Tag listing: Mt Barker

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.

A tough choice

Mt Barker Councillors faced a difficult decision this week when they elected to raise their rates by an average of 5%.
With increasing Federal and State Government fees and charges and cuts to entitlements, many ratepayers are set to feel the financial pinch and several had pleaded with the council to minimise the burden it would place on their hip pockets.
No doubt they will be disappointed – some bitterly so – with the result that leaves the rate hike for 2014/15 as planned.
As Cr Simon Westwood said, it won’t be a popular decision.
The split in the vote (four voting against the budget, five for it) shows the difficulty the council faced in making the choice, weighing up compassion and concern for its community against the pressures impacting on its bottom line.
But governments, including councils, are elected to make the tough calls to secure the best outcome for their communities.
For several years the Mt Barker Council has minimised its rate rise, and on occasion lowered it at the community’s request.
However, now the council finds itself in an unenviable position.
It cannot ignore the demands placed on it by the State Government’s decision in 2010 to rezone enough land to more than double the town’s population.
As Cr Susan Hamilton points out, it must look to the future: not the next 12 months, but beyond to the next decade.
It will be a time of growing pains as the district struggles to provide the new infrastructure and services required to meet that growth.
But, as Cr Hamilton also pointed out, delaying those projects will not make them any cheaper in future.
Instead, it would arguably place the community at a greater risk of much larger rate increases in coming years.
It is a hard truth but Cr Trevor Corbell is also right when he says that the council is not a “de facto welfare agency”.
It has a very limited budget and a very lengthy list of responsibilities that continues to grow with Federal and State Government cost-shifting.
It cannot ignore those responsibilities simply because the top two tiers of government have made unpalatable choices with far-reaching consequences.
In fact, the council itself is a victim of those decisions, losing $239,000 in road funding.
It has had to make cuts and has chosen to do so in response to community concerns, for example axing $80,000 for the Hoot! Jazz Festival.
No council would enjoy raising rates – least of all in an election year. However, it made the difficult decision not to go into debt to deliver ratepayers a modest saving.

Town square plan

The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association’s proposal for a town square on privately owned land in Mt Barker’s town centre is extremely ambitious.

Asking a major retailer like Woolworths to gift land to the community is being breathtakingly hopeful.

Expecting a cash-strapped Mt Barker Council or State Government to pay millions to acquire it may also be in the realms of fantasy.

But there is no denying that such a public space is exactly what Mt Barker’s town centre is lacking.

For years it has struggled without a public “heart”.

Historic Gawler Street is a drawcard, but there are few sheltered spaces for people to meet, relax and socialise outside the nearby businesses.

Visit most other regional towns of a similar size and you will find a central public space where children can safely run around, workers can escape the office for lunch and people can gather together for special community events.

While Mt Barker has the well-used and much-loved Keith Stephenson Park, as well as beautiful green spaces along its linear trail, both are too far from the retail hub for most people to use regularly during the day.

As Mt Barker has grown in size its sense of community has diminished and the provision of a central public hub as suggested by the association may help address this social shortcoming.

The site is already one of the most talked about in the town, with high community interest in its future ever since Woolworths proposed its $40m Big W shopping complex.

That development was rejected by the council in 2012 because it didn’t comply with key planning controls.

At the time the council made it clear that it wanted to see a high-quality development that would make the most of the town’s last undeveloped block.

Woolworths is yet to unveil any new plans for the land.

As the owner of the bulk of the block it is well within its rights to build whatever it chooses, subject to planning approvals.

However, it seems to recognise the significance of the site and appears to be open to hearing the community’s ideas.

As the association points out, there is just one chance to “get it right” on that site.

So while the town centre vision may be ambitious, it is worth investigating.

It may be a long and difficult process involving complex negotiations between landowners, the council and Government that may lead nowhere.

But the only real way to guarantee such a proposal falls over is by failing to fight for it in the first place.

Employment hub

Many commuting Hills dwellers would love to work closer to home.
Unfortunately with a population set to grow by the thousands and a lack of open office space around Mt Barker – this is difficult to achieve.
The proposal by developer Adelin Pty Ltd to create an employment hub on the outskirts of Mt Barker could be a significant opportunity to create the jobs that are needed to keep more residents working locally.
The land currently set aside for employment purposes by the State Government as part of the 2010 rezoning is near Wistow and any development at the site is unlikely to take place for many years.
Adelin’s proposal to build an employment park housing office, commercial, service industry and light industry at Totness fits in well with the area’s existing facilities.
The site is also centrally located between major towns and is close to the Mt Barker town centre.
However, it is close to the freeway and the town’s entrance, which will make the park highly visible.
A great deal of work will need to be done to screen the development in order to retain the region’s semi-rural atmosphere and to ensure the first impression of Mt Barker is not one of an industrial site.

Vote of thanks

The Hills has always had cause to be thankful for its CFS volunteers but last week’s heatwave only highlighted our debt of gratitude.
When a storm passed through last Tuesday afternoon, January 14, dozens of lightning strike fires were reported in this region and our brigades quickly responded.
We were extremely fortunate that all fires were put out.
Then crews turned their attention to the escaped fire at Rockleigh and arrived with their trucks to give their neighbors a hand.
And that’s what it was like for the rest of the week.
With the danger ever present in our own district, the brigades sent what they could to help communities burning at Delamere, Eden Valley, the Riverland and Ceduna.
All this for no remuneration beyond the satisfaction of helping others.
But not only should our volunteers be applauded – thanks should also go to those supporting our firefighters, including their families and their employers who gave up their claims on their time.
It is at times of great need that we realise how much we need to work together.


Pageant saved

Mt Barker residents can breathe a sigh of relief – their much-loved Christmas Pageant is safe for another two years.

The biggest regional event of its kind was cancelled indefinitely by its organising committee in May after members discovered  the sheds housing their floats and costumes were set to be bulldozed by the State Government to make way for a Park n Ride facility.

It was the final straw for the event, following years of uncertainty ever since the sheds were condemned by the Mt Barker Council in 2011.

It was great news then to learn that the Government had recognised the importance of the event and contributed $30,000 towards ensuring its short-term future, and that a temporary home for the floats has subsequently been found.

Credit must also be paid to the community leaders, local council and organising committee for working hard to find a solution over the past few months.

The responsibility now rests with the local community to ensure the longevity of the popular event.

If residents truly value the pageant and want to ensure it stays viable for generations to come, then now is the time to step up.

One of the dangers of living in a growing region such as Mt Barker is losing that valued sense of community.

It is events such as the Christmas pageant that make living in the Hills a bit more special, and as the town eventually becomes more and more suburban, these type of community-based events are at risk of being lost.

The pageant is a valuable leftover of the country town that Mt Barker used to be and it is something worth fighting for.

Antiques fair

The Strathalbyn Collectors, Hobbies and Antique Fair continues to grow in stature and is becoming a firm favorite on the district’s tourism calendar.

Although last weekend’s fair was besieged by appalling weather, the format is excellent and the event is a real asset to the town and the local business community.

The determination of the organising committee to attract high profile antique celebrities – Tim Wonnacott from the TV show Antiques Roadshow and BBC Bargain Hunt in 2012 and Gordon Brown and Claudia Chan-Shaw from the ABC’s Collectors for this year’s event – has lifted the profile of the fair enormously.

The fair has further enhanced Strathalbyn’s reputation as an antique and tourist hub and shows the value in developing a point  of difference in a very competitive national  tourism market.

The art of learning

Politicians and bureaucrats are often criticised for their expensive jaunts across the globe under the guise of professional development.

These trips are often viewed by the public as a waste of money – and sometimes they are little more than taxpayer funded holidays.

However, Mt Barker Council chief executive Andrew Stuart’s recent study tour of North America and Canada appears to have been a worthwhile endeavor.

While it would have been expensive, the trip appears to have already resulted in tangible outcomes and given the  participants a fresh perspective on the future of urban development in SA.

Having 20 council, government and development industry professionals seated on a bus for two weeks is one way to fast track friendships and produce interesting conversations.

Combine that with a tour of a broad range of developments to see what works, what doesn’t, and what role different bodies should play in the process, and meaningful engagement is assured.

The people on this trip were not politicians but ground level professionals with their hands on the levers and the ability to make things happen.

Mr Stuart, by his own admission, has returned with great resolve to build on what has already been achieved by the council and it appears the trip has already produced tangible outcomes.

It seems the State Government has listened to what Mr Stuart and the council have been claiming for years – that the Ministerial Development Plan Amendment laid down for Mt Barker in 2010 is flawed.

For the first time the council has been given the opportunity to begin the process of changing the development plan.

This is a huge step forward and a breakthrough that was a direct result of the relationships developed on the study tour.

It is well known that the situation in Mt Barker is far from ideal and there’s nothing the council can do to change past decisions that were out of its control.

It now needs to work with the hand it has been dealt and do everything possible to make the development of Mt Barker the sort of place other planning professionals will want to visit in the future.

The social and economic problems that can result from a poorly planned development can remain for generations …  so the council and developers need to get this right.

If this trip has been a success we as a community will reap the rewards for years to come.

Pageant must stay

For 40 years the Mt Barker Christmas Pageant has drawn thousands of people to line the town’s streets and celebrate the festive season.

Last year 85 floats and over 1000 volunteers took part in the event, which is the largest regional pageant of its kind in the State.

The news of its cancellation is a tragedy for the community.

It’s too popular and too well run to be abandoned solely because alternative storage arrangements for the 15 permanent floats and many costumes cannot be found.

It would be ideal if a new shed could be secured – big enough to store all the equipment and allow regular and convenient maintenance of the floats.

However, even if the proposed Flaxley site was secured, it is a long way from Mt Barker and would create difficulties in transporting the floats into town each year.

Perhaps the hard-working organising committee should rethink how the pageant can continue using a different formula.

It’s too good an event to let the current problem kill it off for good.

There are many other pageants in the Hills which survive quite successfully without a central storage facility.

Stirling, Woodside and Lobethal each run a popular Christmas pageant without a large number of permanent floats.

Those events are mostly made up of community entries – trucks, utes and vans decked out in tinsel and flanked by enthusiastic volunteers.

Many other entries have no vehicles at all and are just children and groups walking to a theme.

The few permanent floats these communities own are stored in various locations across the district.

There are already up to 70 community entrants in the Mt Barker pageant each year on top of the committee’s 15 floats.

A clean, dry and secure storage facility for the costumes would be required and the Mt Barker Council could become a more enthusiastic partner if the burden of delivering a massive shed was removed.

Homes could be found for the floats in various farm sheds around the district and be maintained on a roster, maybe with help from groups such as the men’s shed.

However, even if every float was lost, except for perhaps Santa’s sleigh, it shouldn’t spell the end for the pageant.

The test will be if there is enough community support behind the historic event to keep it afloat in one way or another.

Maybe more people need to step up and lend some time or space to the struggling 12-person pageant committee if they want Father Christmas to continue coming to town.

Lest we forget

Before dawn tomorrow hundreds of people across the Hills will brave the cold and make the pilgrimage to their local war memorial.
Ninety-nine years after the start of one of the world’s bloodiest wars we will pause to remember those young men who fought and died at Gallipoli, marking the first major military action fought by Australian and NZ troops in WW1.
It is heartening to see the resurgence in numbers at these services.
Many feature school students, who read poems or extracts of letters and diaries from the front, and army cadets who form a catafalque party and stand sentinel at the memorial.
But in our rush to recognise the heroic deeds, mateship and camaraderie of war, we must not risk glorifying some of the most horrific times in our nation’s history.
Perhaps this Anzac Day as we stand in silence we should remember the sacrifices – not just the young lives lost, but also those who returned home irreparably damaged by injury or the shock and horror of what they lived through.
We should remember what the boys and men on the frontline really endured – the terror of scrambling out of trenches to fight the enemy, the cries of agony from the wounded, the sight of watching a mate cut down in front of them.
We should remember the families left behind in Australia for months or even years on end, not knowing whether their husbands, sons, fathers or brothers would return.
We should remember the economic hardship, the food rationing, the countless deaths to diseases such as the Spanish Flu that followed when the troops returned home.
These are some of the true costs of war.
Lest we forget.

Big challenge

The frustration expressed by the Mt Barker Council and the community at a lack of action on developing the proposed Big W site in the town centre is understandable.
It has been years since the land was cleared and sold to Woolworths, and then last year the company withdrew its plan for a major shopping complex after criticism from the council’s planners.
As the last major undeveloped site in the town centre, there is an eagerness from the community to see something happen there.
But it is also important that the town gets the quality of development its residents deserve.
While that may take time, it should be worth the wait.

Planning platitudes

The Mt Barker Council’s latest push for some solid financial commitments from the State Government to help fund the massive expansion coming to the town have, once again, fallen well short of community expectations.
The meeting between the council’s chief executive and Deputy Mayor with Planning Minister John Rau on Tuesday appears to have delivered little more than platitudes.
Mr Rau’s promises that money could be forthcoming and his preparedness to set up meetings with other relevant Ministers are worth little when any element of trust between the community and the Government has been severely eroded.
The community doesn’t trust the Labor Party over this issue.
And it is wary with good reason.
Former Premier Mike Rann and then Planning Minister Paul Holloway said they would listen to the local people during the planning process … but they didn’t.
Since the strangely timed resignation of Mr Holloway the day after he announced the largely unwanted, unfunded and ill-planned growth for Mt Barker in 2010, the job of picking up the pieces has been left to Mr Rau.
What a poisoned chalice.
Soon afterwards Mr Rau said he didn’t want a similar path taken in future developments and put a ban on urban sprawl encroaching on the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
But he has remained opposed to any freeze on the Mt Barker growth, even in the wake of the Ombudsman’s recent findings that there was a conflict of interest with the same consultancy working for the developers who wanted the expansion and the Government agency looking to grow the region.
The Government’s performance is likely to be closely examined by the yet-to-be-formed Independent Commission Against Corruption but it seems the plan will not be halted while the investigation takes place.
That in itself is strange.
But given that Mr Rau intends to plough ahead with the unpopular plan, the local ratepayers and their council are faced with an uncertain future.
What essential services (sewage treatment, sporting facilities, jobs, public transport links, the ring route around the town) are to be provided, when are they to be built and who is going to pay for them?
Too little planning and only vague financial commitments were provided at the start of the process and, as houses continue to be built across the fertile landscape, no one is much the wiser – least of all the council.
Mt Barker is a wonderful example of how not to plan for growth.
Mr Rau, in his heart of hearts, knows that perfectly well.

Cold comfort

For many in Mt Barker who opposed the State Government’s expansion plan for the town, the release of the SA Ombudsman’s report last week will indeed be cold comfort.
The report is damning in its findings that the consultants who were paid to write the Government’s Growth Investigation Areas (GIA) report had a “clear” conflict of interest because they were also working for developers who wanted land around Mt Barker rezoned.
This conflict was flagged in State Parliament by Greens MLC Mark Parnell in 2009. At the time the then Planning Minister, Paul Holloway, defended the appointment of consultants Connor Holmes to work on a project that recommended widespread development around Mt Barker, despite its work in also lobbying Mr Holloway in 2008 on behalf of five land developers with interests in Mt Barker.
What is more alarming, however, is the fact that the Ombudsman found Connor Holmes disclosed its developer interests to the Government’s planning department, but that the information was not passed on to those awarding the GIA contract.
The Government breached its own procurement policies in the handling of this process.
The Mt Barker community is rightly outraged at the Ombudsman’s findings, however, it appears the investigation will change little. Planning Minister John Rau has ruled out reversing the development rezoning, and nor will he use his powers to freeze subdivisions on the new residential land until the matter is probed further.
And there can be no doubt that further investigation is needed – preferably by the new Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The issues raised in the Ombudsman’s report raise a red flag for the Government’s urban growth projects in other areas around the State.
Was Connor Holmes also representing developers in other areas that were eventually rezoned, such as Gawler East and Buckland Park?
In the interests of transparency, the GIA report must be publicly released.
If it was prepared by consultants with a vested interest, how can South Australians have any faith that the document was a truly independent report?
This report underpins the State’s 30-year Plan for Greater Adelaide, which is now the guiding document for development in SA. The Government must also reveal whether the GIA report was scrutinised by its planning department or whether the urban expansion boundaries it recommended were simply adopted verbatim.
If so, then there is no doubt that the State’s planning blueprint is tainted.

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