Local government planning including land-use planning, strategies and policies is a fascinating and complex world. Development of strategy and deciding on policy options is your opportunity to determine the direction of the council and community outcomes. Remember, whatever kind of planning or policy making you are engaged in, consultation and engagement with your community is the foundation for success.
Understanding your council planning, strategies and policy will help you work your way to understanding the finances and overall budget.
There are a number of plans and strategies councils are required to develop by law. The Victorian Local Government Act 1989 requires all councils to have Council Plans, including a Strategic Resource Plan. These plans are renewed at the start of each council term and should be reviewed annually. The Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987 sets out local government’s role in the land use planning system and requires each council to develop a Municipal Strategic Statement about how land is to be used and developed. These issues are covered in more detail in the following section. Councils are also the leading health and wellbeing planner for their area and under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 all councils are required to develop a Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plan.
The Council Plan is arguably one of the major ways councillors can influence the future of their community.
A Council Plan is a strategic plan involving decisions about long-term community directions. It should be a ‘whole of municipality’ plan taking into account present and future social, economic, cultural and environmental factors as well as financial challenges and opportunities confronting the council. These decisions should then be reflected in annual budget priorities and long term financial planning.
Councils also adopt a range of policies, strategies and plans to guide infrastructure priorities , resource allocation and diverse service delivery, and. Examples include library and early years service plans, asset management plans or transport strategies. Many councils also incorporate their Council Plan and other policies into specific community plans.
Council departments are usually organised according to the broad range of service areas. No matter how it is organised at your council, over time you will get to understand how it all works. Just keep asking questions and exploring reliable sources of information.
Council officers can give you useful advice, which you should consider as well as undertaking your own research. Start by getting a copy of your Council Plan, Municipal Public Health Plan (MPHP) and Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS). Read them and understand them. Ask your CEO or executive team for a briefing about council’s plans, strategies and policies. Find out which are coming up for review soon and request a briefing, either at a councillor briefing session or informally with the relevant staff.
Get a copy of your Council Plan, Municipal Strategic Strategy (MSS) and Municipal Public Health Plan (MPHP) and read them from cover to cover, keep them handy.