Musings from the campaign trail

It’s been interesting the last 6 weeks or so to hear from the community about concerns and priorities in our southern vales. Up in the Hills some sitting councillors are copping flack for having stood up for climate action in their local area.

The Southern Vales Messenger reported last week that the Hills ‘Back to Basics’ group of canidates had a fundraiser which was attended by at least one sitting Liberal MP and one former Liberal MP. The Hills ‘Back to Basics’ remit is apparently to see the end of councillors who think global and act local on issues like climate change and asylum seekers.

Meanwhile here in the vales we’ve had residents campaigning against the ‘On the Run’ petrol station planned for Main South Road at Aldinga. The council has reportedly declined the development application thus far but it’s now been taken out of the hands of local council and passed to a state government authority for assessment along with several other On the Run stations across the state. Some have criticised council for preventing a local development even though there are several clear considerations that council needs to make based on the consultations of the last several years and the subsequent strategic plan.

For me, several considerations spring to mind: (1) Will the development maintain or improve the ‘village character’ of old Aldinga? Community consultation over several years has indicated that people want to preserve and improve the village character of our small towns and that doing so has economic benefits in attracting tourism and has inherent value to residents too for social cohesion/engagement and sense of place. (2) Will the development provide new jobs? And by this I mean, jobs in addition to the staff currently employed at the existing petrol station. Many of these convenience petrol markets operate heavily on a self-service basis and I suspect the number of FTE staff would be quite low overall. The development application would need to specify how much additional employment would be generated. (3) Who will reap the profits? Is this a local franchisee or a faceless multinational? When we consider new developments we have to be clear about who will reap the benefits; it’s not simply a case of taking the tourist dollars and rubbing our hands together in glee. The existing petrol station already provides fuel to passing tourists (and to locals) so the essential service provision would be unchanged. (4) Will other existing businesses lose customers to the new development? And if so, to what degree?

It’s clear that residents have different perspectives on what they expect to see happening in their local area. Some view any new business development as a good thing, regardless of the issues I’ve mentioned. Others see local solar initiatives, waste water reuse, storm water management, parks management and protecting local character as critical tasks for councils to be engaged with and have a preference for small, locally owned businesses.

Locally, there is an established community will to enhance the heritage character of our small towns (Aldinga, Old Noarlunga, McLaren Vale, Willunga in the Wine Coast Ward), and council needs to work within that framework when responding to any new development applications. It should not be the role of the State Government to remove local decision making when it comes to the character and direction of our area. I would hope that any business serious about working in our local area would be serious about meeting community expectations regarding character and sense of place. That seriousness would be evidenced by their willingness to amend their plans to find a way forward.

Globally, local council has a role to play in the big issues too and we shouldn’t shy away from our global responsibilities in our local area.

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