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Plan for the region’s future

Thursday, 9th February, 2017

Megan Jones (left), Dan Simpkins, Azaria Dobson and Tim Collins from the Department of Planning and Environment yesterday. Megan Jones (left), Dan Simpkins, Azaria Dobson and Tim Collins from the Department of Planning and Environment yesterday.

By Andrew Robertson

Locals vented their frustration at the management of the Darling River, lack of affordable transport and cuts to education to visiting state government representatives yesterday.

The group from the Department of Planning and Environment was in the city to outline the government’s recently released Draft Far West Strategic Plan, one of nine regional plans that will cover the state. 

The plan sets out the state government’s 20-year vision for the far west region - including its economy, infrastructure, environment and towns - and the goals and actions needed to achieve the vision.

But it was transportation, education and management of the Menindee Lakes and Darling River that dominated discussion at yesterday’s information session, which was attended by about 20 people, including a number of councillors. 

The government representatives were told that many people in Broken Hill simply could not afford to leave the city because of how costly air and, more recently, rail travel had become. 

The absence of any affordable transport options was stopping pensioners and other welfare recipients from attending medical appointments in Adelaide and elsewhere, and stifling tourism to the city and the region.

“Most people can’t afford air travel and rail is going the same way,” said Cr Maureen Clark, who suggested state government’s cuts to TAFE were also damaging to the region’s growth prospects.

People with children would not want to move to a place where education prospects are limited, she said, regardless of the job opportunities that were available for themselves.

Likewise, any vision would be worthless if the region’s second major river system was allowed to deteriorate. 

“The whole city is upset about the treatment of the Darling,” Cr Ron Page told the representatives. “This issue needs to be looked at.”

The locals were told that while the plan included water resources, issues around the management of the Darling River were outside the scope of the plan.

But Azaria Dobson, the Dubbo-based manager of Regional Growth Planning with the Department of Planning and Environment, encouraged them to put their concerns about the Darling in any submission to the government. 

Ms Dobson was more positive about the role the regional plan could play in helping to come up with solutions to the transportation issue, however, as one of its goals was to improve public transport. 

She said councils and other agencies could cite the plan when applying for government funding for a transport-related project as it would reinforce their argument.

The plan is also expected to see long overdue local planning controls implemented for the Unincorporated Area, including for towns such as Silverton and Tibooburra. 

“This is the start of a recognition that we have to do something,” Ms Dobson said.

The government says the regional plan will be implemented by either a coordination and monitoring committee made up of state agencies and council representatives, or alongside the Far West Initiative.

Sub-committees would also be formed and be responsible for each action that is set out in the plan.

“So for every action in the plan someone is responsible for doing that and actually implementing that into the future,” Ms Dobson said.

“There’s goals in there around the economy, infrastructure, the environment and communities and each one of those actions is getting the region closer to the vision.”

Ms Dobson said the annual monitoring of the actions meant goals were much more likely to be achieved.

“A lot of these plans do come out and there’s actually no way to find out or measure how they’re successful but because there’s actually a requirement to report on those actions there should be more accountability.  

“It’s more of a commitment (from government) to deliver on actions so instead of it just sitting there it’s actually going to be that commitment and that reporting, and really about getting that coordinated approach.”

The department team has so far outlined the plan to a number of towns within the region, according to Ms Dobson, who said it still had a few more places to visit. 

“This has been one of the best ones we’ve had. People are actually wanting to engage; they’re wanting to come and have their say and that makes the plan better.

“I think also what needs to be said is how people are really positive about the future for the region, that is something we’ve tried to highlight in the plan.

“There’s actually some big things on the horizon for especially Broken Hill but also the broader far west and that needs to be something that everybody gets behind and just try and make a reality.”

Submissions to the draft plan can be made at www.planning.nsw.gov.au and are open until March 13.

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