IT’S been nearly four years since Ballarat swept out its council chamber after accusations of poor governance, conflicts of interests and murky party politics.
Only three councillors survived the 2008 local government shake-up – Des Hudson, Craig Fletcher and John Philips.
Six new faces appeared, with seasoned councillor Judy Verlin steering the relatively inexperienced group as mayor.
Councillors Cheryl Bromfield, Samantha McIntosh, Noel Perry, Ben Taylor and Mark Harris were all new to local government but brought with them a wide range of skills.
So what did this council decide were priorities for Ballarat? And how does the report card stack up as the council nears the end of its term?
On the plus side, Lake Wendouree is full again thanks to a jointly financed $7 million water harvesting scheme.
But criticism was levelled at the council over its lack of dredging progress, its problem-plagued weed harvesting program and the $30,000 hiring of a New Zealand consultant to ensure the lake was up to scratch for the 100th Boat Race.
The Ballarat West zone is surging ahead, with the creation new suburb Lucas and several other precinct structure plans nearly ready to cater for an estimated 40,000 population growth over the next 30 to 40 years. The Ballarat West Employment Zone will also provide 9000 new jobs and $5 billion in economic output.
But the Ballarat West Development Contributions Plan – which will fund infrastructure in the new suburbs – has been contentious, with developers claiming it has been rushed through.
The council has also aggressively attacked problem gambling, by creating the Ballarat Gaming Policy Framework to allow it to have more of a say over locating poker machines.
The controversial Eureka Centre, now the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, will open later this year. It remains to be seen whether it will capture the public’s imagination enough to justify its $11 million price tag.
And the council is leading the way in trying to establish an $80 million sporting precinct based around Eureka Stadium, with plans for an upgrade to host AFL games. However, progress relies on state and federal government funding, with predictions it will be years before any real progress is made.
On the negative side, the council has failed to make progress on two of Ballarat’s biggest issues.
The Civic Hall remains boarded up on its Mair Street site, with plans for a $40 million council office and car park development scuttled by public dissent.
Similarly, new saleyards for Ballarat still appear years away. Regional Infrastructure has been appointed to build the Ballarat Livestock Selling Centre but so far can’t even name a site, claiming legal issues with their preferred option.
There has also been concerns over the Eureka Pool’s management tender, the lack of a permanent youth centre and the need for a kerbside greenwaste service.
But mayor Mark Harris said local government tended to cop a “kneejerk reaction”.
“People very often focus on the wrong issues, not the fact we have a $30 million capital works program each year,” Cr Harris said.
“We shouldn’t focus on the criticisms but on how we have confronted these different issues.”
For example, Cr Harris said the critical decision about the saleyards was putting them out to tender and not operating them themselves.
“The important decision was the first one and we should be judged on that, not just on how much progress has been made.”
He said it was a similar matter with the Civic Hall, where the default position could have been to do nothing.
“We chose to have a bold plan. In the process of it being tested, it was abandoned entirely and we are now going through the community consultation process.
“I feel satisfied with our processes. It shouldn’t be a list of ticks and crosses.”
Cr Harris also said he was proud party politics had played little role in the council chamber.
“Every decision was done for the good of the community.”