Tag listing: Mt Barker

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.

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.

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.

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.