At last week’s December 15 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, Cr Karen Toms put some questions to CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, regarding the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) fund.
Eligible projects “must support the recovery of the local community’s economy, social well-being [and] environment, or improve resilience to future natural disasters”.
Cr Toms: …the business paper talks about the phases of the funding applications, my question is: [applications] opened on October 27, which is nearly two months ago; why has it taken this long to come to council and why wasn’t our community involved in some community consultation in regard to the projects?
Ashley Lindsay: It’s been a busy period for council; we have been inundated with grant programs, grant projects; it’s just a matter of time, I guess, I can’t offer any other comment.
KT: Thank you for your honesty. Did we at the very least put something on our website about this, or on our noticeboard, or on our Facebook – did we communicate with our community via those avenues?
AL: This has received significant publicity throughout the community, lots of applications coming in from various community groups. I’ve provided letters of support for a number of projects that don’t impact on council assets, but relate to community assets or community programs, and council staff are working with those people to help them with their applications. I’ve just had a meeting today with the Yaegl traditional owners about a project that they are going to put forward for BLER funding. So we’re working with the community as we speak.
KT: I don’t think you’ve answered my question; do you say it’s because the community knew about it and it wasn’t up to us to put it out there, is that what you mean?
AL: …as far as I know we promoted it with the local member [Chris Gulaptis] and the federal member [Kevin Hogan]. I can’t categorically say that we did, but I would hope that we have. But everyone knows about it.
KT: So the projects that have been decided were decided purely by staff?
GM Yes, but based on master plans that council had developed over a number of years; we’ve put forward projects that we can deliver….
Cr Richie Williamson: Mr GM, is it also true that applications for this fund don’t need to come through the council? [Is] a community group from anywhere in the valley eligible to apply; we are not the people dishing out the grants; hence, it’s not our job to sell somebody else’s wares?
AL: That’s right, it’s a federal and state governments’ initiative and it is their program … obviously it’s restricted to [local government areas] that are bushfire-affected.
KT: …can I please clarify … my point was probably lost by not communicating it properly; what I meant [with] the projects that have been put forward; I think it would have been nice to have some sort of community interaction with their thoughts on priorities; we need to encourage our community, instead of, ‘We make the decisions.’ I’m sorry; I’m not asking a question….
Cr Deborah Novak: The Shores Drive roundabout, was that a BLER funding project on a priority list?
AL: That was part of council’s application to the Grow Local Economies Fund – we put that application in to the government for three roundabouts on Yamba Road and then we went back and changed the scope of the project because we didn’t have enough funding. The project was shovel-ready and when the call came out from the government that they were looking for projects to stimulate the economy, the Shores Drive was a project that we put forward because we had included it in the tender for the works – we had the design, everything was ready to go and we provided the information we had already supplied with the Growing Local Economies Fund.
There was no debate about the matter and councillors unanimously “endorsed the summary of BLER fund applications” prepared by CVC staff.
Note: Some of the nominated projects involved community consultations, which is a BLER condition – “applications must provide evidence the community supports the project” – over recent years, while others may not have had project-specific community consultations. The report to council did not address this issue.