At Wednesday night’s April Council meeting, Councillors voted unanimously to pass the DRAFT Council Plan and 2017/2018 Budget.
There are a swag of exciting new initiatives that are included as part of the budget for the next twelve months. Of particular note were the inclusion of two initiatives that I fought hard to include, in line with my election commitments. Oakleigh Ward includes both the Clayton and Oakleigh Activity Centres and these have often been the focus of previous Councils. Whilst extremely important areas of the ward, I feel that the Huntingdale Shopping Centre and the Notting Hill areas tend to get left behind. Two initiatives in the coming budget aim to address at least part of this strategical direction of Council.
The first is a $200,000 allocation of funds to develop a master plan for the Huntingdale Shopping Centre. I grew up with strip shopping centres and this is one of the few in our municipality that is still active and thriving. After speaking with our Director for City Development, I am buoyed by some of the changes that we discussed as being possible for the area. The master plan will enable us to look at the Huntingdale area as a whole and help to identify what changes we can make in the coming years to further develop the area and encourage revitalisation. This is an important addition to the commitment that the State Government made at the last election to redevelop the Huntingdale Bus Interchange and Station area. I’m confident that with my colleagues support over the term of this Council that we will see a massive transformation of the Huntingdale area.
The second initiative that was included in the budget was more than $270,000 for an exciting new playspace in Samada Street Notting Hill, on the site of the old school. I spoke with a number of residents during the campaign and this was earmarked as a project that they would love to see delivered. As part of the project, we are hoping to restore an old memorial plaque to acknowledge a previous teacher at the school that was removed when the school was demolished. Discussions with our Director of Community Development and Services have resulted in Council now investigating how we can best utilise the area for Community use, and I’m excited to advise that plans are afoot for the removal of the tiny little playground further up Samada Street, next door to the Notting Hill Neighbourhood House, once the new playground is built and replacing it with a brand new community garden.
In terms of the four year strategic Council plan, I was pleased that my colleagues supported my suggested alterations to have a greater focus on prioritision on the movement of pedestrians within our activity centres. As a community, we need to think carefully on how we can better support pedestrian movement within our activity centres and where the best location of vehicles may be to align with this. The creation of Eaton Mall in Oakleigh, many years ago, is a prime example of what can be achieved.
Whilst it was exciting, as a Council, to be able to include close to 40 new initiatives in this budget, it was also disappointing that almost another 40 that were earmarked by Councillors and Officers could not be included. Unfortunately, this is a product of the rate capped environment in which we are operating (Please read my article on rate capping here), and I find myself wondering just how long it will be before Council is at breaking point. There are only 7 Councils in Victoria out of 79 that have no debt, and only 3 of those are Metropolitan Councils. At Monash, we are incredibly lucky to be one of those three Councils which is 100% debt free and in a stable financial situation – but how long can that last when expenses are outstripping revenue growth?
The 2016/2017 budget and Council Plan will now be released to Community Consultation. I encourage everyone to visit our website, or one of the many public inspections that Council will organise (including the Oakleigh Service Centre, Oakleigh Library and Clayton Library), and give their feedback and thoughts on this extremely important draft before it is bought before Council at the June meeting.