This is your opportunity, as a member of the Bellingen Shire community, to ask your Bellingen Shire Mayor a question. The aim of this is to help ‘de-mystify’ the processes undertaken by Bellingen Shire Council when planning and delivering on various projects across its jurisdiction.

Each week we will publish one of your questions that was submitted, via our newsletter, to info@ilovebelloshire.com. So email your question today.

Q: What is council doing about increased visitors to the Never Never Creek and the lack of facilities like toilets & parking? Human pooh and paper is being left behind and parking has become an issue.

A: The Gleniffer Valley is a spectacular place often frequented by locals and visitors. Adjacent State Forest and National Park areas are also increasingly becoming popular recreational destinations and this increased use needs to be managed.

Over the last 2 years, there has been no active promotion of the Gleniffer area by Council or other industry partners. This was done to assist Council in minimising further impacts by increased visitation and to investigate and develop strategies to better manage the Gleniffer reserves. With social media a key medium for sharing holiday pictures and travel places, this has contributed to some increases in visitation.

Working with Forestry Corporation of NSW, the Never Never Catchment Group, residents, the broader Bellingen Shire community and other key stakeholders has seen the development of the Gleniffer Master Plan (2016) and the more recently adopted Gleniffer Plan of Management (2018).  Both of these documents aim to address social and environmental issues relating to the Gleniffer reserves.

Sustainability is a key principle of the Master Plan’s intent. There are a large range of issues that need addressing and those works have been prioritised based on the relative urgency for action to preserve the environment. The Master Plan provides sustainable design and management solutions for visitation during peak periods, guides site usage and identifies actions to take to address adverse visitor behaviour. 

This includes new and improved infrastructure at each of the reserves with design solutions and recommendations having regard to flood activity and the impact of the riverine environment.

The Masterplan provides a strategy and allows the available funds to target the actions that will provide the greatest benefit. The Plans include placing public toilets and other recreational facilities nearby. In the short term, stopping environmental degradation that threaten the site, educating visitors and building awareness of the impacts of inappropriate actions/behaviour, has been a priority. This will assist with a wide range of impacts that are occurring, including the parking and leaving of waste.

While Council, State Forests and other key stakeholders are doing what we can in managing the Gleniffer reserves, it is also the responsibility of locals and visitors alike to look after these areas.  This can be done by using the designated car parking, walking on existing tracks and trails, taking your rubbish with you and generally respecting these beautiful spaces to unsure they remain pristine for the long term.

 As most of the visitation is coming about from word of mouth and social media, if you are sending someone out there, please make sure you make them aware of what facilities are or are not available and how to responsibly use the area. This means if it is overcrowded, to go somewhere else, to prepare for the lack of facilities and act in ways that protect this wonderful environment.

Q:  Can the Council come to the party to repair or replace the wooden bridge in the park adjoining the football ground. The closure of the bridge disrupts the flow of visitors to the Bellingen Community Markets and the regular Plant Fairs. A very disappointing state of affairs. Regular stallholders in the area are losing business.   EW Hydes Creek

A:  We are aware of the state of the footbridge behind the bandstand at Bellingen Park. A concrete deck and steel girder design has been developed to replace the bridge and is estimated to cost around $10,000.

As we don’t have funds for this in our current year’s maintenance budget we are looking for options to be able to fund the works. Luckily we have some materials on hand that we can use, which means that we need to find less money to do this project.

So plans are in place and it is only a matter of time to get the bridge replaced.

Q:  Does the Council have any up to date information on the NBN being rolled out in the shire? Is there anything we can do as locals to help?  BA   Bellingen

A:  Council only gets the same information as is provided to the broader public about the NBN rollout. We are at the stage where the construction work is underway and there is not much that can be done that will affect the pace of that work.

 Being able to get fibre to the kerb over a larger footprint of the township was a good win for our community and local businesses. It would be great to see that footprint expanded to cover all of the urban area.

Q:  Any chance we can get the Bellingen Pool heated for all year round use? Is there still talk of putting in a gym at the pool and making it a multi-purpose centre? Can the pool be managed by local people and not the YMCA?

A:  Year round use of the Bellingen Pool has been investigated a number of times and grant funding options explored. The proposition has not proceeded to date due to the cost of running a heated pool all year and the cost of upgrading the facility.

While heating the pool would extend the swim season a range of issues need to be considered including the current management contract, the energy costs of heating the pool, the capital investment required to install heaters and the on-going maintenance costs once heating was installed. Council will continue to monitor potential funding options and assess the feasibility of heating Bellingen Pool.

In addition, council has made major upgrades to our swim centres at both Bellingen and Dorrigo over the past couple of years. At Bellingen Swim Centre, Council has upgraded filtration equipment, pools have been cleaned and painted, solar panels have been installed and new shade sails are about to be installed. Council was recently forced to spend an additional $5,000 after vandals broke into the Bellingen Swim Centre where significant damaged was made to equipment and buildings.  At the Dorrigo Swim Centre, Council has just completed an $80k project  which involved  installing a new filtration system and pump. An accessible toilet and shower is now available. Fencing has been erected to increase patron’s safety, solar panels have been installed to reduce energy costs and gas water heaters have been repaired and serviced. Council is also currently installing new shade sails at Dorrigo as well. 

Council has explored options for putting in a gym at the pool, including availability of grant funding to support the capital costs. However in the past few years council has focused on its financial position and maintaining and upgrading transport infrastructure. Any discussion about expanding services, needs a deliberate decision about how they will be funded, and fundamentally what other services this will affect.

Notwithstanding that, Council acknowledges the demand for a gym in town, and has actively supported local providers both current and prospective to progress the provision of a gym.

The operation of our pools have been market tested to ensure we get best value for money, to ensure we comply with the long list of safety requirements that keep our community safe, and that the staff that run the facilities have the appropriate qualifications, experience and capabilities.   YMCA manage both the Bellingen and Dorrigo Swim Centres under contract. The YMCA manages several regional swim centres across NSW. They are highly experienced pool operators and ensure that all relevant legislation and guidelines are met with respect to supervision, water testing and lifesaving accreditation. The YMCA offer a range of programs including Learn to Swim and Aqua Aerobics. The Council pools are a vital part of our community infrastructure. Visitation continues to increase on an annual basis. Our pools are accessed by a range of community groups including Swimming Clubs, School Carnivals and are vital for recreation and remediation purposes.

Q:  Would  BSC consider re- instating the Arts and Cultural Committee ( which was never officially disbanded) or something similar?  A group of professional people with expertise  and experience, such as architects, designers etc. would be able to advise Council on projects such as Church St. at no cost to the council thereby avoiding the use of expensive consultants and they would have local knowledge. It would save time and money and take some of the load off Council employees.

A:  The Arts and Cultural Committee was one a number of advisory committees, set up to provide views and input from interested and suitably qualified members of the community to assist the Council in its decision making and provide advice to the Council.  At the end of the last council term, the advisory committees ceased to exist (as they are only ever put in place for that term of council).

Council uses a variety of engagement tools including citizen jury’s, online tools such as Create, presence at community events (e.g. Markets), public meetings, focus groups and many other tools.  The consideration of whether to re-instate any advisory committees is currently being discussed by councillors in the context of the many other tools already utilised for community engagement. Whether an Arts and Cultural Committee is reformed, and what role it will have, will be part of those discussions and council will update the community in the new year.

Q: Are there any plans for a  community wellness centre for the future. There are a lot of people with health challenges in our town who would benefit from having access to hydrotherapy (warm water) and other health services under the one roof.  It is often hard for people to travel distances (eg to Coffs) on a regular basis. 

A: Getting specialists to outreach to Coffs is a challenge, let alone Bellingen. The need to travel to medical services in the larger centres definitely has an impact on our community and is a matter that Council lobbies the NSW government about. Community transport can help to get people to some services outside of Bellingen The  Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme is worth considering also.

Bringing all the health systems under the one roof and providing health facilities such as hydrotherapy pools are primarily a NSW government responsibility. Funding also comes from the Commonwealth Government. The Australian Government (Department of Health) fund the Primary Health Networks who fund gaps in services based on a needs assessment process. They have just finished a review, and survey results for the North Coast can be accessed here https://ncphn.org.au/speakup. This information may be of interest, as they use it to inform how and where they commission services.

Council is currently in discussion with a developer regarding  a hydrotherapy pool as part of a larger development, in the context of regional challenges around availability of specialist health services.

Q: What’s it like being Mayor?

A:   The short answer is that I do enjoy being the Mayor (most of the time). It enables me to work and interact with a wide range of people and issues that I feel are important for us as a community. For example, in the last two years I have attended conferences and forums and had meetings with some of the most renowned local, national and international thinkers around local government, climate change, catchment management, regenerative agriculture, affordable housing, and eco-tourism. This has enabled me to better understand the challenges we face as a community and explore how we can apply science and forward thinking to benefit all the residents of our shire. Most importantly, I get to live and help protect one of the most biodiverse and naturally stunning places on the planet.

It is largely what I expected, however the time demands are much greater than I imagined. Over all, I do recognise it is a massive privilege to be in the role and I am looking forward to working with my fellow councillors, staff and residents to achieve the best outcomes for the Bellingen Shire.

Q:  When will the council actively engage with the community and set a plan to bring the very old facilities of Connell park up to a reasonable standard. The resource is used by a very large amount of the community on a weekly basis doing health outdoor activities, and I think it would be appropriate to have change rooms for both sexes that include hot water for showers after sport and appropriate storage facilities for the multitude of clubs that use it. Seeking funding from State and Federal Governments plus Council monies as well as National Sport Bodies, Soccer, AFL, Rugby League and Cricket would allow the facilities upgraded as well as the surface. When was the last time council contributed any sort of monies to improve the facilities (change rooms) or playing surface?  

A:  Connell Park is managed by a Section 355 committee of Council which is made up of a representative group of users of both Connell and Bellingen Parks (the committee manages both of these sporting and recreational areas).

Current membership includes representatives from the following sporting and other groups; Bellingen Soccer Club, Bellingen Cricket Club, Bellingen Bulldogs, Bellingen Netball, Bellingen Dorrigo Junior Rugby League, Bellingen High School (all users of Connell Park),  Bellingen Dorrigo Senior Rugby League and Bellingen Community Markets. In addition, correspondence is sent to Bellingen Archers another regular user of Connell Park and invitations are regularly extended to join the committee.  All users pay set fees and charges for park usage and power.

Committee members have raised the need to upgrade and extend the amenities at meetings but there has been no strategic planning in relation to this; issues identified include inadequate storage facilities and changing rooms. Grant opportunities, including those which fund infrastructure, are promoted to the committee and individual clubs by council as they become available.

At the their July meeting, council staff attended with a letter for the committee stating that they were to be the beneficiaries of the lease fee, minus the power costs, for the Reverse Vending Machine.

A requirement of this arrangement is for the committee to develop a new Plan of Management for Connell Park. Suggestions such as those made above can be submitted as part of the Plan of Management development and engagement.

It should be noted that Connell Park is not the only sporting reserve managed by council (or devolved to 355 committees to manage. We also 4 committees managing 6 fields (Urunga Recreation Reserve = 2 fields; Bellingen Connell Park = 2 fields; Dorrigo Recreation Reserve = 1 field; and Burdett Park = 1 field).

Q: I’m just wondering the reason for placing the recycle unit at the entrance to our beautiful heritage town, why not at the tip/recycle centre? The placement is making people lazier and more thoughtless, and you have to admit, an eyesore for Connell Park

A: In April 2018 Council undertook and expression of interest (EOI) for a site on private land that would be suitable to host a reverse vending machine (RVM) as per the requirements set by the appointed Network Operator, TOMRA Cleanaway. At the conclusion of this process three applications were submitted, but none were deemed suitable. Two were not located in the Bellingen Township and the third location was too close to residential properties to be considered based on the strict requirements of the contractors and State Government for the siting of RVM’s.

Following this process locations on public land within Bellingen Shire were sought and Bellingen Shire Council undertook an audit of its own land. Three locations were proposed including the Bellingen Transfer Station, the “Telstra Carpark” off Church Street and the car park in Connell Park. During this process the Raleigh Waste Management Centre was not considered because it does not have the required opening hours as per the requirements and is not located within Bellingen.

Criteria for the siting of a RVM are as follows:

  • Safety for users, a site which has reasonable passive surveillance which people will feel safe using
  • Reasonably level ground to enable placement of the RVM
  • A smooth surface for rolling the containers which are located inside the RVM, either a concrete or bitumen surface
  • Room for access by a garbage truck
  • Access to electricity for lighting of the RVM, modem operation and the electronic recording and voucher issue
  • Connectivity to 4G wireless communication for real time monitoring of bin capacity and possibly CCTV
  • Reasonably central to users
  • At least 25m of separation to the nearest house

The Bellingen Transfer Station was deemed unsuitable because it did not meet the required opening hours and there is no on site power. The Telstra Carpark was considered as a secondary location if the carpark at Connell Park was disregarded as a location. Although the location is central to town, there were concerns about removing carparks from the centre of town and the site is not level. There were also concerns regarding the potential of antisocial behaviour due to the isolation of the location.

The carpark at Connell Park, near the entry to the high school, was therefore the only location which met the required specifications and was endorsed by council to ensure the community had access to a RVM.

To be fair the area has significantly improved since he removal of the bins however there are still some residents who are leaving cardboard boxes on site. CCTV will be installed by the contractor in the near future which should assist us in this issue.

Q: Can I attend Council meetings and have my say? What is the process to get involved and when are they held? 

A:  As part of Council’s commitment to community engagement and to accommodate members of our community that are unable to attend meetings during normal business hours, Council is to vary the commencement times for its meetings on 28 November 2018, 27 February and 27 March 2019 to 6.00pm rather than the usual 9.00am.  For logistical and attendance reasons the evening meetings will be held in Bellingen.

Councillor Community Forums will be held as follows:

  • 8.00 – 9.00am Wednesday 31/10/2018 – Bellingen Council Chambers (followed by Council Meeting)
  • 4.30 – 5.30pm Wednesday 28/11/2018 – Bellingen Council Chambers (followed by Council Meeting)
  • 5.00 – 6.30pm on Wednesday 20/02/2019 – Dorrigo Community Centre
  • 5.00 – 6.30pm on Wednesday 20/03/2019 – Urunga Senior Citizens Centre

The forums provide an opportunity for you to meet with Councillors and talk through matters of community interest and importance.

Council generally holds its Ordinary Council Meetings at 9.00am on the 4th Wednesday of every month with the exception of the December meeting which is held earlier in the month.

The Business Paper (Agenda) will be available online by the close of business Friday prior to meeting days.

Formal deputations from council can be made on items on the agenda and the application form:

Application Form – Deputation (Public Access/Presentation)