Meet the candidates: Bega Valley council hopefuls answer your questions

As the local government election approaches - December 4 - we went to candidates campaigning in the Bega Valley Shire with a series of questions inspired by our readers.

A poll taken over the course of several days following the candidate ballot draw highlighted five key topics on which our readers wished to know more from candidates.

Each of the 18 candidates were sent the same list of questions based on these five key areas, with the same deadlines for responding and word limits requested.

Their answers for questions one and two were asked to be returned by 9am Monday, November 15.

Admittedly not many of them did respond by the deadline, and we'd prefer to give our readers a much greater insight into all candidates. So if candidates do get us their requested responses in a timely manner we will add them for you.

As it is, those who did so are published below, in ballot order.

The Questions

1. Climate and the Environment. How do you see council's role in acting on climate change and environmental protection? What are some practical measures council can work to achieve for residents in keeping with the BVSC Climate Resilience Strategy?

2. Affordable Housing. What will you do on council to advance efforts on provision of housing in the shire, whether that be low-cost housing for our vulnerable, or opening up land for residential development? What are the challenges in doing so? What else needs to be considered when looking to increase residential development?

LABOR - HELEN O'NEIL and SIMON DALY

Helen O'Neil

Helen O'Neil

Simon Daly

Simon Daly

Climate and the Environment.

Anyone who has lived through the last few years in the Bega Valley knows that our climate is changing and that we need to prepare for further climate challenges.

Labor says regional and remote areas must be at the centre of energy and climate policies so they benefit from the economic opportunities which we know are there - cheaper, more reliable energy and jobs in the emerging green economy. That's why council should be actively supporting NSW's commitment to halving emissions by 2030 - and look at growing community-shire partnerships like the Clean Energy for Eternity solar farm.

Council should elevate its support and encouragement for the development of renewable power generation, including local micro grids connected across the Bega Valley, to prevent a repeat of the cascading failures when the grid collapsed during the fires as well as to meet its net zero by 2030 target.

Of course a local council can't solve Australia's climate crisis, but it can also make an important contribution by giving high priority to issues like improved waste treatment, more reliable water storage, more energy efficient premises, all building on its decision to recognise the climate emergency. All changes which also deliver more effective and efficient services.

Affordable Housing

We can't wait until the second half of next year for action to deal with this crisis. These problems are here and now, spiralling rentals, a lack of social housing, low income and older people ending up homeless. People trying to rebuild their homes and businesses fighting to emerge from the COVID pandemic, health facilities and our hospital are struggling to find staff because there are no affordable rental properties.

We now have a draft council strategy paper which gives us the facts and details and has some common-sense ideas, which is better late than never. We must now move to a round table of all interested parties, Federal and State Governments, Council, developers, real estate agents, social services, charity groups and businesses, to find some urgent solutions alongside the long term action plan.

Council already has assets and land it can use in partnership with social housing providers - let's investigate what will work. The first rezoning decisions are underway to encourage more appropriate residences for people in towns, particularly for older people, with services nearby. Council must also ensure that new development preserves our natural environment and rural landscapes, and revisit impact of short term rentals, now that the state government is setting limits on them.

And for the people still living in temporary accommodation after the fires, the council must be their advocate with the federal agencies dealing with recovery, and support the volunteers and community groups who have done so much to help survivors.

GREENS - CATHY GRIFF

Cathy Griff

Cathy Griff

Climate and the Environment

Council has a major role in addressing climate change and environmental protection. It is time to stop questioning this as being in local government remit. Most councils are fully engaged in this arena. Bega Valley Shire was one of the first councils to join the Climate Council's 'Power Partnership'. It is made up of 160 councils representing 65% of the Australian population leading the way to a zero emissions future. Our shire can be a leader in climate change mitigation partnering with community groups such as Clean Energy for Eternity.

Council has a Clean Energy Plan guiding its own operation in terms of lighting, sewerage plants and increased use of solar. The plan needs to be accelerated and include fleet vehicle transition to EVs.

The Climate Resilience Strategy contains broad goals for the whole shire to aim for zero emissions by 2030. However the time lines are general. Councillors need to prioritise these projects with specific and shorter time frames. Projects to bring forward range from bulk solar panel purchasing and more shared cycle paths to public planting for cooler towns and off-grid communication hubs.

The response to the BDN survey shows residents have an appetite for renewable energy alternatives. The Greens have advocated this pathway for decades highlighting successful and practical case studies of the way forward in a climate emergency.

Affordable Housing

I have raised council motions since 2017 seeking land for affordable housing and a youth refuge. I chaired a community group on the topic with expertise including Social Justice Advocates and South East Women's and Children's Service. Subsequently a skilled consultant has delivered council's Affordable Housing Strategy, which is out for public comment.

Obviously council has competing priorities. As with climate, the housing strategy calls for councillors to dedicate funds and commit to implementing the recommendations. There are challenges in doing so, especially as council is on a tight budget. Land sales are an obvious means to raise funds. For reasons of compassion and moral obligation, profit on land may need to be largely foregone when dedicating land for affordable housing options.

Residential development addressing affordable housing is complex, demanding multiple initiatives from several parties. Council has a large capacity to prompt change especially in terms of: advocacy to state and federal government; partnerships with social housing providers; planning and zoning regulation to facilitate smaller housing lots and secondary dwellings in specific towns and areas.

Hopefully incoming councillors will agree housing is a fundamental human right but increasingly a struggle for too many in our beautiful region.

GREENS - VIVIAN HARRIS

Vivian Harris

Vivian Harris

Climate and the Environment

The Greens and I personally believe climate action is desperately needed at all levels of government and BVSC can do its part in protecting our children's futures and our own. The initial work on the Climate Emergency Declaration was Greens councillor Cathy Griff. Sadly, four current councillors opposed this declaration and later attempted to have this rescinded. The Bega Valley Climate Resilience Strategy was also due to the hard work of council staff, Councillor Griff and the community. In the Bega Valley our biggest emissions come from electricity, transport and agriculture. We can work to reduce emission locally by: helping to organise bulk buys of solar for residential, commercial and industry; facilitating community owned solar farms, regulating to make solar mandatory on new builds; transitioning to electric vehicles and installing or regulating installation of electric vehicle chargers; and encouraging and promoting regenerative farming.

We can increase resilience by strengthening infrastructure such as water treatment plants, sewerage systems, communications and bridges. We can turn public buildings such as community halls, libraries and other public buildings into safe places for refuge during heatwaves and disasters.

We can educate the community about climate change, emergency preparation and increase community resilience through capacity building.

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a complex problem with many solutions being at state and federal level. At local government level we should be guided by the Bega Valley Affordable Housing Strategy. BVSC can advocate for more low income housing from the federal government. Like other councils are doing or considering doing we can increase restrictions on short term rentals to lower the number. We can explore increasing rates on second houses that are vacant more than six months of the year. There is a shortage of medium density housing in some towns so we can encourage more building of quality medium density housing.

Council can work to increase ease of community multiple occupancy developments, tiny house developments , granny flats and conversions of large houses into multiple occupancy. It would also be possible to mandate a percentage of affordable housing in residential developments. We can also audit council owned land and look for possibilities of partnerships to build affordable housing

KAREN WRIGHT

Karen Wright

Karen Wright

Climate and the Environment.

Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and has since developed a climate resilience strategy. One practical measure council can take is through water security and reuse, by not investing in a deep ocean outfall in Merimbula and instead looking at how that water can be recycled on land.

I want to see an increase in cultural burning and First Nations knowledge embedded in the way we look after the environment here to help reduce our chances of devastating bushfires. We must invest in renewable energy to create better cost efficiency across the council's infrastructure.

We need to look at regenerative agriculture opportunities like the circular economy; healing the land and opening the way for farming opportunities like wine, hops, flower farms, specialty dairy and pastured hens that can create employment and money flowing into the Valley, as well as reducing food waste through our community pantries, FOGO and the Ocean2Earth composting of fish waste. I want to see a ban on plastic bags in our shire.

Affordable Housing

Above all, my biggest priority is the housing crisis, having worked in homelessness and experienced first hand how many people are suffering. This is directly impacting on small businesses and their staff, families, people fleeing domestic violence, and health care workers that need short term accommodation here.

We must revisit the cap on AirBnBs short term rentals. We must support the draft affordable housing strategy, reducing lot sizes (within reason) making it easier to build secondary dwellings and home sharing. We should look at removing section 68 sewage charges for first home owner occupier builds and placing levies on non-owner occupiers who are driving house prices so high that people have no choice but to rent in a market where it is almost impossible to find accommodation.

We must back our charities like the Social Justice Advocates who are currently providing temporary accommodation for so many people in our community, and we must work together as a collaboratively with our community, homelessness services and state government to find a solution.

DAVID PORTER

David Porter

David Porter

Climate and the Environment

The duty of an elected councillor is to serve our local shire and the communities within it. I share all the concerns of all communities within the shire, especially ones that have an impact on our life. I am a practical person and believe in management of resources and the environment. Given we are a shire with such a high percentage of forests and natural surrounding we need to be planning in advance for all possible scenarios. We need to use our resilience to reduce our recovery and the associated losses that accompany that.

While Bega Valley Shire is doing well in sustainable energy there is much more work to be done, including bushfire preparedness and water security. I believe we will only achieve our targets by uniting our communities on common ground and showing tangible benefits to working together for common goals.

I have already been working on a community focus group for essential energy looking at how we can all benefit from the technological advancements in power distribution and having worked in technology all my life I am excited about implementing community and council projects.

Affordable Housing

I am extremely interested in working on the housing crisis. In 2016, myself and two other concerned citizens met with the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, General Manager and two staff from planning, we expressed our concern that mapping of restrictions under the 2013 LEP had smothered the construction of homes on existing residential lots, council did not act on our concerns, now we have an exacerbated housing crisis.

The first step in my plan is to roll back minimum lot size restrictions and building entitlements on existing approved residential areas to allow expansion of housing within existing town limits. By simply rolling back the application of these controls on residential lots and providing incentives to build we could improve inventory without the time required for developments.

I have also been researching small lot residential, strata and community title as a way to create low cost homes. Council owns areas of land where this could be created, or it could be done on private or crown land but this would have to be planned carefully to ensure living conditions and environmental concerns are kept to the right level. I would also like to see restricted land releases to local low and middle income earners.

JOY ROBIN

Joy Robin

Joy Robin

Climate and the Environment, also Affordable Housing.

Both questions are very complex and have many layers that involve community organisations, local, state and federal governments. I believe that if it affects our community we have a duty to lobby both state and federal governments on a regular basis as both these topics have a profound affect on us all and require attention.

Our environment is so very important to us all, some practical things to me are, far more community education programs, ie. waterwise, eliminating plastic bags from our society, supporting regenerative and more efficient farming initiatives. More flora and fauna signage throughout Bega Valley.

I believe the climate science is in, the big question seems to be how we transition to a greener/ different economy. The issue is so very divisive in our community and also with government both state and federal. The resolutions of these issues have not always been our governments best outcomes. (We have witnessed this with industry closures etc in our area). The issue of restructuring can be so divisive to a community so as a council I feel we must always bring everyone to the table and work and listen to and with all.

As a local council we must at all times support and promote our local businesses as we do transition. I hope going forward we as a community can capitalise on the industry opportunities. We must give industry, commercial and small business the support and encourage diversity and renewables and be open to discuss and consider differences going forward.

I have read the support the BVSC Climate Emergency Declaration and IPART statement.

The current housing crisis/shortage is of a grave concern to me as if affects all aspects of our lives, our wellbeing, our mental health, our work, our social life, and it is growing deeper in our communities and something must be done. Every layer of government is talking about this issue, however very little is being done to fix this degrading and damaging problem. We must address this crisis.

There are so many issues to be addressed - government legislation, council planning, regulatory process, rules for AirBnB and so on. The negative layers this is creating in our communities are numerous and varied. We need to be lobbying both federal and state governments on a regular basis and perhaps reviewing council town planning/regulatory process anything or all factors pertaining to the housing crisis/shortage.

Working closely with industry for more low cost housing. We really do need action on this subject. To have people living in cars is so very very sad. Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers that are out there helping these people.

MICHAEL BRITTEN

Michael Britten

Michael Britten

Climate and the Environment

Council has put in place a resilience strategy for action as we move forward and IPART has on 4/11/2021 released its statement and framework for tackling climate change which will govern council's future actions.

I support those goals and, accepting the devil is in the detail, will work on applying wherever realistically possible, the participation of council in proactively reducing the effect of climate on council operations, as I did with the funding of the Tathra solar farm. To successfully apply beneficial results to new development will require networking with other levels of government and instrumentalities (such as Essential Energy)

Affordable Housing

I am aware of the recent affordable housing strategy and backing paper and agree with its broad intent. The difficulty will be in creating a cohesive implementation of the strategy by involving all levels of government as well as reaching agreement with the development industry who will be required to participate.

Council staff are not presently equipped to successfully have an economic development arm to participate in housing and land development and will have to determine the feasibility of doing so and the related cost to the community as well as the benefit.

The challenges are the location of suitable sites, establishing funding agreements with public housing bodies and/or developers, and creating a legal as well as social environment that allows for future successful management that does not create substandard living conditions.

JOSHUA SHOOBRIDGE

Joshua Shoobridge

Joshua Shoobridge

Climate and the Environment

One of the main things we all love about our shire is its natural beauty. As an amateur photographer I almost exclusively focus on the natural landscape and its fauna for my work. It saddens me when I see it littered with rubbish. We need to take better care of our home. I will support the push for stronger fines for litterers and a ban on single use plastic within our shire.

When it comes to renewables and how our council can continue to play a leading role, we need to look outside the box. Initiatives for community batteries and solar programs would not only help take us away from using antiquated power technology, but will also strengthen community spirit. I will also support policies that will not hinder people in installing renewable energy options on their homes or their businesses.

Affordable Housing

The housing issues within our valley is one of, if not, the most important issue facing our community currently.

Aside from actively lobbying state government to install more social housing we need to actively create solutions from all levels such as the planning and development stages all the way through to current rentals.

I hear a lot of people pushing for penalties for empty dwellings, I don't think that is the answer there. I would push for incentives to be given to landlords who can supply decent long term rentals and also encourage new developers to do the same.

The shire is growing and our development requirements need to evolve from what they are to be more accommodating for the needs of the community.

This story Meet the candidates: Bega Valley council hopefuls answer your questions first appeared on Bega District News.