WE are putting questions on the big issues to candidates running in the Port Macquarie-Hastings council election.
These are based on issues our readers have voted as being of most importance to our community.
We asked: What is your position on population growth and the provision of the necessary public infrastructure to support that growth?
Here are their responses in the order groups/candidates appear on the ballot paper:
GROUP A - Fighters for Our Region: Lisa Intemann, Kingsley Searle, Stewart Cooper, Narelle Milligan, Paul Bradford
Many people who have spoken with our Team Intemann have expressed strong concern about the rate of growth in region. They are especially concerned about the apparent poor planning and effect on the local character of neighbourhoods, as well as the lack of upgrades to roads and infrastructure to support new developments.
From Council's perspective, there is also a financial cost with only 60 per cent of costs arising from population growth being funded from ongoing rates income. That problem must be addressed at the state-level or council's financial situation and infrastructure provision will keep going backward.
Council cannot stop people coming here, and there are still developments approved but not yet built.
Our team is committed to ensuring any new growth areas are decided and conditioned based on full consideration of long term social, environmental and economic costs and benefits. And that no development applications are approved unless they comply with council's requirements.
The tendency to smaller building lot sizes and mass clearing of trees is known to increase residual heat. We will address that problem so development is beneficial to lifestyle and the health of our communities.
We endorse Council's draft Local Housing Strategy, which identifies the need for: sustainable housing growth supported by infrastructure and more affordable housing.
Team Intemann would engage with all stakeholders - council, community and the development industry - to find ways to protect green space and improve our existing and future urban environments; address congestion; provide more open space; reduce urban heat; better use of cooling materials, airflow, water-sensitive urban design, and better building efficiency.
Our Mayoral candidate, Lisa Intemann, has been instrumental in Council including local 'character statements' into future planning considerations, and if elected our team will strongly pursue that objective.
GROUP B - Hastings First: Nik James Lipovac, Kerry Fox, Linda Lenord, Michael Clarke and Justin Hardie
We must investigate alternative housing solutions to help locals who are being pushed out of the housing market due to external factors.
The construction of Tiny Houses amongst current and new housing developments is a starting point but we must also look to ease local planning law restrictions on developments within existing established areas that have infrastructure (energy, water and sewerage already in place).
Let's seriously consider in-fill rather than green-fill.
It appears our planning for the future over the past five years has fallen behind in part due to the influx of new residents since COVID began almost two years ago.
Infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the speed of housing development. We don't want over-development of our LGA and we can't sustain the on-going increase in the population at the current rate.
We're not coping now and we can't continue to sacrifice our natural amenities.
In terms the number of people in our local community unable to buy, let alone afford rent, the LGA must develop more affordable housing. A society is only as strong as its most vulnerable members.
GROUP C - The Greens:Lauren Edwards, Stuart Watson, Drusi Megget and Les Mitchell
The Greens have worked over the past three years on the council's sustainability working group.
To this end we we will continue to make sure that all council decisions are framed under the recently drafted sustainability and climate change policies.
This hopes to ensure that public infrastructure is built to support the growth.
There is always a conflict between unsustainable growth and the environment of our LGA so we would aim to constrain growth to sensible levels and protect our environment for future generations.
The Port Macquarie-Hastings has been earmarked as a future Regional City for some years now.
The reality is that we are one of the fastest growing regional centres in the country and we need to be doing much more to keep up with the infrastructure to support this continued and accelerating growth.
Team Pinson has campaigned on the view that we need to better utilise some of the $340 million dollar cash-stash that council has been amassing over the last decade due to under delivery of this key and critical infrastructure.
If elected Team Pinson will prioritise Council's focus on delivering the water infrastructure needed to ensure we don't run out of water, as we nearly did in 2019.
We will also fast-track maintenance and upgrades of our sewer network and plan for upgrades and delivery of a road network that will ease traffic congestion. By increasing project delivery, a Team Pinson led Council will increase economic activity in our region which will create and support jobs and small businesses.
By reviewing and reworking business rates and fees in aid of attracting more industry and large business to our region, Team Pinson wants to see a more diverse range of jobs and fundamentally more jobs to help grow our local economy.
To help our residents and workforce move freely about the region, we desperately need to be delivering infrastructure at more than double the current rate just to keep up with growth. This increased work rate is very possible but it will take a drastic new approach and drawing down on some of that massive cash stockpile.
GROUP E - Team Sheppard: Rachel Sheppard, Greg Freeman, Linda Elbourne, Ethan Francis
Over the last decade, Council has leveraged off population pressures to support short-term, construction-driven economic growth.
This strategy allowed council to recover it's financial position and reserves after the Glasshouse debacle, a good outcome. However, this approach also resulted in poorly planned land releases and clearly unsustainable land development that is not serviced by adequate critical infrastructure (roads, sewerage, water, stormwater etc). Our current community are paying the costs in traffic congestion, sewerage overflows, water security risk, among other costs.
Our local government responsibilities are now to:
1. Address the infrastructure backlog in a financially responsible way (freezing rates would freeze infrastructure delivery);
2. Address the underlying problem that has prevented critical infrastructure delivery over the last decade.
This second point is critical: If we don't address the underlying problem, our infrastructure delivery problems won't be resolved.
We believe the problem is that we've had unprecedented population growth. Council simply hasn't had the internal capacity to keep up with the scale and pace of infrastructure planning and delivery needed. Most councils would have struggled.
If our understanding of the problem is accurate, then the solution is to build our councils capacity to plan and deliver infrastructure. If the next elected council fails to do so, we'll continue to underdeliver on infrastructure and we will be facing the same problem in 10 years.
Rachel has publicly acknowledged that Council has no jurisdiction to decide if our population grows. However, we can decide how our population grows.
Team Sheppard have a foundational commitment to ensure our population is serviced by critical infrastructure. But we go further, with cohesive and regionally relevant policy to ensure that all land development is socially, environmentally and economically responsible. We want future generations to benefit from our actions today.
Population growth and our region's infrastructure or lack thereof is a major issue.
Council's strategic planning to future proof our region has lacked vision and direction for decades. From our road network, water security, to our sporting facilities, we really need to get cracking right now.
We cannot afford to be sitting on our hands and let these problems snowball, we are at a tipping point right now in the history of our region and we need to get projects underway.
You only need to look at the Ocean Drive duplication that has gone from a ten million dollar project blown out to ninety million, and widening of Lake road which has been spoken about by councils for decades but never come to fruition.
The Camden Haven has failing stormwater and sewerage infrastructure that was put in the ground almost seventy years ago.
Our junior sporting codes right across the Hastings are increasing in numbers and fast running out of facilities to accommodate them.
We need to look at the rate that we are developing and be in sync with our infrastructure as we are currently putting the cart before the horse in my opinion.
Now is the time for action.