Act locally

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by Peter Croft

Local Government (Councils) are a key place to start when looking at making communities more sustainable.

We know of them as responsible for footpaths, roads, rubbish collection and libraries. However their role has developed into something much broader as the three levels of government (Commonwealth, State and local) try and integrate service delivery.

Take health as an example. At the Commonwealth level: Medicare, Therapeutic Goods Administration, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the like. At the State level: hospitals, health care services etc. At the local government level, the previous roles of food safety, immunisation campaigns etc have broadened as the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 has come into force. One of the requirements is for all Councils to develop a Regional Public Health Plan to preserve, protect and promote public health in their areas. This broader understanding provides an entry point for action on topics such as food security and healthy food; and walking and bike-riding as part of a healthy exercise regime.

A similar approach can be used to look at topics such as environmental policy: each level of government has specific responsibilities. At the local level, this can include topics such as: adaptation to climate change; water conservation; waste recycling, reuse and reduction; renewable energy installation; conservation of pre-European vegetation; planning and zoning for developments; greening communities (including Tree Strategies); and promotion of volunteerism and community support.

Most Councils around Adelaide have strategies, plans or policies that cover these Health and environment topics. Many also have community grant schemes that provide seed funding for initiatives that can support those directions.

In our inner-Adelaide Council area, the Grow Grow Grow Your Own group has been granted funds in several funding rounds to help the community grow more of its own food. Although we started out with a food security focus, the group has broadened its connections with Council on many fronts – including its Tree strategy, building community connections, linking with the Active Ageing and Youth strategies of Council, and conservation of pre-European trees.

Our approach has been to develop grant applications that address one or more of Council’s strategies that are linked with sustainability. Then, if a grant application is successful, make contact with Council staff and elected members and attempt to discuss and align our mutual understandings, with a focus on sustainability. We have found that Council staff and elected members are interested in engagement with the community and have responded favourably to issues that we have raised. A key element for us has been a commitment to engaging with the people and processes of Council and being prepared to spend time in doing so.

We are happy to talk to others about how to go about connecting up with their Council. It might take some time and be frustrating at times. However, given the direct local impact that Councils have on the quality of our lives, it can be a useful investment.

Happy to chat further.

Email Peter Croft if you would talk more about getting involved in councils.

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