Ballina Shire Council (BSC) will investigate the management of its open spaces and reserves to see whether additional open space needs to be purchased or more money spent on existing parks and gardens.
The decision follows a successful motion by Greens councillor Jeff Johnson at yesterday’s meeting.
The workshop will look at Ballina’s growing community, the pressures on existing open spaces and the funding arrangements of reserves.
But Cr Johnson amended his original motion, which would have required that BSC look at increasing the amount of its public open space.
Cr Johnson told Council he was concerned that the population growth of Ballina was putting pressure on the development of a number of open spaces and reserves.
‘There is a combined effect: we are getting more population and more building intensity,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘so there is less private open space and as a proportion there is less public open space in those areas.’
Cr Johnson said he was aware of the increase in maintenance costs that coincide with more council reserves.
‘It has long been recognised in this council that the open spaces and reserve section needs additional funding,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘as I don’t believe the section 94 developer contribution plan is sufficient.’
BSC general manager Mr Paul Hickey told council that ‘to increase expenditure from the s94 funds you would need to take it away from facilities or roads’.
‘In regards to future funding arrangements, we have been indexing open space above the CPI,’ Mr Hickey said, ‘so it is up to you councillors where you will take the money from to fund open space. This comes up each year but we never find any solutions.’
Cr Sue Meehan acknowledged the dilemma and added that she does ‘take on board that we need to look at this’.
Cr Meehan said that ‘purchasing of more open space may be problematic but the enhancing of what we already have into the future will be very important as people will be living in more intense environments’.
Cr Keith Williams suggested that BSC ‘look at protecting what public open space we already have’.
Even though councillors had voted earlier in their meeting to leave alone the draft policy on allocating land and buildings to community groups, Cr Sharon Cadwallader believes this should form part of the workshop discussion.
‘When the state or federal government come to us and request us to provide land, as was the case with Porter Park,’ Cr Cadwallader said, ‘it leaves the general manager nowhere to go and it has to be brought back to Council. We need a policy to say this is a no-go zone.’
Local residents recently battled the development of a childcare centre, which took over a chunk of West Ballina’s Porter Park, but it eventually went ahead owing to its importance to the local Aboriginal community.
BSC regulatory services manager Mr Rod Willis said that Council should look to include ‘beaches, Crown reserves and estuaries as active and available recreational resources… we will find that we are way over the standard, numerically’.
Cr Ben Smith said that he struggled with the original motion as he doesn’t think BSC needs to buy more open spaces.
‘I think we have open space that needs more money. I would be more inclined to put money into those than buying more open space,’ Cr Smith said.
Cr Keith Johnson sees the ‘workshop as an audit and that Cr [Jeff] Johnson may be an optimist but future funding may be the status quo; it may be that we are spending too much. This workshop means that all positions are open for discussion.’
Cr Jeff Johnson questioned council staff regarding the protection of existing open spaces in residential areas against future development.
Mr Willis said, ‘anything that has been dedicated as a public reserve may be in a residential zone but the restrictions of the dedication mean that it is community owned and not operational. The zoning has nothing to do with the security of it as community land versus operational land.’
Mr Hickey said, ‘community land categorisation is the strongest protection you can get.’