A GROUP of residents in Hepburn Shire believe the updated local laws proposed by the council are a "backwards step" in a region that is trying to make leaps forward in sustainability and reducing emissions.
Hepburn Shire Council's Local Law Number 2 is currently being reviewed and a group of community members have expressed their concerns about the proposed changes preventing residents from collecting materials from the local tips to re-purpose, growing plants on their nature strip and picking fruit on public land.
Local builder and resident Per Bernard said preventing these activities would impede on what people loved most about living in the area.
"Some of the things we value most about our rural lifestyle such as buying daffodils or spuds from roadside stalls, helping your child learn to ride their bike along the footpath, or collecting kindling from the side of the road will all be things of the past if these laws go ahead or are not moderated," he said.
Other residents, including climate adaption specialist and shire resident Dr Patrick Jones, are concerned the proposed changes contradict the council's recent Climate Emergency Declaration and believe they would make it far more difficult to meet the council's Z-NET goal of reaching zero net emissions by 2030, while undermining the innovative green culture the shire is known for.
"Such laws will hamstring people's ability to change behaviour and adapt to the challenges we will be facing in the near future. It will deter people from cleaning up fuel loads in their neighbourhoods, gather low-carbon public food or collect hard rubbish to upcycle," Dr Jones said.
Another resident, youth theatre coordinator Jen Bray, agreed.
"Sadly, many of these new laws discourage reducing, reusing and recycling, they deter people from food foraging and food growing and discourage the public from enjoying simple community activities and unregulated social life on public land," she said.
"I can't imagine what it will mean to our young people's need for spontaneous life experience."
The residents feel that some existing laws have reached their use-by-date and should be updated to reflect a more forward-thinking approach to the current climate situation.
For example, the old law banning scavenging at the tip should be updated with guidelines for safe salvaging of recycled materials, which they believe is more in line with council's goals to reduce landfill and decrease emissions from new materials.
To support a transition to a low carbon culture we need to ensure that our Local Laws are in alignment with these policies for the forthcoming decade. It's a great opportunity for further council leadership on these issues.General manager of Hepburn Wind, Taryn Lane
While the residents recognise the local laws are important to ensure good management and safety of residents, they feel many of the laws are an overreach and will greatly impact residents' ability to interact with their local environment and basic civil rights.
"Overreach by all levels of government has become a disturbing reality in many cities and towns across the country," Dr Jones said. "It is worrying that it could also happen in our own local community."
Hepburn Shire Council's chief executive officer Evan King said council had received submissions about foraging for food and was considering how it could be supported through changes to the Local Law.
In regards to scavenging at the tip, he said the shire's Transfer Stations were worksites under state legislation and so council must regulate activities on the site or it was in breach of the Act. However, the community can continue to purchase goods at the Transfer Station tip shops.
In terms of roadside stalls, Mr King said part of the purpose of the Local Law was to regulate and control activities, including roadside stalls, and behaviours which may be dangerous, cause a nuisance or which are detrimental to the amenity of the area and environment.
"Council has a responsibility to provide for the safe and unhindered use of public land for which it is the responsible authority. If Council did not regulate certain activities, it could result in an unsafe environment for our community," he said.
A new definition of what defines an event has also been proposed to manage potential detrimental impacts on the community. It means events where a road or reserve needs to be closed off or temporarily shut - that would cause a detrimental impact on the community - would require a permit.
This excludes birthday parties or other social gatherings.
A group of concerned community members representing five of the shire's sustainability groups has commenced meeting with local councillors and shire staff to address the issues in relation to the proposal.
A public meeting has been organised to explain and discuss the proposed changes to the laws. It will be hosted at the Daylesford Town Hall on December 3 at 6.30pm.
Residents from across the shire are invited to attend, while all seven councillors have been invited to listen to the community's questions and concerns.
The group is urging other residents to read the proposed Draft Laws and to make submissions to the council by 5pm on Friday, December 13.
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