Hills dominate tour stages

Thousands of cyclists and spectators will descend on the Hills next week as the region hosts stages of Australia’s most prestigious bike race. - Read more.

New urban plan

A Development Plan Amendment (DPA) that represents more than a decade of work (and rework) has finally been released to the residents of the Adelaide Hills Council.
Called the Townships and Urban Areas DPA, this document reviews all the residential areas in the district in an attempt to make policies more streamlined in a council that faces many challenges and restrictions because of the high bushfire risk and sensitive watershed environment.
It looks at a number of issues but because the council is not allowed to increase its urban boundaries, it only provides mechanisms to provide another 470 building lots beyond the current, “optimal” potential to develop just over 1000 new housing allotments under current planning rules.
It’s a far cry from the State Government-imposed Ministerial DPA for Mt Barker which was pushed through in late 2010 and opened up 1300ha of farmland for housing and industry.
That DPA created the potential to bring at least 25,000 more people to the Mt Barker and Nairne region with some 7000 more homes.
The scale in the Adelaide Hills Council is significantly smaller but elected members might have to do some slick consultation to avoid flack from the various communities within their district.
The council often comes under fire for being slow and difficult to deal with when it comes to planning.
Many of those problems are because of the rules it has to work under (hence the DPA) but sometimes the delays are because local residents are passionate about their patch and they are motivated to fight any change they don’t like.
Here the council is hoping to bring about changes residents do want, and that is the chance to provide for a “diversity of housing” so seniors can downsize to a more manageable dwelling and young people have the opportunity to enter the housing market.
Compared with other councils, the district is woefully short on units and townhouses so residents often have to move away to find accommodation they need or can afford.
This DPA attempts to meet that need within the space available and is worth a read.

Long running issue

It speaks volumes about the effectiveness of an organisation’s communication procedures when politicians have to step in and organise a public meeting in order to bring an issue to a head.
But hopefully Opposition spokesman for emergency services Duncan McFetridge and local Hills MP Mark Goldsworthy can bring about something positive from such a meeting and break the impasse between State Emergency Service (SES)  management and the striking Onkaparinga SES Unit over triaging and response times for trees across minor roads and potential house flooding.
These are issues that have been simmering for years and, despite the finger pointing and the threats against speaking out, the concerns expressed are not isolated to the central Hills.
Allegations of unnecessary delays stretch across the Hills and into the Strathalbyn and Fleurieu region.
SES management says the Onkaparinga unit “just doesn’t get it” and the unit says the same of those in charge.
What the public doesn’t get is why a fallen tree limb can block a lane of a busy feeder road in Stirling, not far from the Stirling CFS, and the first response is to send an SES unit based at Coromandel Valley to clean it up.
Someone has taken their eye off the ball, and if they haven’t, the reasons why have not been adequately articulated by management to the volunteers, or the public.
The public has an expectation that their emergency services will operate effectively.
Volunteers, from all units and services, do their best to meet that expectation – for no financial reward and often in trying conditions.
This internal stand-off at Onkaparinga should not be seen as a slur on the SES volunteers across the State who worked tirelessly during the storm last week.
Nor should it be seen as an issue isolated to a small group of troublemakers.
Many of the 40 plus Onkaparinga volunteers who recently sent a letter outlining their concerns to Emergency Services Minister Peter Malinauskas have 30 to 50 years of experience in the SES.
They think this triaging problem poses a risk to their community and they want it sorted out and that’s not an unreasonable request.

Sign of the times

Local Federal MP Jamie Briggs appears to have a plethora of very bruised and battered election posters clinging drunkenly to Stobie poles across the district.
Some of his posters went up on Saturday night – even before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the election – but the wild winds of Monday played havoc with many leaving the Member for Mayo looking rather knocked about.
But the dishevelled state of his image appears to be of little concern to the incumbent as he is not taking them down … even though he has been ordered to do so.
The problem is the rules state that election posters can’t be placed on public property until the writs are issued meaning this period of visual vandalism the community must suffer at every election cannot commence before 6pm next Monday.
This rule has not changed from previous elections but it seems Labor, Liberal and the Greens went ahead anyway and volunteers began putting the posters up more than a week early in their desperation to lift the public recognition levels of their candidates.
Dozens of posters extolling the virtues of Greens Senate candidates as well as Mr Briggs were placed around the Hills … until the local councils on Monday ordered their removal within 24 hours.
No Labor, NXT or Greens posters for Mayo have been spotted in the district.
The Greens began removing their Senate signs on Tuesday but Mr Briggs has refused to remove his saying the issue was minor and that the furore would all blow over and be forgotten in a couple of days.
Mr Briggs strengthened his resolve against the request from both the Adelaide Hills and Mt Barker councils by saying there had been a legal precedence set in a case in WA which meant that, even though the law hadn’t changed, the posters could go up as soon as the election was called.
That point is disputed by the Local Government Association and it informed all councils that candidates could be required to remove all the posters.
Other options are for council workers to remove the signs at the council’s own expense or impose a fine and take the offending candidates to court.
Either way the whole things is a shambles and Mr Briggs’ defiant challenge to the rules is an election strategy he should seriously reconsider.

Court short

Back in late 2014 the State’s Chief Justice, Chris Kourakis, claimed up to $7.5m had been cut from the SA courts budget.
The result was a justice system operating with a $90m budget that was no longer “sustainable”, he said.
Besides curtailing the replacement of retiring judicial staff, the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) started dealing with the problem by announcing the closure of the Port Adelaide, Mt Barker, Holden Hill and Tanunda Magistrates Courts.
After a public consultation period Port Adelaide stayed open, Holden Hill was closed and Mt Barker and Tanunda were downgraded to part-time circuit courts using visiting staff.
As a compromise it was better than nothing but with rumors still persisting that the Mt Barker court would eventually close, the district’s legal community began questioning whether the belt tightening was worth it.
CAA documents obtained by local lawyers under freedom of information applications suggests the answer is no.
It seems closing the courthouse entirely would only have realised annual savings of $49,000.
In comparison, closing Port Adelaide would have netted annual savings of $420,000. Changing Mt Barker to a circuit court has only produced annual savings of $5000.
That might only be related to infrastructure costs – which makes sense since you still need staff to do the same workload, just somewhere else – but it is a pittance to be pocketing.
Von Doussas lawyers think so and they have been joined by community leaders in calling on the State Government and the CAA to reverse the circuit court decision.
There’s plenty of arguments in their favor.
Mt Barker is tipped to become the second biggest regional city outside Adelaide.
Already the court has experienced a rise in criminal cases over the last three years, which is no doubt due to a growing population.
At the very least rapidly growing communities need existing social infrastructure to remain, not to be taken away. Making the court a part-time operation has only resulted in insignificant short-term savings at the risk of long-term, significant costs to the community.

SES politics

Back in February 2014 The Courier ran an editorial about a Hills-based unit of State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers being taken “off-line” by management for breaking protocol.
It was a short-term disciplinary action designed to slap the Onkaparinga SES on the wrist for asking the Woodside CFS to check on the status of a Woodside house believed to be under threat from flooding.
The SES unit was already busy dealing with flooding in Lobethal but protocol dictated that if they couldn’t attend the “P2 (priority two)” job, then another SES unit should have been called – not the CFS.
If they were busy, the householder in Woodside would just have to wait because the system allows the SES to “job stack” up to 27 P2 calls.
It should be noted here that there are 66 SES units across SA and 425 CFS stations.
Unfortunately the same system is also applied to trees that have fallen across roads not designated as major traffic routes.
The Onkaparinga SES says the threat to life on “minor” roads is very real and it wants the system fixed because volunteers from both services have the training to remove fallen trees and deal with flooding.
More than two years later the issue hasn’t been resolved and has surfaced again.
A short-term disciplinary action has now escalated into a stand-off between the unit and management and what is essentially a two-year long strike by volunteers.
Now it’s at the stage where the politicking and the accusations of gagging has led to the volunteers asking the SES chief officer to disband the unit in order to trigger a public meeting so they can explain the situation to the community.
Members say they can’t speak out and they’ve left it to their former manager to speak up and to State Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge to raise the issue in Parliament.
It is through Dr McFetridge that we learn that the central Hills isn’t the only area affected by this system because similar issues have surfaced in the Meadows and Strathalbyn region.
Something needs to be done to break this impasse – and sacking a group of volunteers over a demarcation dispute isn’t the answer.
The general public don’t care what color overalls their emergency services wear – and neither should the people pulling the strings at the top.

Act on cat issue

Why are pet cats treated differently to dogs in Australia, particularly in urban areas?
Society doesn’t tolerate dogs barking or wandering at large and yet householders seem to be fine with cats roaming the neighborhood at night.
Perhaps the heart of the problem is the perception of risk to humans.
Dogs can be aggressive whereas cats are more invisible and tend to flee when approached.
But does that make their behavior more acceptable?
According to recent studies, feral cats in Australia eat more than 20 billion – that’s billion, not million – mammals, reptiles, birds and insects a year.
That figure doesn’t include what ‘Fluffy’ the domestic cat and his friends eat every day when they are allowed to do what cats do naturally – be a predator.
Cats will kill when they’re hungry and many  will also kill when they are not hungry.
That fact is easy to ignore when you don’t see it and let Fluffy out the back door at night.
But local couple Charles Hart and Lynn MacFarlane couldn’t ignore the carnage when they inadvertently set up a “killing field” in their backyard in Stirling.
In their bid to enjoy interactions with kookaburras and possums, they also invited cats into their home.
Their solution was trapping, with 55 strays and ferals caught in three years – the highest number of trapped cats by an individual recorded by the RSPCA in recent times.
The couple tried working with neighbors to desex the local domestic population, but it made no difference to the carnage.
That doesn’t mean desexing isn’t essential for cat control, it is.
Dr Hart’s experience re-enforces one of the strong criticisms wildlife advocates have for cat campaigners who prefer to trap, neuter and return feral and stray animals rather than euthanise them.
Experts say defeating the cat problem must include simultaneous dealings with all three layers of the issue – feral, domestic and stray populations.
Domestic cats must be identified, confined and desexed to reduce them replenishing the stray  population – the interface between owned cats and feral cats – while stray and feral cats need to be removed at every opportunity.

Club in the rough

Mt Barker-Hahndorf Golf Club president Greg Simon says there is no problem with the financial state of his organisation, but his denial is in stark contrast to the view of some members who believe the club could be insolvent within a matter of months.
Former treasurer Steven Carroll told The Courier the club had lost up to $150,000 in the past 12 months due to a rise in administration costs and a drop in memberships.
His resignation over what he says was a lack of action by the committee to tackle the problem, has led the Mt Barker Council to take over the reporting of its finances.
No matter where the truth lies, it is a bad look for the club.
The fact remains the club has also been unable to reduce a mortgage of $484,000, despite receiving funds and members when it merged with the former Hahndorf Golf Club in 2007.
A careful look over the club’s books by the council is the logical step but running a complex enterprise such as a golf club is not its core responsibility.
A number of other councils run golf clubs, but it’s better for both members and the wider rate-paying community if local government remains at arm’s length.
Mr Carroll believes the club’s financial woes lay not on the fairways but under the clubhouse roof, highlighted by an alarming increase in administration costs.
The whole scenario leaves members nervous and it is little wonder they are taking their money elsewhere and choosing to invest in other clubs … or leaving the sport completely.
Something must be done before the situation compounds further and the organisation becomes insolvent.
The club’s management committee needs to be brutally honest about its financial state before the community risks losing a recreational gem for future generations to enjoy.
Professional advice must be sought.
The club has flagged the possibility of saving money by realigning the course so that its main entrance is via the proposed sporting development on Springs Road.
But that council-built sports hub is more than a decade away and, if the former club treasurer is to be believed, the organisation  only has months left before it is well and truly bunkered.

Petrol power

The news that Agostino Always AM/PM has planning approval to build a petrol station on the old Shell site in Stirling’s main street means something can finally be done with a high profile location that has become an eyesore in the past five years.
Not that businessman Frank Agostino could do much about the delay after he bought the site more than four years ago.
He had to wait on Shell to finish its rehabilitation work and then he had to go through the planning process – first with the Adelaide Hills Council and then the State Government.
It’s been a long haul and while Mr Agostino might be pleased his battle with bureaucracy is finally approaching the end, others in the community are not so pleased about the process itself.
It is galling that yet another service station proposal has been “called in” by the State Government as a major project of “economic significance”, bypassing the assessment of the independent planning authorities of local councils.
A single petrol station is not a project of significant economic importance to SA.
However, a staggering number of them have been called in by the State Co-ordinator-General and then passed by the Development Assessment Commission (DAC).
A fuel business was inevitable at this site and its existing use rights have always been acknowledged by planning authorities, and a neighbor.
What has been in question is the design and operation of the larger, modern development, which is not the same as the old petrol station.
The reasons why the council’s Development Assessment Panel deferred the original application twice and then knocked it back was not because it was a “service station” but because members wanted the applicant to tweak the design to better fit the development plan and get a better result for the community.
The applicants made some concessions  before heading to the State Government and the DAC for the result they wanted.
This all goes to show that the development plan in itself is not sufficient protection for community interests.
But get used to it because the way Planning Minister John Rau is streamlining the planning process, community input will be further eroded.

Youth jobless

The news that the Hills might have a spike in youth unemployment seems to be lost on the region’s two Mayors.
Adelaide Hills Mayor Bill Spragg doesn’t seem to think the jump from 9.3% to 16.2% in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) region of Adelaide Central and Hills applies to his council which has the second lowest overall unemployment rate for the nine councils in the area at 4.3%.
Mt Barker Mayor Ann Ferguson is also mystified by the figures, although with her district recording the second highest general unemployment rate of 8% and with a 9.4% unemployment rate in the Mt Barker township, it could be argued that her area would be affected.
So where is the problem? There obviously is one because the youth rate has jumped 75% in one year after remaining steady around the 10% mark or less for two years.
Adelaide Central and Hills has now made the top 20 hot spots for high youth unemployment in Australia, ranked just below the northern suburbs on 16.3%.
It would be too easy to point to eastern Adelaide and say the bulk of the 40,500 youth working population live there – so therefore the problem lies there.
However, if the Hills is being dragged down by youth unemployment in the more wealthy suburbs of Burnside, Unley, Prospect and Walkerville  – where generally more young people pursue tertiary education – then SA has a serious problem.
Anecdotal evidence from youth employment workers at the coalface of the issue suggests there is a growing youth unemployment problem in the Mt Barker district.
Perhaps that is just the fall-out from a growing population, but it needs to be explored.
Interestingly the ABS region with the highest youth unemployment in SA is not the northern suburbs but the Barossa-Yorke-Mid North with 19.4%.
It is worth noting that many of the highest areas in the nation are centred around areas traditionally associated with the mining industry – northern and central Queensland and the Hunter Valley in NSW.
Which makes the sudden and dramatic spike in the Adelaide Central and Hills region even more perplexing.
Rather than dismiss the 16.2% statistic as a blip that doesn’t apply to them, local leaders need to find out if a problem exists and, if it does, do something about it.

Sporting chance

The $28m sports hub proposed for Springs Road in Mt Barker is a concept needed by this growing community.

Plans for two football ovals, four soccer pitches, eight netball and six tennis courts as well as a 350-seat function centre will have a positive impact on this rapidly growing district and play a vital role in improving the lives of young participants.

It is often said that sport is the glue which binds country communities together and it develops a sense of place and a feeling of wellbeing like few other activities.

Sadly there are no ovals in the district which meet the requirements for AFL games or SA National Football League (SANFL) matches.

The Mt Barker football oval degenerates into a quagmire most winters and the neighboring recreation centre leaks during wet weather and swelters in the heat.

It’s fair to say that football and basketball – two of the most popular spectator and participation sports in Australia – are poorly serviced in Mt Barker.

But the cost of the proposed sports hub means it is years away from becoming a reality and is well beyond the reach of the  Mt Barker Council alone.

Without the input of both State and Federal governments as well as major stakeholders including the AFL and the  SANFL, the dream will never become a reality.

However, the council is keeping all the important players ‘in the loop’ during the initial stages in what appears to be a planned and co-ordinated strategy.

The council move this week to support St Francis de Sales College’s $7.5m indoor sports centre is another indicator that the council recognises its limitations and is prepared to enter partnerships to achieve a community benefit.

It would be impossible for the council to build four basketball courts for less than the $1.1m it will contribute to the Catholic school’s project.

The yet-to-be negotiated joint-use agreement between the council and the college must ensure the facility is open to the public at all times to allow the wider district’s basketball players to finally have a secure and comfortable playing arena.

Sport is a national obsession and further increasing its prominence at a grass roots level will do nothing but good for our community.