Surf Coast Councillor Rose Hodge was elected in 2004 and is now in her third term on the Surf Coast Shire Council. Rose has lived in the area for 30 years. Her husband has a bricklaying business and she has three sons, including twins.
Rose says the most important thing for new councillors to understand is that there is no such thing as a stupid question. This advice is particularly true when it comes to planning, for the issues are complex in terms of state and local government regulations and there will be tough questions from both residents and developers. “There’s a lot to learn and understand. When you get into council make sure the CEO and councillors arrange briefing sessions with planners, they have the knowledge that can aide the council in forming decisions. Do as many courses with the VLGA and the MAV as you can. Work with the CEO to make this happen and it is an important part of your development as a councillor.”
In an area like the Surf Coast Shire, Rose says planning is one of the most controversial areas of government. There can be strong disagreements over questions such as urban boundaries, building heights, medium and high density housing (especially around town centres) and the most important the preservation of ‘green-wedges’.
“Newer councillors may find it really hard – balancing the demands of good strategic planning with the needs of the community and the workings of developers,” says Rose.
Despite the difficulties, Rose is passionate about planning to preserve the coastal feel of Torquay, Jan Juc and the village feel of the neighbouring towns, “ Councils must stay firm on their structure plans and the land use for the communities they represent.” That is exactly what the council did in a dispute with the Victorian Planning Minister over a proposal to build a school in a privately owned valley. “The school wanted to build in the middle of the valley and the council said “wait” as we were preparing for a planning amendment, council wanted to develop an overall plan for the valley with community input and this was to be completed in the near future.”
This decision did not please the Planning Minister, to say the least, and there was a forceful and public exchange between he and the councillors. Rose says, “We were protecting the process, it needs to go through the steps it needs to take. We are planning for a whole community not just one section of it.”
One lesson from this is that relationships are very important and, despite inevitable setbacks from time to time, need to be worked at.
Rose says the community need to know early about potentially controversial planning applications. “Keeping the community informed and engaged is essential for receiving responses to submissions. Once an application is made that could present problems, a good planning manager will brief councillors so council planners need good political antennae, and a strong and trusting relationship/partnership with council. Land use planning is a fascinating part of being a councillor and never dull!”