This morning’s breakfast meeting to discuss the Church St upgrade ran for over a hour, covering not only the “trees, trellises and tables” as advertised, but also bollards, brown blocks and beautification.
Matt Fanning from Bellingen Shire Council gave a brief presentation on the plans for the strip between Cardow's and the Swiss Patisserie, then a lively discussion with the audience of 15 business owners and residents ensued.
Matt said the options currently on the Create website have dropped some ideas that proved unpopular: a children’s playground and an LED screen for displaying tourist information and promoting events and businesses.
“It doesn’t appear that Bellingen is up for that,” Matt said, referring to the screen. “We’ve taken that out of the plans now.”
An earlier survey asking about the balance between shop-owned and public seating “was overwhelmingly in support of more public seating”, so there will be four tables of eight, most likely made of timber.
Matt said a new option had unexpectedly emerged from meetings with the business owners, which involves replacing the current Leopard trees and installing a pergola covered with deciduous and possibly edible plants.
He’d been dismayed to hear the cafe owners didn’t like the Leopard trees as he’d hoped not to revisit the issue of tree removal in that area, but after sitting beneath one on a windy day and finding himself peppered by seed pods, he understood why.
“They’re dirty trees, like Jacarandas, and those seed pods do come down with a bit of force,” he said.
Both options on Create include trees on the kerbside, most likely a variety of Lilly Pilly.
Matt likes the idea of having some ornamentals in the mix but he noted that council is being “very assertive” about having only native species.
During the discussion period, Thea O’Connor and Beth Gibbings asked if anything could be done to modify some of the design elements of the main street beautification, particularly the “black poles with the gold blobs on the top”, which Thea said “look like something out of a Gold Coast shopping centre rather than something that belongs in Bellingen”.
Matt said the bollards are an anti-terrorism measure recommended for areas where people congregate, and they also serve as power connection points, which would be useful if a night street market returns to Church St.
He said if people would prefer the bollards and the brown blocks to be decorated with street art, they should tell council so.
“If there is a strong desire for that in the community, it would be good for people to make comments on Create so we can install something that can be painted,” he said.
He also noted that the “brown plinths that people don’t like” would be a good canvas for local artistic talent as they will need to be repainted from time to time anyway.
However, like the Paint our Poles project, council would like to see designs first.
Another issue raised in the discussion was the state of the privately-owned parking area behind the Federal Hotel.
Matt agreed that “it can’t stay the way it is”.
“We have got a solution for fixing that whole area up but we need the consent of the owners,” he said.
The use of Facebook as a community feedback forum also came up, and Matt said council did occasionally look at it and act on comments, but they deliberately did not have a Facebook page for council.
“We purposely set up our Create page as our community engagement platform,” he said, noting that comments on Facebook could give rise to defamation issues because they were not moderated before they appeared.
The survey on Create about the upgrade of Church St closes on August 20.
The work is being fully funded by a $885,000 grant under the Stronger Country Communities program.