KEY community leaders have agreed that the fast-tracking of several of council's major infrastructure projects will be critical in the region's COVID-19 recovery.
The working group will put recommendations to council for action focusing on economic, business, education, social, cultural and environmental priorities as key areas for recovery and growth.
The group's objectives will focus on how the region can successfully recover from the COVID-19 health crisis.
It also highlighted three key projects that will help kickstart the economy, support local jobs and embed the region's status as a premier destination from a tourism perspective. They are the construction of the new aquatic facility in Port Macquarie, the duplication of Ocean Drive and Boundary Street works to lock in the future of the airport business precinct.
Mayor Peta Pinson said there is a real opportunity for council to give Port Macquarie a point of difference with a major overhaul of the foreshore.
"The foreshore is the coastal spine right through our CBD area," Cr Pinson said
"The Short Street car park and foreshore area needs to have a real vision for what we want it to look like in the future ... and not just for tourism but also as a hub on the weekend for locals as well.
"Bringing large projects like this forward will benefit our community."
The foreshore area has been the focus of big picture planning for years. The strip of Crown land takes in the Port Macquarie Marina, Kooloonbung Creek harbour and Town Beach Reserve.
A draft vision for the foreshore went on public exhibition in 2013 with the state government adopting a blueprint for the area in 2015. The plan of management covers Crown coastal foreshore land between Settlement Point and Town Beach, excluding Westport Park, and also takes in part of the riverbed.
Cr Lisa Intemann said it was also important for council to look at some of the smaller projects that can delivered quickly and can put local people into jobs as a part of the recovery process.
Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce president Michael Mowle said starting the $60 million Ocean Drive duplication project, which has been on council's books for many years, must be top of the list. It's these projects he says, that can employ local people and circulate money back into the local economy.
The State Government announced a $50 million commitment to the Ocean Drive duplication project in addition to its $10 million commitment in 2011 and the $5.5 million Council commitment in November 2018. Project funding is subject to approval of the final business case which is currently being finalised by council in consultation with RMS.
The Chamber has made a formal written submission outlining many of the initiatives discussed by the working group, particularly fast-tracking of infrastructure projects, injecting money into the local economy, maximising the use of local suppliers and creating employment opportunities.
"We are advocating urgently kicking off projects such as Ocean Drive, Boundary Street, Lake Road, the Aquatic Centre and foreshore among many others to reboot the local economy," Mr Mowle said.
"The Boundary Street upgrade is a very high priority now because it serves our new airport terminal and we'll be rebuilding air services and tourism in the next few years."
The council locked in Macquarie Park as its preferred site for a new aquatic facility in 2019.
A $450,000 allocation is included the 2019-2020 budget for finalisation of the facility's detailed design.
A report will come back to the council in June 2020 on the result of discussions with the displaced user groups of Macquarie Park - Port Macquarie Football Club and Port Macquarie Army Cadets - to identify suitable alternative facilities.
The June 2020 report will also outline the progress of the detailed design and the strategic concept plan.
The Chamber says the Aquatic Centre has major community, health, wellbeing and sporting benefits, while major road projects including the duplication of Lake road, the upgrade of Hastings River Drive, and the John Oxley Drive/Major Innes/The Ruins Way upgrade will create important links between Port Macquarie's business and education precincts.
"We are looking across two financial years, so it looks like a lot to consider, but some are ready to go whilst others are still at concept or early design stages."
Local Government NSW says fast-tracking development is on the right track
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) says key criteria for the transparent fast-tracking of development and construction to create jobs and boost employment were on the right track.
But the peak body warned that failure to include environmentally sustainable waste and recycling measures in the criteria was a missed opportunity, particularly in light of the rapidly approaching national bans on the export of plastic, glass and other recyclable materials.
LGNSW President Linda Scott said it was encouraging to see waste management or recycling facilities accounted for four of the 24 projects identified for fast tracking by the NSW Government this month.
However, she said the logical next step would have been to embed recycling principles in the actual fast-track criteria.
Cr Scott was speaking after Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes released the NSW Government's Priority Projects Criteria - a set of guidelines which will effectively determine which development projects are fast-tracked through the approval process.
"Local government supports a principled focus on the creation of jobs to address the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the short- to medium-term," she said.
"We welcome the commitment to open and transparent governance around any fast-tracked development decisions.
"We welcome the recognition of the importance of social housing provision, of new and improved green and public domain spaces, and local community infrastructure such as libraries, galleries and pools.
"Councils certainly welcome a commitment of State Government resources to help free up blockages in the planning approval pipeline.
"LGNSW has long argued that the NSW Government has a key role to play in addressing the 'hidden' approval delays which occur when other state agencies are required to sign off on a project.
"Similarly, the provision of additional State-funded support for council planning teams would go a long way to achieving the objectives of these criteria."
Cr Scott said it was critical to ensure that short term responses and system reforms did not undermine transparency and good planning principles, or encourage poor quality development that would cost the communities dearly in future years.
"Prioritised projects must still fit within overall agreed strategic planning directions," she said.
"Strategic merit is referred to in the document as projects that are consistent with government policy outlined in relevant state, regional and all district plans.
"We are calling on the Government to guarantee a stronger role for council-led Local Strategic Planning Statements, and guarantee they will play a key role in assessing overall strategic merit.
"There will need to be further consultation with councils to ensure this fast-track program really does deliver for the people of NSW and the public good, rather than simply pouring money into the pockets of developers.
"Councils look forward to working closely with Minister Stokes and the State Government to ensure the transparency of this program is upheld, and any development delivered contributes to the public good."