5 Big Ideas For Clare Valley

This is a letter that I sent to the newly elected Councillors and Mayor of Clare & Gilbert Valleys Council.

4 December 2014

Dear Councillor

Congratulations on being elected.

I am writing to you to offer some insights for your consideration about several vitally important aspects. These are; 

  1. The Visitor Information Centre near the Caravan Park
  2. The 1 million indigenous plants strategy
  3. Climate change and its effects on our community
  4. What is needed in environmental engagement
  5. A new direction

You might not be aware of my background, so you’re welcome to look at my website InHouse-Engineer.com.au.

For many years I have taken a keen interest in the affairs of Council and have presented many submissions ranging from the Annual Business Plan, Community Plan, Strategic Directions and related Plans, the Development Plan and other planning matters, to detailed letters and suggestions about waste management, wastewater, water, sustainable residential development, and the environment.

I have also prepared submissions to both state and federal governments on natural resources management, on parliamentary inquiries, and on climate change. 

So, today I am offering some ideas on some contemporary issues for your consideration.


1     The Visitor Information Centre

In my view it was a mistake to abandon the building near the Caravan Park. It seemed to me that every possible opportunity for optimising the use of that building had not been explored. So, here are some ideas.

Idea #1

I need to go back in time. In 2002 I was a member of a small community contingent invited to  present ideas for the proposed centre. (I’m involved in sustainable building design and the environment). The site at the caravan park had already been chosen. I said back then it should be “an integrated facility” capable of also accommodating environmental, economic, social, and cultural uses/organisations. The concept I alluded to was based on the (almost completed) McCormick Centre for the Environment in Renmark.

See this link for more information —> 

http://www.austlandscapetrust.org.au/projects/riverland/mccormick-centre.aspx

My viewpoint has not altered. The building presents the best solution for tourist information for the region. All the infrastructure is in place. 

But it has to deliver more than just tourist-related services to pay its way. Here’s how.

One of the three priority projects developed in the Yorke and Mid North Regional Climate Change Action Plan is a Regional Sustainability Centre. Why not offer a proportion of the floor space for such a use? Get further information here …

http://www.centralregion.sa.gov.au/climate-change

It’s a little difficult to find the appropriate document, so you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll send a PDF to you that outlines the Priority Projects.

Contact the Australian Landscape Trust to enquire about their possible involvement.


Idea #2

Following on from Idea #1 … “Goyder’s Line Sustainability Hub” was launched earlier this year. See this link for further information —> http://www.yorkeandmidnorth.com.au/our_services/community_development/goyders_line_sustainability_hub/

The withdrawal of resources in NRM by the state government has made it difficult to progress the Sustainability Centre and the Hub, but with a bit of lateral thinking and some shoe leather anything can happen. It just takes persistence.

There are two viable options to present a case for the sustainability hub at the VIC.

  • Convert and/or use some of the facilities and buildings at the Clare Showgrounds for an annual festival showcasing sustainable land practices, new environmental management systems, climate disruption adaptation/mitigation measures, personal and business responsibility, and much more. 
  • Or, use the dormant former Blyth Hospital site that can be partnered with the changed role of the VIC. Combine with Wakefield Regional Council to develop this idea. 

Nearly two years ago I voluntarily presented a number of ideas to Ian Roberts (Blyth Development Board) about the defunct Blyth site. 

Ideas for a small town

Idea#2 again integrates tourism, farming, environment, education, and community.


Idea #3

Explore the opportunity to establish a business pollinators hub. I touched on this idea at this page.

I’m not sure if this idea has been considered, but we’re in an online business age and what I think should be considered is to entice entrepreneurial types from country and city alike.

There is also scope to establish a “community house” to accommodate a common meeting space for volunteer groups, to conduct short courses, to provide a lending library of resources, and to provide a place for local exchange and trading (LETS).

The point to this idea is to get people to use the building first, allow them to build momentum that could involve business opportunities (e.g. coffee, books, book exchange, local craft and produce, travellers’ materials, anything that can be thought of), then discuss a rent arrangement. 


If none of these ideas is examined then we’ll never know their opportunity and potential.

The key to this building is to expand its previous use. Tourist promotion and information can always occur within a space of the building, but it doesn’t need to be the dominant space.

At the moment, the building is a stranded asset.


2      Council’s “1 million indigenous plants strategy”

In past years when Council had a very commendable Environmental Sustainability policy (for example, 3% annual energy reduction, 10% carbon footprint reduction), I was concerned that none of the strategies and objectives of the policy would be carried through, let alone be monitored.

It all looked fine on paper, and the response to my criticism was that they were “aspirational”. 

I disagreed about this at the time. Strategies and objectives are part of the organisation’s plan of action, they are not just words.

In order to record my thoughts at the time, in June 2011 I wrote a post about my concerns. Here it is ...

Local Environmental Sustainability Policy

Thus, it is with the same concern today that I raise the matter about Council’s “1 million indigenous plants by 2020” strategy (see Chapter 5 of the Community Plan).

Commencing in 2012, this means that 125,000 native trees/shrubs/groundcovers would need to be established annually to reach the target.

This very ambitious strategy is equivalent to 5% of the federal government’s national program (http://www.environment.gov.au/land/20-million-trees). Extraordinary!

So, how has the program been going? Who is monitoring progress? Which groups and organisations have been involved? Where have plantings been executed and where are they planned? Is there a plan of action? Have 250,000 (or should it now be 375,000) indigenous plants been planted to date? Are there any carbon farming plantations that can provide carbon credits and therefore an income stream?

These are just a few questions. I am not aware of any plantings that have happened at such a scale since 2012. 

As an aside, my wife and I still plant about 400-500 native trees/shrubs annually on our property (which now supports more than 10,000 planted trees/shrubs), and I also organise National Tree Day events.


3     Climate change and its effects on our community

Central Local Government Region of SA (CLGR) was involved with RDA (Y&MN) and the N&Y NRM Board in 2011 in preparing an Integrated Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (ICCVA). 

This was around the same time as the state government’s Climate Change Adaptation Framework process, to which I presented a submission, and the subsequent Government Action Plan (GAP).

I have written extensively about the impacts of climate disruption.

Climate Change

Every report I have read describes how agriculture in South Australia and Australia are predicted to be hit hard in the future from declining rainfall. Here are a few reports;

  • “Climate Change Adaptation Framework”
  • “Central Local Government Region Integrated Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment - 2030”
  • “State of Environment (SOE) SA 2013”
  • “It’s About People; Changing Perspectives On Dryness”
  • “Re-evaluating the margin of the South Australian grain belt in a changing climate”
  • “Links between native forest and climate in Australia”
  • “Climate change in Australia; agricultural impacts and adaptation”
  • “Repairing and preparing Australia’s landscapes for global change; Why we must do much more”
  • “Opportunities and Threats for South Australia’s Agricultural Landscapes from Reforestation under a Carbon Market”

And there are many more reports. The evidence is overwhelming. 

So, why and how should Council get involved? This question needs answers.

Council’s Community Plan 2020 takes on a limited view and has excluded the impacts on communities, on the local economy, and on the environment, of climate change. This must be corrected.

Council now has no Environment or Sustainability policy at all. It has not had an environment/NRM officer for a number of years. 

Curiously, Council’s Environmental Sustainability Policy that once existed now appears to be extinct, following a short life. It is not shown in the Policy list at Council’s website.

As a member of the CLGR, Council would surely have many questions about the progress of the ICCVA report in terms of community planning and readiness for climate change. 

Key concerns also include the following;

  • the state government’s GAP is a non-starter after two years
  • engagement with local communities about climate change action has not begun (or if it has, I am not aware of it)
  • the N&Y NRM Board is a shell of its former self and is a benign organisation
  • there is a perception that climate change will not affect our local community; so many people have no idea of the impacts that climate disruption will cause
  • the decline in natural resources condition, as described in the SOE 2013 report, continues and will worsen if extraordinary changes are not soon begun 

As an important decision-maker in our community, what significance do you place on “vibrant communities working together” under a climate change scenario, given the threat of rainfall decline, hotter temperatures, and subsequent agricultural decline?


4     Environmental engagement

I acknowledge that it is difficult for some people to rationally process what I say and write, but as one of few engineering and environmental professionals serving rural SA, I would hope that I can help the sustainable progress of human and environmental capital.

In November 2011, I and a colleague met with Council’s CEO and the Mayor about the demise of the Mistletoe Action Group. We proposed that an Environment Group with a broader scope, and consisting of volunteer community members, be created, so that assistance could be given to Council about its environmental agenda and to also provide a valuable conduit to the public. Regrettably, the idea has not progressed.

Given items 2 and 3 above, I encourage you to consider the establishment of a Sustainable Environment group. 

Its roles could include the following;

  • re-establish a strong and sustainable environmental agenda
  • on behalf of the community, respond to government calls for submissions on environment reports (I myself have been a consistent presenter of such submissions over the years)
  • provide advice to Council on significant environment reports in the public domain
  • prepare a Sustainable Environment Policy, and to monitor and report to Council accordingly
  • provide advice to Council when sought, or offer advice as necessary
  • connect with other volunteer environment groups in the community and in the region
  • provide an outlet where the community can access sustainable living information (could the VIC be an opportunity?)
  • co-ordinate an annual sustainable living festival (Gawler has just run its first festival)

There are many other roles that a community-based Sustainable Environment group could uphold. 

Would you support the establishment of such a group?


5     A New Direction

The final part of this letter is about a new direction for rural SA, of which C&GVC can be a leader.

During this year, I have written extensively about a new deal for the country. For our region here in the Mid North it is one that has significant scope and opportunity. I have written to politicians and I have met with a government Minister about this new deal.

So, what is it? It is contained in a very significant report prepared by DEWNR last year.

“Carbon Sequestration from Revegetation: South Australian Agricultural Regions”

Download a copy here …

http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/Science/Science_research/land-condition-sustainable-management/carbon-from-revegetation

This research report is pivotal, not only for Council and the “1 million indigenous plants” strategy, but also for the regional economy and sustainable agriculture statewide.

Unaware of the report at the time, I wrote about the opportunities in carbon sequestration and a new agri-economy in an 8-part series earlier this year. 

A Proposition For Change

The Carbon Sequestration report contains everything that’s needed to assess the economic returns, environmental benefits, and regional economic benefits value, from large scale revegetation for carbon sequestration.

This is the new agri-economy I have been writing about for some time.

For many years I have also been writing about and discussing the opportunities for local government in using one of the most under-utilised assets in South Australia - the land bank that exists in the form of vacant road reserves and water reserves. Created in the 19th century, many of these road reserves sit idle, some are rented for a very low sum, a few have been sold.

The opportunity to use these road reserves for multiple benefits needs to be assessed. A future income stream for Council and the community is a great possibility. A future income source for farmers should be a priority.


Conclusion

If you go back over these five main ideas, there is one common thread - the environment. 

A sustainable environment that is supported by communities of common concern will provide the best chance for the future of our region, and for rural SA. It will provide the best opportunity to optimise all the assets (human, the built form, and natural) at Council’s disposal.

There is enormous scope to expand the rural economy and to foster adaptive action in the face of climate change scenarios. But it needs to happen now.

An environmental focus is Council’s weakest link in my view. The Community Plan 2020 and the absence of attendant policies underline this view.

I hope that what I have presented will give you some further insight into how a Council with a progressive outlook founded on sustainability can re-shape its future.

You’re most welcome to contact me at any time to discuss the contents of this letter, or indeed to discuss any other matter.

I look forward to your response.


         OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN READING

                        Agricultural Land Condition          New Direction For Farming

                        Landscape and Mindset               About Landscape Change


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