DRAWN from Foster Community Association (FCA), Foster Chamber of Commerce, Corner Inlet Transition Inc., Foster Rotary, Manna Community Garden and Corner Inlet Men’s Shed, 17 people met last week with South Gippsland Shire’s Director Sustainability Andrew McEwen, Community Strengthening Coordinator Ned Dennis and Cr Mohya Davies to discuss the next round of community planning for Foster.
According to Mr. Dennis, Foster is earmarked to start the Integrated Community Planning process early in 2011 although Council is yet to vote on the 2010/11 timetable of integrated community planning for six localities in the municipality.
In contrast, the community representatives are keen to commence another round of the ‘Planning for Real’ (PFR) process in time for the November State election polling day.
The reasons for wanting to use PFR is that Foster’s experience from 2004 and 2007 saw a large cross-section of the community actively consulted, other strategic planning information taken into account, and the great majority of the prioritised projects successfully completed across a range of topic categories.
Two local residents, Bill Gurnett and Linda Giddy, are trained PFR facilitators and are again willing to volunteer their skills and time if well supported by others.
FCA President Larry Giddy said that a vote taken at the end of the meeting (after the Council staff departed) decided to start the PFR process in local schools and to canvass locals for ideas when they turn up at Foster’s polling booth to vote in the November 2010 State election.
Ms Giddy explained that the election is a special opportunity worth pursuing as it is a time when lots of people come to one venue in town with thoughts about the future in the forefront of their thinking.
Mr. Dennis cautioned the meeting that Foster would not be able to access as much cash funding for PFR as it had in the past because the amount budgeted for community planning would have to be shared around six communities.
However he said that in-kind support from Council such as postage, plan write-ups, facilitation and the like would be available.
Mr. Giddy anticipated that after the initial consultations in November, the continuation of Foster’s community planning process could then fit in with Council’s timetable so that the offered staff resources could be used.
He summarised, “The meeting highlighted that both of the community planning processes have quite a bit of method in common and give similar results,” while Mr. Dennis agreed that they were “philosophically close”.
Provided that PFR included the principles, community engagement and issues covered by Council’s Integrated Community Planning process (for which there is no precise template), Mr. McEwen and Mr. Dennis agreed that there was no barrier to using PFR if that was the community’s desire.
Their prime concern was that Council must be able to compare community priorities and finding decisions for Foster on the same basis as those generated by other localities undertaking community plans.
FCA Secretary Joanne Stringer reminded that there were a number of new strategic inputs to integrate into the next round of community planning such as streetscape and traffic management information (Council has budgeted over two years for design and works), Foster Station precinct plans, Corner Inlet Transition plans, trails and paths plans and recent land use planning control changes.
Manna Garden member Leo Violini suggested expanding the PFR consultation process (which previously included consultation sessions at Foster market, evening sessions, polling day input, schools visits, contact with community organisations and a street stall) by adding the internet as a means of both obtaining community comments and displaying layered maps that could be interactively used by the public.
Cr Davies said she supported the community’s preference for the PFR method as it had proved to be “very robust, comprehensively owned by Foster community and had successfully developed from the ground up.”
She credited a great deal of this positive outcome to the skills and effort of Linda Giddy and Bill Gurnett in stimulating community engagement throughout the process.