COORDINATED by Foster Community Association (FCA), some 25 residents from Foster and district were joined by two South Gippsland Shire Councillors and two community strengthening staff at a workshop held at Foster hall last Thursday evening to systematically prioritise how to tackle the 1,799 community suggestions.
The ideas for improving the town and surrounds were gathered last November from adults and children by an organised process.
Known as a ‘Planning for Real’ process, the effort is intended to stimulate and focus community enthusiasm and to empower locals to drive action on projects that are widely supported and desired.
The information will also be formalised in an integrated community plan for Foster – a process that it progressively occurring for all localities within South Gippsland Shire.
The integrated community plan will advise Council and the State government of the community’ priorities and will assist in guiding collaboration to achieve mutual goals.
In Foster’s case, Planning for Real was undertaken by FCA in 2004, and to date has resulted in 53% of projects being completed and 16% being in progress.
Understandably, the 31% of desires still not actioned from the 2004 exercise have resurfaced in the 2010/11 along with a new set of ideas and wants.
Prior to the session participants undertaking an analytical hands-on prioritising process, FCA’s Linda Giddy gave an illustrated analysis of the 1,799 suggestions.
She had collated the ideas into categories of town centre, recreation, roads (including parking), social infrastructure, environment, economic and Council
In terms of numbers of times a topic was mentioned, improvements to Foster’s roads was the most popular theme as it was raised 634 times.
Within this category, top areas of interest were better parking (182 people), better footpaths or cycle paths (120) and concerns about traffic flow (104).
Recreation was the next favourite area attracting 382 comments, with improvements to various aspects of Foster Showgrounds, Foster Station Park and the primary school’s kitchen garden being keenly sought.
Upgrading Foster town centre garnered 311 ideas, with 77 requests for improved streetscape (both in Main Street and behind the shops) being the single most important topic.
In terms of social infrastructure, development of aspects of Foster Station Park was the clear winner (95), with the primary school’s kitchen garden (69) rating second place.
The importance of improvements to Council’s waste management services and land use planning were way out in front of other municipal issues, while directly-economic aspects only attracted four comments, three of which related to tourism.
Collated into the categories, the 1,799 suggestions were divided up among the tables of participants for a non-judgmental sorting process with decisions noted on a set of cards.
In a quick “gut reaction” manner, the participants had to decide whether each idea in turn should be something acted on ‘now, soon or later’ and then whether it would be a quick and easy fix or would take longer to do.
Each group also had to allocate the ideas to one of six categories describing responsibility for action.
Choices in this area included options within a ‘we can do it ourselves’ category (with or without advice, funding and partners) or else a decision that it was beyond the community’s ability to implement but it could be lobbied for.
The only drawback of the evening was some confusion over interpretation of how to define and therefore allocate the ‘responsibility for action’ choices which may skew the results as some groups allocated items to ‘Council’ responsibility on the grounds of Council owning or managing the site involved, when in fact it was only meant to indicate a feeling that Council should initiate any action on the project.
The level of agreeable but robust discussion at each table indicated that the participants found the exercise stimulating.
Afterwards, Linda praised the participants for getting the hardest part of the work done and urged them to continue their involvement, regardless of whether they were an interested individual or were representing a community organisation.
“We will need champions driving these projects forward so it doesn’t just fall back on a few people in Foster Community Association,” she stated.
She anticipated that collation of the evening’s results could be “wrapped up in a few weeks” ready for the next stages of developing an action plan and then commencing implementation of projects.
Linda thanked Council for its ‘legwork support’ for the community planning process and Councillors Mohya Davies and Mimmie Jackson, and staff Ned Dennis and Barbara Look for their attendance.
Larry Giddy took the opportunity to invite local organisations and individuals to join FCA, at the cost of $20 per year, so that the organisation had additional strength and voice on Foster’s behalf, and to keep communication occurring.
He also promoted Foster community web site at www.foster.vic.au.
Council’s Community Strengthening Coordinator Ned Dennis also invited those present to view integrated community plans (hard copy or online) that have already been completed by other towns in the Shire.
From start to finish, the evening took just one-and-a-half hours, which is a credit to the impressive preparation and organisation undertaken beforehand by Foster Community Association, primarily by Linda Giddy.
To join the FCA call Larry Giddy on 03 5689 1379 or see Debra at Revelations shop in Foster.