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Populate or perish? LGA wants a strategy for regional growth

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The state’s Local Government Association has called on the Weatherill Government to develop a comprehensive plan to drive population growth in South Australia’s regions, suggesting the current policy framework is “too city-centric”.

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In the LGA’s budget submission wishlist – which has been forwarded to InDaily – the association demands a commitment to “fully fund” the development of a Population Growth Policy within the next 12 months, “to assist the state’s economic recovery”.

It also wants a $300,000 investment to fund “training sessions” to teach council planning staff about the Government’s new planning legislation.

Population growth was a key policy strategy for former Premier Mike Rann, whose strategic plan benchmarked a target of two million people by 2050. But the notion of a specific population target was swiftly abandoned under Jay Weatherill’s leadership.

LGA CEO Matt Pinnegar told InDaily the Government should urgently assess the significance of population growth as a policy goal, rather than a mere by-product of existing policy.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘drop the ball’ [because] it’s the chicken and egg situation – what comes first? Does population stimulate economic activity or does economic activity stimulate population growth?” he said.

“We need to have a study to see whether or not our population is holding us back from economic activity, and that’s arguably the case for regional SA.”

He said SA’s regional population had “never reached the heights” of states such as Victoria, New South Wales or Queensland in terms of generating economic activity.

“There are some regional towns that are one family away from losing a school or losing a hospital service,” he said.

“Our members are telling us they can’t get people to work in aged care community positions because regional populations are so low.

“We’re of the view there needs to be a population stimulus, particularly for regional SA… you could argue current policy is too city-centric.”

InDaily revealed last week the state’s Property Council’s own budget submission called for major cutbacks to local councils, including merging local government areas – a suggestion that drew a sharp response from the LGA.

But the association has backed one aspect of the Property Council’s wishlist – urging an immediate commitment to fund the rollout of an e-Planning framework.

Pinnegar says an electronic planning system would cost around $20 million and would “provide real time access to planning and development information, documents and approvals”.

“Local Government is supportive of the proposed e-planning system, and believe it should be put in place as a priority within the first 12 months of the [recently past planning reform bill’s] implementation phase,” Pinnegar said.

“As the reforms associated with the new bill roll out, it will also be critical to ensure that council planning staff and the development industry understand the new scheme.”

As such, the LGA wants the State Government to hand over $300,000 to help train its staff in the intricacies of the new act.

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