Councils partner on population boom

Despite the sheer number of people relocating to regional Victoria, infrastructure and services are significantly under-resourced, local governments say.

With some rural councils bracing for their populations to increase by half in just over a decade, regional Victoria is in the midst of an exponential population boom driven by unprecedented growth in Melbourne’s CBD.

Both the Surf Coast and Bass Coast councils set to experience more than 50 per cent growth in the next 13 years, while other councils are experiencing at least 30 per cent growth.

But a lack of adequate resourcing makes preparing for this change particularly difficult, according to David Edwards, chair of the Peri Urban Group of Rural Councils, a council coalition advocating for the Victorian peri urban region.

Despite the sheer number of people relocating to the area, regional Victoria is significantly under-resourced to tackle these challenges, he says.

Councils in the area have responsibility for large state parks and water catchments but have much smaller budgets, Cr Edwards says. “There’s less ability to provide the infrastructure that’s requires as we grow that clearly puts a lot of pressure, especially on small towns,” he tells Government News.

To address these challenges the Peri Urban Group of Regional Councils has partnered with the Victorian Planning Association to examine the impacts of a mounting population on regional areas.

The partnership will help to bring the challenges and potential solutions to the attention of the State Government, Cr Edwards says.

Bass Coast, Baw Baw, Golden Plains, Macedon Ranges, Moorabool, Murrindindi and Surf Coast are part of the project.

VPA executive director of strategy, engagement and futures Tess Pickering told Government News that the partnership would involve the development of plans and strategies to accommodate future growth.

This would include identifying infrastructure needs whilst preserving “the features that make peri urban regions desirable places to live, work and visit.”

The partnership will be about addressing issues as they arise, Cr Edwards said.

“It’s not necessarily about initiatives but rather working together to identify those issues as they arise. We’re looking at things like standard development contribution plans which don’t exist. This partnership is about understanding those issues.”

Balancing needs

The regional areas face a unique challenge in balancing the need to preserve farmland to support agricultural production with the inevitable spike in developments driven by population growth.

“Farming land is also coming under intense pressure to be developed so we also have to maintain our rural identity without losing,” says Cr Edwards.

With the region producing 17 per cent of Victoria’s agricultural produce, preserving land for agricultural production is equally as important as facilitating population growth.

Forward planning for growth is critical to ensure that councils are able to maintain infrastructure and service delivery, Cr Edwards says.

“When you consider that most of the peri urban shires are within an hour of Melbourne they’re really attractive growth places. We’re going to continue to grow so we have to make sure we maintain these partnerships so we grow in a sustainable manner.”

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