Bellingen Shire Council meeting January 31

There was no heated debate about contentious issues at the council meeting of January 31, but there was noteworthy discussion about a range of issues on which steady progress is being made, including managing the Gleniffer Reserves, revamping the shire’s heritage strategy, signage for water restrictions, the establishment of joint organisations of councils, and grants and funding.

Manager of Economic Development and Tourism Michael Grieve presented a draft plan of management for council reserves at Gleniffer – Arthur Keough Reserve, Earl Preston Reserve, Broken Bridge Reserve and Angel Gabriel Capararo Reserve.

They cover an area of five hectares and are popular picnicing and swimming spots on the Never Never River.

Cr Jennie Fenton asked asked how key stakeholders such as the Never Never Catchment Group, Gleniffer Community Association and Gleniffer Reserves Stewardship Group were feeling about the draft document and Mr Grieve said it had been through four or five drafts, they were very happy with it and felt it was “good to go” subject to public consultation.

From local feedback she had received, Cr Toni Wright-Turner agreed. “They feel this is hitting the right spot, it’s got the right balance. Especially the ecological aspects that everything else is dependent on.”

At certain times of the year, popular spots at Gleniffer are in danger of being loved to death, and mayor Dominic King noted that working out how to manage them to maintain their beauty (given it’s not possible to stop people from visiting) was something of a test case. 

The draft Plan of Management, which is a crucial component of the Gleniffer Reserves Master Plan, will be publicly exhibited from February 12 until March 25. 

Council has recently applied for a grant from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to review and update the current Bellingen Shire Heritage Study (1992) over the 2018–2019 year. 

If the grant is approved, one of the priorities would be an update of the Main Street Study, now over 20 years old, which covers 64 buildings within Hyde Street Bellingen. 

“The study requires updating to include details of modifications undertaken to each building since the study was published, a current photo of each building and to provide a new set of recommendations that reflect best practice in heritage conservation and take into account the current condition of each building,” the agenda item document notes.

In response to the water status report, Cr Jennie Fenton raised the issue of better communicating messages about water restrictions to people who didn’t necessarily understand what “Level C” meant.

Deputy General Manager Operations Matt Fanning replied that it was clearly explained on the website that Level C, the lowest level of water conservation, meant no unattended hoses used 9am-4pm.

Cr Toni Wright-Harrison agreed that the information on the website was clear, but people had to look for it, and she asked why there could not be a simple visual symbol, similar to the rural fire warning signs, that would more obviously convey the message, particularly for those driving into town.

Mr Fanning agreed that this could be considered as part of a signage strategy review.

Discussion about the establishment of Joint Organisations (JO) noted that some important details, such as the future financial impost on individual councils, remained unknown.

The proposal is for Bellingen Shire Council to voluntarily form a JO with (potentially) Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Shire, Kempsey Shire and Port Macquarie-Hastings, which is the area now covered by the Mid North Coast Regional Organisation of Councils (MIDROC).

Speaking in favour of the recommendation, Cr King emphasised the benefits of joint buying power, regional advocacy and improved delivery of infrastructure and services.

The report to council for this item noted that “The potential benefits of closer cooperation across council boundaries have been proven in a number of recent initiatives. For example, it has been the case that this council has benefited from economies of scale with its joint waste service with Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Councils and procurement of information technology with Kempsey Shire Council. More recently the informal alliance of Bellingen Shire Council and Nambucca Shire Council in negotiating the Pacific Highway handover from the RMS has certainly demonstrated the benefit of collective lobbying when negotiating with government.”

Cr King said there was a strong sense of goodwill amongst the six councils who may band together to form the JO and that despite being the smallest, Bellingen would have the same voting rights as the largest, Coffs Harbour.

Finally, a report was tabled listing 43 grants that Bellingen Shire Council applied for during the last calendar year, with over $2.3 million worth being successful.

The 20 that have been approved include $700,000 for reconstruction of the Bridge St intersection in Bellingen; $150,000 to remediate two former underground petroleum systems in Dorrigo;  and $175,000 to extend the cycleway at Hungry Head.

Ten were unsuccessful, including applications for $295,000 to upgrade Bellingen Memorial Hall; $800,000 for smart water meters to monitor usage and provide data to reduce consumption and $500,000 to improve amenities at Dangar Falls. 

Amongst the 13 with a status of pending are applications for $5.5 million to upgrade 23 timber bridges; $64,500 to install CCTV cameras in the central areas of Bellingen and Urunga to combat vandalism; $700,000 to install walk/cycleways between Urunga and Raleigh; $885,000 to update the Church St cafe precinct and $112,000 for a Review of Environmental Factors, geo-technical assessment and dredging of the tidal pool at Urunga, with matching funding from partner NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust.

“We can see here there’s ten pages of grants, and I think a lot of the community are unaware of them and how important they are in addressing needs in the shire,” Cr King said. “There’s some really exciting stuff in there.”