WITH much discussion at a political level surrounding what Royalties for Regions may look like in the future, more than ever local government in rural areas must focus on economic development.
Not that regional shires weren’t doing this in the past, it just helped that there was a stream of funding that was able to be tapped into to get some projects off the ground.
The Shire of Cranbrook is one local government that has been looking at its future and where opportunities may lie.
Chief executive officer Peter Northover said council members had been discussing development within the shire for many years.
“Certainly it is a focus for the shire and a focus for me,” Mr Northover said.
In the job for nearly six years, Mr Northover said he and the council were keen to build Cranbrook’s brand and were looking at all possible investment opportunities.
The shire has a motto of being “open for business” and there is no greater example of this than some of the work it has been doing in the agricultural space.
“We have adopted a local planning scheme that allows industry to come here,” Mr Northover said.
“Piggeries are a classic example of this.
“Under our scheme, if you wanted to start a free-range piggery you are allowed to because it falls within our definition of extensive agriculture.
“This differs from some other local authority areas where their schemes may define piggeries in a slightly different way.
“Some areas see them as a noxious industry and therefore they require planning approval.
“Cranbrook is not different in terms of any intensive industry requiring this same approval, but we treat free-range piggeries as extensive agriculture.
“We do take into account stocking rates when making these assessments.
“We have some terrific examples of where new people have come into the district and looked to invest in piggeries.”
Like many regional shires, Cranbrook is driven by agriculture and the benefits it delivers to the local economy.
It has a diverse agricultural sector with broadacre farms making up most of this industry, but it also has 22 vineyards as well as piggeries and chicken farms within its boundaries.
This diverse range of industries means it is well placed to attract workers and to progress the community.
“The Frankland River wine region alone produces $100 million of end product and employs 200 full-time employees and 70 casual staff and that is a big benefit to our local community and economy,” Mr Northover said.
These more intensive industries, coupled with the traditional broadacre farming sector is providing many flow-on benefits to the local community and its economy.
With diversity and different demographics also comes different expectations and this was no more evident than a smoke taint issue that has impacted the shire in recent years.
Mr Northover said this was a divisive and stressful issue for all concerned.
“We have a number of bluegum plantations within the shire and given what has been happening within that industry in recent years a lot of that land has been bought by local farmers and is being returned to pasture or cropping land,” he said.
“This meant that there was a lot of burning of bluegum trash, stumps and logs.
“Up until this year, you could get a permit to burn bluegum residue from March 1, which coincided with the veraison or ripening stage where grapes were maturing and most susceptible to smoke exposure.
“These vineyards were concerned that this increase in burning had the potential to cause smoke taint in grapes.
“We had a lot of discussion with farmers and vignerons to find some common ground and after two years of looking at a number of strategies to mitigate against potential loss for a large and critically important industry, it was decided that changes to the restricted burn period needed to be made.
“With the support of our bushfire advisory committee and farmers in general, we disallowed the burning of bluegum trash until the end of April, which normally coincides with the end of the grape harvest.
“It was a good outcome and everyone was reasonably happy at the end of the day, but in terms of the shire it was a big ticket item and the end result was a game changer for us.”
The shire has also recently purchased 18 hectares of land off the Department of Lands to expand its industrial estate.
“We have had interest shown in grain cleaning opportunities within the estate,” Mr Northover said.
“Our CBH facility has a current capacity of 380,000 tonnes that puts it as the second or third largest receival site in WA.
“CBH also has expansion plans to take this to 700,000-800,000t in the future.
“This is something that other industries can leverage off and we are keen to provide the space and land for this to happen.
“It is great having this type of facility in our town and we work well with CBH, which is one of our strategic partners.”
The shire is also highly aware of the need to provide good services and amenities for its older residents - many of whom have lived in the district for most of their lives.
Highly aware that the popular retirement destination of Albany is not too far down the road, the shire is keen to provide quality services to its older residents, so that they stay in town when it comes time to retire.
“A key demographic for us is our seniors,” Mr Northover said.
“We have lots of families in the district and 120 children in our two primary schools that we need to cater for, but we are also highly aware of providing a good community for our older generations to retire in.
“They have different expectations and are focused on social outcomes, accommodation, medical services, allied health support, no crime, clean streets and a community that looks after each other.”
To this end, the shire has purchased a building in town that it is developing as a regional community hub.
The building was built six years ago and was originally an IGA, but after opening in February 2012 the business closed six months later, leaving a brand new development empty.
“It sat idle for 18 months and the council saw it as an opportunity,” Mr Northover said.
“We had older infrastructure in the town and an old community centre that was in desperate need of either renovating or replacing.
“The council made the decision to purchase this new building and we are in the process of redeveloping it into a vibrant community hub.
“We will co-locate our existing community services in this building, including our doctor, Allied Health Service, community nurse and home and community care staff.
“We have provision for an area for seniors to have lunches and there will also be a wellness centre focused on creating opportunities for seniors to have access to physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
“The facility will include a cultural space for photographic exhibitions and the like as well as a training room established specifically for disaster recovery purposes.
“While the older generation will be well catered for in the new facility, it will also house our art and craft groups, family day care facilities and so on, so it will offer something for the whole community.”