Tag listing: Mt Barker

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.

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.

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.

Grand plan for Mt Barker’s CBD

Local architect Geof Nairn’s bold $100m vision for the last undeveloped block of land in Mt Barker’s CBD has all elements many people believe the town is been lacking.
The grand plan is appealing on a number of levels – arts, tourism, hospitality and retail are all covered – but as the adage goes, money makes the world go round.
A town square of such depth and complexity will cost millions of dollars and there will need to be outstanding confidence in its future on an economic level, for it to succeed.
Considering only limited funds are likely to be derived from the State Government, only the deep pockets of developers and investors will bring it to life.
The Mt Barker Council has already tried to secure a portion of the vacant block but was unsuccessful in its attempt to loosen Woolworths’ grip over the prime piece of real estate.
As the land is now out to open tender, the council is still hopeful it can secure the site if it links with an interested developer.
If the land is sold to someone with a different concept, the opportunity for such a town square in the heart of Mt Barker will be lost forever.
Mr Nairn’s vision could be an important step in attracting community and, more importantly, corporate interest.
The resulting buzz and excitement is likely to stir up further ideas and possibilities.
Mt Barker, like many rapidly growing Australian towns, suffered something of an identity crisis when the main street no longer became the prime shopping strip and the economic focus shifted to the supermarkets.
A town without a focal point is just a group of houses.
Imagine being able to sit outdoors and read a book in Mt Barker’s CBD, or enjoy a lunch break in a vibrant town square filled with people and shopping opportunities.
In recent years, Mt Barker has seen many bold visions disappear into the ‘too hard and too expensive’ basket and it would be a shame for the this plan to follow suit.
There is no doubt this is a long-term vision but the concept is a promising starting point.
Although dreams and ideas can be powerful weapons, the first hurdle is for the council to secure the land.

On the rise

The Mt Barker Council’s plan to keep a five-storey future alive for a strip of land between the railway line and the Mt Barker Creek is a reasonable compromise between earlier plans which outraged the community.
When initial plans to allow five-storey buildings in the town along historic streets and creeks were first released last year, the community widely rejected the possibility of such large-scale projects ever taking place.
But after acknowledging a need for greater diversity and vibrancy in the town, the council has retained its plan to allow buildings up to five storeys high along a strip of land from the town’s caravan park and continuing south to the Dutton Road roundabout.
The council has listened to the community’s desire to retain the heritage feel of particular streets and to keep future developments along Cameron Road limited to two-storeys as viewed from the road.
Mt Barker is a rapidly growing district with a population set to further expand and creating a different housing mix could be the key to soothing some of the district’s growing pains.
Although these five-storey residential and commercial developments are bound to experience some teething issues, the inner-city living choice is likely to bring a vibe to the town.
Apartment living is attractive to young people and first home-buyers and, although a concrete jungle is a foreign concept to many Hills dwellers, it’s reasonable for the council to try and cater for all parties within its changing community.
A reinvigoration of Mt Barker’s original heart – Gawler Street – is another attempt at bringing people into the town and having them work, play, eat and live in one vicinity.
Extended shop opening hours, brighter night-life, more entertainment and second-storey tourist accommodation would do just that. But of course, high-rise buildings, accommodation developments and a changed streetscape won’t happen overnight and these future visions will take decades to unfold.
The Mt Barker Council is thinking ahead while listening to its community.
Allowing large-scale apartment buildings for part of Mt Barker, while maintaining the preservation of its most precious areas is a good attempt at meeting the community halfway.

Joint ventures could be way of the future

A proposal for ratepayers to jointly fund a $9m sport and convention centre at a Mt Barker school presents an innovative solution to the problem of providing the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of the town’s rapid growth.
The state-of-the-art centre at St Francis de Sales College would open up opportunities for both the school and the wider community.
For $2.5m, the Mt Barker Council could buy a share in a facility it might otherwise never be able to afford, given the looming list of big-ticket infrastructure items that the district will need over the next decade.
For the Mt Barker community, the new centre would give indoor sports such as basketball room to expand, while also providing the Hills’ regional centre with a space and facilities capable of hosting major indoor events that could attract thousands of visitors.
There is a clear need for more indoor sporting facilities in the town, with the existing Adelaide Hills Recreation Centre stretched to the limits catering for a growing number of junior and senior basketball teams.
In some cases, school aged children are playing late at night on week nights so that enough games can be squeezed in on the two available courts.
Mt Barker also has no indoor space big enough to host major conferences, conventions or trade expos that is equipped with supporting facilities such as a commercial kitchen.
Such a centre, while clearly benefiting the college in providing facilities for its growing student body, could also become a regional centrepiece for the community for both sport and economic development.
However, should the joint-use project go ahead, the council must have a robust management agreement in place to ensure the community gets its fair share of access to the centre in order to reap the benefits.
If it is successful, such shared-use and co-funding arrangements between the council and the private sector, especially schools, are likely to become commonplace as a way of providing the tens of millions of dollars worth of new infrastructure needed for the town while minimising the financial burden on its ratepayers.

Building up

Fast-forward two decades and imagine Mt Barker’s town centre streets lined with five-storey apartment blocks and offices.
It’s a challenging thought that high rise developments as tall as the Flinders Medical Centre could take the place of the town’s pool and caravan park, form the backdrop along its creeks and overshadow tiny historic cottages.
Clearly the community has decided that vision is not one it wants for Mt Barker circa 2035.
Their overwhelming opposition to the council’s proposed new maximum building height limit in the town centre is justified.
Such buildings would be far too big for the narrow streets and historic precincts along which they are proposed.
But the fact remains that Mt Barker is a rapidly growing town, undergoing a painful transformation from sleepy country town to bustling regional centre.
These growing pains are placing extra pressure on the town centre to meet the demands of business and community expectations.
Office accommodation is in short supply and there are limited opportunities for those who want to live in the heart of the town.
Residents also expect that Mt Barker will offer the 21st Century infrastructure, shopping opportunities and services befitting a regional centre.
With that extra pressure on a limited town centre, it makes sense to build up.
It creates environmental benefits by condensing the CBD in a confined footprint, while also opening up opportunities for commerce and the community to coexist in a way that can breathe vibrancy into the heart of the town.
There are plenty of examples in inner city Adelaide of well-designed two to three storey developments mixing apartment living with cafes, shops and offices.
This gives new housing opportunities to those who don’t want a big house but do want easy access to services and shops, such as the young and elderly.
Such vibrancy can still be achieved in Mt Barker’s town centre with a reduced height limit of two to three storeys and innovative design to ensure the town centre becomes a pleasant and productive heart rather than a concrete jungle.

Emergency care

Having easily accessible all hours health care is something many of us expect in our community, so it’s not surprising that a 24-hour emergency department heads a wish list of service improvements for Mt Barker district residents.

The town’s hospital currently does not have a doctor on site for after hours emergencies.

Instead, patients must be assessed by nurses at the hospital who can call in a GP to see them, or be referred on to another hospital.

For many locals that has meant a lengthy trip to often crowded emergency departments at city hospitals such as the Royal Adelaide, Women’s and Children’s or Flinders.

Many of us would like the security and peace of mind of knowing that there is a round-the-clock service at our own hospital when a child wakes in the middle of the night with a raging fever, a family member breaks a bone or an elderly relative needs care.

The addition in recent years of the After Hours GP Care service at the Summit Health Centre goes some way to meeting that demand with GP appointments available after hours on weeknights, weekends and public holidays.

But not everyone is aware of the service and it is not available beyond certain hours.

Despite the community’s strong wish for a local 24-hour emergency department, the reality is that Mt Barker, even with its surrounding catchment of Hills towns, is not a metropolitan centre.

Its population, while set to double in coming decades, is unlikely to ever grow big enough to support such a facility and the necessary qualified staff to run it.

It is even more unlikely given SA’s health budget is spiralling out of control and the State Government is planning to cut services and close other emergency facilities in the suburbs to rein in costs.

But Summit Health’s proposal for a doctor on-site overnight at the Mt Barker hospital presents a realistic compromise.

Local doctors who already provide on-call services could share the load, giving residents better access to healthcare after hours.

The idea is certainly worthy of further investigation by  Health SA.

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.