accessible to all tourists, could help market the region in the same way the exclusive Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island has done for that community.
The spin-off benefits of the Southern Ocean Lodge are felt across the island from its marketing might to its use of local food and other produce.
This kind of overseas investment in our region is also something groups such as the Hills and Coast Regional Development Australia body have been working to attract in an effort to boost the local economy.
With State Government, tourism and business heavyweights all leaning on the council to give this application the green light, there is certainly a level of pressure on decision makers today.
But whatever the perceived benefits, it is also the panel’s duty to ensure non-complying proposals which are judged on their merit meet the relevant planning requirements or have very good reasons for not doing so.

Betty’s vision is finally realised

The realisation of Mt Barker woman Betty Sickel’s dream for improved facilities for people with disabilities in Mt Barker is a win for some of the region’s most hard done by residents.
Caring for a loved one with a disability, be it physical or mental, is a demanding job and all too often it is done out of love with limited outside support.
It’s 24/7 work that can take a toll on both the carer and the person with a disability.
A blind, double amputee who also suffered complications with diabetes, the late Mrs Sickel knew how tough that could be at times.
She longed for a place where people with disabilities could go for respite, allowing them to gather and socialise in a supported environment while their families also had a break.
Support services for people with disabilities and their families have come a long way in the 40 years since Mrs Sickel first voiced her dream for a respite centre in Mt Barker.
But they are also very in demand and often more limited in regional areas, including the Hills.
Having helped his sister with her four-times daily insulin injections from the time he was nine, and having another sibling with cerebral palsy, Pastor Eric Liebelt knew very well the challenges of caring.
This insight gave him the drive to pursue his sister’s vision despite many hurdles and hiccups along the way.
Now, thanks to Mrs Sickel’s land donation, Pastor Liebelt’s determination and an army of other supporters and benefactors, people with disabilities in this region have access not only to new respite options, but also independent and supported living units and activities in a dedicated community centre.
It is staggering to think that this multi-million dollar project was delivered without any funding from State, Federal or local governments.
It was built on the backs of volunteers who did everything from sell firewood for fundraising to donating their time and expertise to make the Hill View Lutheran Homes to the Disabled a reality.
What they have created is a facility beyond even Mrs Sickel’s dreams, and one that does her legacy proud.

Event hurdle

It’s testament to the success of Groovin the Moo that a sell-out crowd of 15,000, mostly young people, braved some pretty cold and wet Hills weather to attend Saturday’s concert.
There is clearly a need for the event and by most reports this year’s festival was a well-run event with fewer noise and behavioral problems at the Oakbank racecourse than last year.
It is clear that taking the music to regional areas is a format that works considering  six of the eight concerts in the Australia-wide tour have already sold out.
The event’s organisers are mindful of its impact on the Hills community and worked to address concerns raised after last year’s concert with noise and drunken behavior outside the racecourse.
It’s a shame then that, through no fault of its own, the event has again been tarnished, this time by the actions of a minority of festival-goers who have behaved in a clearly antisocial way en route to the concert.
It’s not unreasonable for a person running a restaurant to say they don’t want people urinating and vomiting in full view of their customers.
It’s not unreasonable to say that a landscape supply company shouldn’t be overrun by hundreds of intoxicated young people using its private toilets without permission.
And it’s not unreasonable to expect better treatment for a very unwell young man than being thrown off a bus and left outside a private business without assistance while semi-conscious.
Young people pre-loading on alcohol and drugs before a big day or night out is nothing new, and is not the fault of event organisers.
But those transporting intoxicated people – whether it be on chartered buses or in private cars – have a degree of responsibility for their passengers.
They shouldn’t be stopping at private businesses, on the freeway or its on and off ramps so their passengers can use them as toilets.
Let’s hope the event’s organisers can drum into bus and car drivers that this is unacceptable and make other arrangements, such as scheduled stops at public toilets, so that the only dirty outcome from next year’s event will be a few thousand pairs of muddy gumboots.

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.

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