Some ideas for a new council

A top region needs a high-performing local government. Bundaberg could be the envy of other places if given an outstanding Council at today's polls. Let's hope so!

One of the key responsibilities of a local government is to plan and cultivate a prosperous community. The development industry, in particular, depends very heavily on the culture, strategies, policies, and practices of local government. It is simply not possible for the private sector to deliver new housing, industrial or commercial projects without a facilitative Council. Since property development and construction contributes significantly to economic growth, being our second largest industry sector, failure to collaborate with and foster the development industry condemns a community to impoverishment and frustration. It means lost jobs and forgone prosperity and wellbeing.

As the largest consultancy in the development sector in the Bundaberg region, Insite SJC has a lot at stake in the outcome of the elections. So, what do we hope for in the new Bundaberg Regional Council, and, in particular, the planning department?

The following is an invitation to the incoming Council. We do not intend it as a criticism of the outgoing council or its staff.

  1. Continually make improvements to culture—we acknowledge the improved corporate attitude over the past few years and the desire to be more client-oriented but there is never a reason to 'take the foot off the accelerator' on this subject. An enabling Council should seek every opportunity to be the best, to attract new investment, and be creators of opportunity. Improvement ought to be continuous and the right corporate culture is the basis of this.
  2. Deliver decisions more promptly—this is a constant challenge for many Councils. Delayed decisions mean delayed projects. Without approvals, tradespeople are unable to start building and don’t get paid. That affects families and the broader community.
  3. Pay less interest to the minutiae and see the bigger picture—nit-picking and a legalistic attitude to business and investment can be disabling for entrepreneurs. Discouraged, they are likely to turn away and find an easier place in which to do business. The bigger picture is that the Bundaberg Region could do with an injection of entrepreneurial willingness—businesses prepared to have a go without the strict interpretations that add little or no value to the outcome. The bigger picture includes seeing ahead and creating opportunities that enable further investment—Rubyanna WWTP and sewering the coast for example.
  4. Divert staff resources to identifying and marketing development opportunities in Bundaberg—This might mean less regulation and more facilitation. In a challenging market, there is a lot to be gained by being less regulatory and more driven by seeking development opportunities for the region, selling the advantages of being in one of the most desirable settings in Australia. We should be the envy of other regions.
  5. Be pragmatic—it is tempting for Councils to have policies and standards that help establish equitable decision-making. Consistency is desirable but finding a response that is appropriate to the context is the much higher ideal. Pragmatic responses to exceptions set apart the great Councils from ordinary ones.  It also means that the planning scheme or the legislation is not responsible for preventing sensible decisions. Perhaps Council should apply a 'common-sense test' to each decision.
  6. Be risk tolerant—‘letting go’ and giving authority to officers could make for quicker decisions. Allowing more ‘risk-smart’ applications by broadening the eligibility criteria would be a start. Other Councils have embraced this much more than in Bundaberg.
  7. Create a simple and efficient dispute resolution system—disagreements between Council and applicants are inevitable. That is the nature of the game. Having a means by which aggrieved stakeholders can feel that they have been duly heard and responded to is fundamental to good governance.

No doubt the incoming Council will form its ideas in due course. Given what appears to be community dissatisfaction with the past few years, we hope Councillors are prepared more than ever to seek out the views of their constituents. Therefore, we put the above ideas into the public arena for what they are worth. We hope that they will trigger at least some discussion and further consideration.

We congratulate the new mayor and councillors and look forward to working together over the next four years!

(Note: We published this post after the close of polls because we simply wanted to provide concepts and initiate a dialogue with the successful new Council...and other stakeholders for that matter. We chose not to enter into a political discussion that some may have viewed as criticising or supporting particular candidates.)

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