Tag listing: Mt Barker

District ignored

The State Government’s update of the 30-Year Plan For Greater Adelaide has ignored many promises made in 2010 when 1300ha of rural land in Mt Barker was rezoned for housing.
The scale of the rezoning went against the wishes of not only the Mt Barker Council but the vast majority of the community.
Mt Barker’s residents suddenly found themselves living in a town the State Government decided it wanted to grow into the second largest city in SA.
But six years later the recently released updated Greater Adelaide Plan appears to have largely ignored the pressing issues facing this rapidly growing hub.
The plan makes no mention of sporting facilities, the link between housing growth and jobs growth, or improved public transport for the town.
The proposed $28m regional sports hub – which appeared on the original plan – has somehow slipped completely off the radar.
Mt Barker councillors have voiced their disapproval of the updated plan saying it falls well short of the original document and is too “metro-centric”.
Sports facilities, health services, employment and public transport infrastructure are not just matters of great importance, they are essential ingredients in liveable communities, healthy neighborhoods and strong economies.
Without infrastructure directly linked to  growth, the community is already finding itself left with substandard and strained facilities and services.
The State Government’s decision to remove such targets and directions in outer-Adelaide areas is a perplexing political move.
The Hills community demonstrated in July’s Federal election that it was not prepared to be taken for granted and elected the first non-Liberal in the seat’s history.
With a State election looming in 2018, the State Government could have taken advantage of that community empowerment and the district’s changing demographic by delivering on its infrastructure promises and potentially making the seat more marginal.
But its silence on Mt Barker’s future is a strong indication it simply has no money.
It would seem that contributing to improvements such as a regional sports hub or a 24-hour doctor at the town’s hospital is a bridge too far.
Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next Federal campaign to see some action.

Sink or swim

The future of the Mt Barker Mountain Pool is an important conversation the Hills community must have for the improvement of this region’s general sporting needs.
The ageing pool leaks, is too small to host significant swimming events and is set to cost ratepayers another $300,000 this financial year, adding to an $850,000 loss over the past three years.
The pool has become so dilapidated the town’s council has decided no more money will be spent on major upgrades or even fixing a significant leak.
Throwing good money after bad is not in anyone’s interest.
The question the council must answer is how long can the community support a piece of infrastructure which has no long-term future to the tune of $300,00 per year?
The only solution to the district’s aquatic needs is to build a new pool elsewhere in the town – and the council has already moved down this path.
Over recent months council staff and elected members have spent many hours behind closed doors, discussing where a new pool could go, who would pay for it and how much it would cost.
Further details of these confidential discussions are likely to surface before the end of the year and it will be interesting to see what ripples they create.
The fact is swimming pools are expensive to build and maintain and the council is unlikely to be able to fund a new aquatic facility alone.
It must enter into a partnership and seek significant contributions from State and Federal governments.
This could be a good test for our new Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie to lobby the Federal Government for funds.
State MP Mark Goldsworthy also needs to be publicly proactive as governments question the level of priority a new swimming pool commands compared to other needs such as hospitals, transport and education.
The Hills is renowned for its high number of football ovals, tennis courts, soccer pitches and netball courts but it is clear more sporting facilities will be needed as Mt Barker expands.
As Mt Barker Councillor Carol Bailey put it, the Mountain Pool’s inadequate size is “embarrassing” for a town on track to becoming the second largest city in SA.

Traffic gridlock

The need for the opening of the new Bald Hills Road freeway interchange at the earliest opportunity becomes glaringly obvious when one is stuck in traffic on Adelaide Road in Mt Barker, usually on a Friday afternoon.
Motorists at that time are often brought to a standstill in both directions as hundreds of drivers try to navigate their way in and out of the town’s limited exits and entrances.
The Courier is aware of numerous anecdotes from the regular traffic snarls which include one driver who spent 25 minutes trying to make the 1.7km journey from Cornerstone College, via Cameron Road, Druids Avenue and Adelaide Road, to the city-bound freeway on-ramp.
In the end it took them less time to reach the city than it did to navigate the traffic in Mt Barker.
Other drivers have told of a complete gridlock on the bridge over the freeway.
Last Friday, on the eve of the long weekend, the traffic congestion again returned as cars crawled bumper-to-bumper along Adelaide Road from about 3.30pm.
Calls by Mt Barker Councillors Lindsay Campbell and Carol Bailey for a redesign of the freeway intersection on Adelaide Road are valid – but only if the new interchange offers no substantial relief when it opens in September.
If the new junction makes little difference, the Mt Barker Council and transport authorities must quickly develop a strategy to free up this precinct – perhaps by creating slip lanes for right-turning drivers.
Until significant improvements are made drivers must keep enduring the traffic frustrations and hope no catastrophic incident – such as a bushfire – unfolds in Mt Barker.
The Adelaide bound on-ramp is the only fast way out of the town and as Cr Campbell put it, “trying to squeeze everything through the one bottle top” is already proving difficult.
The traffic snarls are a result of Mt Barker’s growing pains, which have also put a strain on parking facilities in the town’s CBD.
If Mt Barker’s traffic and parking is bad now, wait until the district hits its predicted population of 52,000.

Vision for the future

The $113m crowdfunding campaign to secure the last vacant block of land in Mt Barker’s CBD and develop it into a town square is an exciting venture but with many significant hurdles to overcome.
The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association hopes it can drive enough interest from both local and overseas investors to secure the millions to create what Mt Barker so clearly needs.
But the land’s owner – retail giant Woolworths – has indicated it is yet to determine whether the parcel, bordered by Hutchinson Street and Druids Avenue, will even hit the market, and if it does, what price it will ask.
It’s also possible Woolworths could accept a higher offer from another party with a vision for the square that is different to that of architect Geof Nairn, who hopes to see a boutique hotel, and apartments built on the site.
But the fact that the residents’ association has turned the seed of an idea into action is a strong start.
The company managing the investment scheme – DomaCom – is a reputable investment firm which has already drawn $80m from investors towards the purchase of the Kidman cattle stations in outback Australia.
Hopefully DomaCom’s success will carry on in the heart of Mt Barker.
The Federal, State or local governments are unlikely to solely fund this town square project, leaving crowdfunding as the most promising way of achieving this vision.
But even if the investment scheme fails, Mr Nairn’s town square design has largely done its job … it has generated interest and enthusiasm.
The residents’ association has proven it cares for its town’s ambience and the livelihood and wellbeing of its people.
There is no ulterior motive at play.
And if the doubts come creeping in, one only has to look at Carey Gully’s high profile squatter Iain Herridge who received two last-minute donations to clear nearly $40,000 in outstanding council rates, stalling his possible eviction from an old cottage on Rangeview Road.
While drawing $113m in today’s economic climate is a much tougher assignment, it only takes one willing investor to turn the plans into reality.

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.