Council: ‘Vibrant ‘ CBD is back, new library dropped from view

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

Mayor Matt Paterson wants the CBD to become “a vibrant and bustling place” run by a council “committed to being a dynamic and active,” as CEO Robert Jennings puts it.

But once you get past this heard-it-all-before part you will find the draft Municipal Plan 2022/23, open for public comment until June 20, to be an interesting mirror of the town and where its nine elected local government members want it to go.

About 130 “objectives” are listed in the draft plan, with an emphasis on young people, including a youth forum this year, the library being “a place for the whole community and “a large focus on upgrading” the pool and parks “to give families the best facilities possible”.

However, apart from $40,000 for air-conditioner upgrades there are no costs mentioned except “upgrade, refurbish and renovate library internal and external infrastructure”. The construction of a new library, contemplated by the previous council, has dropped from view.

“We are developing our Asset Management Plan to ensure that we are bringing additional benefits to the area,” says the draft. This means searching for opportunities for making money other than rates.

After raising them 2% two years ago and not at at all last year, rates and charges will go up 4.7% if the plan is adopted.

The $38m draft budget is balanced, not counting $9.6m in depreciation cost.

The main spends are on governance, risk, councillors, management, finance, organisational development and information technology (23%).

Maintenance of council’s roads, footpaths, drains and infrastructure, correctional services, street lighting and operational is next(22%), followed by environmental, parks, ovals and playground maintenance and trees (21%).

Some of the “objectives” are clear and likely to be received by the public with approval.

But some are vague, others are in the future and possibly will not happen, while some of them are no-brainers.

The proposed plan is careful not to make undertakings about quite a few of the “objectives” which it needs to “identify … conduct [an] impact assessment … review … encourage … develop” or which will need to undergo “high-level risk assessment”.

Samples of “exciting projects” as the draft puts it:-

• “Working with” the NT Government on [yet another] revitalisation of the Alice CBD.

• “Planning commencing” for [the long-awaited] large water play park.

• “Planning” (not building) a new regional skate park. The project is estimated at $4m, hoped to be received as a government grant.

• Completion of the mall refurbishment ($75,000).

Empty business premises in the Mall. Making the CBD “a vibrant and bustling place” is yet again on the council agenda.

• Resurfacing netball courts with grant funding of $1.5m.

The plan is to spend $3.9m on infrastructure, including:-

• At the pool a proposed spend of $735,000 including an outdoor gym (joint 1:1 funding with NT Government, total spend of $300,000).

• Resealing of council’s roads ($650,000).

Other proposed tasks:-

Continue to provide security CCTV monitoring activity and work closely with police.

• Support local community events.

• Run a weekly Heart Foundation Walk.

• Continue to facilitate community use of sporting facilities, including shared use.

• Maintain council assets (toilets, playgrounds, sporting ovals, parks and green open spaces, cemeteries, other public places) to a safe standard in-line with community expectations.

• Install shade structures across Alice Springs Parks.

• Provide a high-visibility patrols presence in the CBD by rangers.

• Ensure solar technology is working as required – supported by reliable servicing program.

• Meet a tree-planting target of 750 trees per annum.

• Increase recycled waste by a further 5%.

• Support the objectives of the master plan for mountain biking.

Monitor solar technology is working as required – supported by reliable servicing program.

A report was made – by me, a year ago – about building materials and household rubbish dumped west of the Road Transport Hall of Fame (above left). Today the garbage is still there, in fact more of it (at right). Rubbish dumped on the scenic West MacDonnells road, triggering an absurd sequence of delays and incompetence by authorities (below).

• Encourage the NT government and local businesses to adopt sustainable initiatives.

• Update Alice Springs local by-laws.

• Work with key stakeholders to develop a strategy to mitigate illegal dumping in Regional Waste Management Facility.

This last – a pressing problem – is among the many tasks begging the questions: When? How? At what cost?

The council has 223 employee positions which cost it an average of $94,000.

Elected members can claim for base, electoral, meeting and professional development allowances, $114,455 (mayor), $41,926 (deputy mayor) and $35,791 (councillor).

The office of mayor also includes a car, mobile phone and credit card.

The town’s 26,476 residents (4360 – 16% – of them Aboriginal or Torres Strait islanders) live on or use 10,493 mostly rateable properties on 328 square kilometres of municipal area. They have a median age of 35 and 23% are overseas born, speaking 19 different languages at home.

There are 13,506 jobs, 2050 businesses, 2896 households with a mortgage and 7008 people with an internet connection.

Domestic visitors had more than a million sleeps in The Alice during 2019/20.

After considering building a new library, which took up a lot of energy in the last council, the project has dropped from view.

We are using 700,000 kL of water a year. That’s 700 million litres or 25,500 litres per resident.

While the council is seeking “to improve efficiencies … and decrease operational costs” it is proposing to spend a considerable amount of money on reviews of how this could be done: $120,000 is proposed to be spent on studying asset management, $100,000 on business units, $100,000 on workplace and community safety, $200,000 on a master plan and $40,000 on a economic development policy.

Yet another question begs: Don’t we have a mayor, a CEO and councillors, a “group of dedicated individuals” as Mayor Paterson describes them, “working towards achieving significant outcomes for the community” as well as their support staff who could surely carry out those reviews as part of their job.

PHOTO AT TOP: Bush food workshop at the Desert Park promoting links between young people and traditional skills. Fom the draft plan, courtesy Town Council.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Yet again both Local and Territory governments have failed to look beyond the short term.
    The future of the whole district belongs south of the Gap because we no longer depend on horse and cart / camel transport on which the town was once dependent on, but on motor vehicle transport for which the current town is ill planned.
    Remember when there was a stock and station barn on the north end of Todd Street? That was what the CBD was originally designed to take.
    And try parking at the PO? How difficult would it be to have a few agencies in the suburbs or would that take business from the Mall for our convenience?
    We fail to look at the success of the fast food outlets and how they plan their commercial success based around automobile access.
    To move the tourist office to the Anzac precinct will not solve the problem. The same applies to Megafauna Central. Why did the bank move and what was learned for that? The visitors centre needs to be based at the transport Hall of Fame to actively intercept not just cars but trucks and intercept visitors via facilities offered – parking, local social contact and information, not react to their arrival in the CBD.
    This and the cultural centre plus Yirara aka Indigenous school of the air should be the basis of a new tourism precinct. And DK has so much to offer as does ASRI. The Isisford, Queensland, road side display of antique equipment in Queensland only illustrated again just how retrograde is our thinking. Our transport heritage lies out of sight in a rusting heap-not, the fault of that administration but of recognition of its cultural value by government.
    Pitchi Richi is a shameful example of a lost heritage. We again fail to recognise the impending deluge of electric transport not just cars but trucks which in other places are offering cost savings of up to 50% or more on transporting costs of our goods.
    This is what the town should be aiming to cater for. Where is the infrastructure planning?
    Our CBD has outlived its purpose and no amount of superficial window dressing to protect supposedly sacred interests will change that.
    We have the makings of a national transport hub utilising international trade and tourism on our doorstep, just south of the town, but choose to ignore it. Perhaps we also need a more visible threat to the defence of the country from the North West before the defence implications of the Tanami access will be appreciated. The basic thinking needs to change with the times.

  2. @ Trevor Shiell (6 June 2022): You’re far too visionary, Trevor – government, bureaucrats, and various vested interests are much too committed to propping up failed ventures and failing visions of the past to admit to their lack of success and contemplate alternative options.
    In my opinion the town’s CBD is perfectly good for its original design – a residential subdivision.
    Currently the Alice is over-capitalised with unviable commercial properties that were built to cater for the mirage of a much higher population that government and business anticipated from over half a century ago.
    Hasn’t happened and there’s no prospect it will.
    What’s not realised is that we’ve reached a new inflexion in the course of our local history, such as what happened in the early 1960s drought when the beef cattle industry lost its dominance to tourism. It’s now the turn of tourism to lose its pre-eminence in Central Australia.
    You mention Pitchi Richi as a shameful example of lost heritage. True but the tide is turning.
    I’m the new president of Heritage Alice Springs which holds the lease for Pitchi Richi, and it’s our top priority to restore this sanctuary to something of its former glory.
    Despite its dereliction, many people retain fond memories of Pitchi Richi in its heyday and there’s enormous public good will towards this valuable heritage site.
    As momentum develops in the renewed effort for Pitchi Richi’s recovery, I’m confident it will not be long before this special place returns to its status as a much valued asset for Alice Springs.
    I was heavily involved with the Olive Pink Botanic Garden from the turn of the century, at a time when that place was at a low ebb, lacking support from government and its future was in doubt.
    Now the OPBG is a highly regarded public venue that no-one would dream of shutting down.
    Pitchi Richi will repeat that story.

  3. Good to see the ASN popping up again. Are you back Erwin?

    [ED] Hi Mark, yes and no. We are working on remodelling the Alice Springs News as a long-journalism publication not unlike the Monthly and the Quarterly, with a focus on Central Australia and still online, of course, analytical stories, fair and fearless. We’ll leave the man-bites-dog stories to the others.
    We’re aiming for a team of about eight writers (we now have three) who would contribute a piece every couple of months.
    All the best, Erwin

  4. Good to see the Alice Springs News making a comeback. Many people want to see this happen. There’s much to be said about the past, present and future as far as Alice Springs is concerned

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