MORELAND’S NEW MAYOR: MOVING TOWARDS A GREEN FUTURE

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By Matthew Elmas

 

Over the last eight weeks, Moreland’s new mayor, Councillor Samantha Ratnam, has been settling into her new role as the leader of Moreland City Council.

 

Cr Ratnam won office in late October, edging out Labor candidate Cr Lita Gillies in a historic move that’s seen Moreland appoint its first Greens mayor. But as the last head of council before local government elections next year, Moreland’s new leader has a mandate to consolidate the council’s sustainable vision for the future of Moreland.

 

Despite the pressure, Cr Ratnam says that she’s excited about working closely with the local community and is looking forward to getting on with the job of guiding Moreland into the future.

 

“The municipality is going through quite a significant transformation in terms of population density and urban development. Our community is really looking to us to ensure that they are getting positive outcomes from that. So we’re having a conversation about what changing density looks like and how you can build liveable and healthy cities even with higher density,” she said.

 

Population density is high on the council’s priority list, and justifiably so, as according to ABS data Moreland’s population has increased by 10% in the last six years, with the council anticipating a further 27% increase in total population by 2036 as more people gravitate towards areas closer to the CBD.

 

As we’ve got more people coming into the city we have to think about how people move around that city…we’ve got lots of public transport options and we’ve got a community that’s really interested in cycling and walking, so we’re asking how we as a council can ensure that we have safe and accessible pathways for people who want to do that.”

 

Cr Ratnam migrated to Australia in 1989 with her parents and has been a Brunswick local for seven years. Besides Brunswick’s vibrant live music scene, which she is particularly passionate about, Cr Ratnam says that she was drawn to Moreland by the “strong social conscience of the community” and that her decision to run for council was motivated by her desire to build a strong and sustainable city.

 

But Councillor Ratnam maintains that expanding the city to welcome new residents doesn’t have to come at the cost of sustainability, re-affirming the council’s commitment to investing in transport projects such as an overhaul of the Upfield bike path and the continuation of a free electric car charging centre in 2016.

 

“As we’ve got more people coming into the city we have to think about how people move around that city…we’ve got lots of public transport options and we’ve got a community that’s really interested in cycling and walking, so we’re asking how we as a council can ensure that we have safe and accessible pathways for people who want to do that,” Cr Ratnam said.

 

Cr Ratnam migrated to Australia in 1989 with her parents and has been a Brunswick local for seven years. Besides Brunswick’s vibrant live music scene, which she is particularly passionate about, Cr Ratnam says that she was drawn to Moreland by the “strong social conscience of the community” and that her decision to run for council was motivated by her desire to build a strong and sustainable city.

 

Cr Ratnam also supports local green real-estate developments like the proposed Nightingale project, which seeks to marry sustainable design techniques with strategies to ensure affordable housing.

 

The project recently had its planning approval overturned by VCAT on the grounds that it wasn’t planning on providing car parking, but Cr Ratnam says that council will advocate to continue the project with the State Government in 2016.

 

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“We love projects that challenge the norm and make us do things a bit differently, so we’ve got a lot of work to do advocating the state government because obviously this is about the state government and its rules and its interpretation as opposed to ours so we are actively working on other ways that we can promote and incentivize these types of developments,” said Cr Ratnam.

 

However, a recent State Government initiative to cap council rates may spell trouble for Moreland’s ambitious plans. The legislation, which is expected to pass next year, will require council’s to justify any increases above the rate of inflation, forcing them to request special permission to raise rates. Cr Ratnam says that the council is already preparing their 2016 budget with the introduction of rate capping in mind and will be investigating alternative funding strategies.

 

“We have an increased demand for our service of people wanting us to do more, and we want to be able to do more, but we’ve got a resource constrained environment… we don’t want to cut back services, they’re really critical to the community so I think we are looking at other ways to ensure that we can think about our revenue and expenditure without having to cut services,” she said.

 

“One of the areas that I’m particularly interested in is how we can think about aligning our goals around this. For example, we want to have a more environmentally sustainable community and council operations, so how can that goal help us achieve more financially sustainable options as well.”

 

Balancing a fast-growing city with an aggressive carbon reduction goal and the introduction of rate capping will be no small feat for Moreland’s new mayor. But as an active cyclist and the driver of an electric car Cr Ratnam has already embodied the change she wants to see in the community.

 

 

Matthew Elmas is a journalism student at La Trobe University. In his spare time he enjoys good books, great movies and thoughtful discussion. @mjelmas

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