Local, Opinion/Comment

Plans, plans as far as the eye can see.


Of late a new activity has hit our region. I refer to the compulsive need to tell us “they” are making a plan.  It is not that I have anything against the need for a good plan.  But the way “they” are going about it is a little short of getting a good outcome.   I fail to see why many of these plans appear to be made without input from the people.

Take three incidents all within the past two weeks. All were reported in the Coffs Coast Advocate under the following headlines;  You can now have your say on the foreshore future,  ‘Budget journey of council’ (hard copy of the paper on 27/1) and Coffs Coast must decide on its future.

OK, so the foreshores issue has had input from the public in the past, it’s just that it seems endless and to go on and on.  The Mayor of Coffs Harbour, Cr Knight, spoke of the high rise development down at the Jetty.  It seems all past plans for high rise are to be scrapped.  Yes, a consultant is to be engaged to start again from scratch and would you believe the community is to be asked for input.  Have secret plans came unstuck?

And the CHCC General Manager Mr McGrath told us a ‘fairy tale’.  Would you believe every council in NSW waited for the MyCoffs plan to be done!  Now that cannot be right, it might be the top plan for our district but this is of no concern for other councils.  But, do not let that worry you. Council was busy; they were making their plans and in June Council will adopt the budgets attached to all these many plans.

Mr McGrath said Council would pass these.  This is a rather simplistic way to look at it.   Or was it just that Council was ‘being considerate’?  By that I mean not going out of their way to ‘worry’ residents before and after the festive season over a mundane thing like our future?   Or might they just have been being arrogant and that input from outside was not ‘on their agenda’ for this one?

No that cannot be it because “the business community needs to consider the future and let us know where it wants to go from here” (Coffs Coast must decide on its future ).  So do the business community think they will be able to influence the outcome?

Or did I get it wrong?  And what is the word “it”, as in ‘its’ future, supposed to mean in this context?  What is wrong with asking the community for their view?  Judging from the article “Coffs Coast must decide on its future” mere mortals will fail.   We will be unable to understand such concepts. Moreover the biggest issue seems to be how do we (the mysterious we) manage this change?

The talk about the future of the Coffs Coast was given by the chief planner from the NSW Department of Planning and the Environment. The exact topic is not stated but the first item of content was megatrends.  If you are unaware of the precise nature of this phenomenon an explanation was given.  “A megatrend is a major shift in environment, social and economic conditions that will substantially change the way people live and once in place influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions for the future”.  And there I was thinking it was just a major change in focus.

Megatrends, a book written in the late 1970s by John Nesbitt, came about as a result of a study into articles in the printed media.   Old or stale news dropped out and fresh news took its place.  Fifty years later is it still possible to detect a megatrend?  The IT industry changed the world and the print media is collapsing or is confined to narrower more special interests.  So is it possible to be across all IT sources to monitor the changes that are going on?  Let us not forget Mr Trump is an avid user of the newer technologies.  He declared some parts of it to be pedalling “fake” news.  So is it possible there are also “fake” megatrends?

So what has this to do with the Coffs Coast region?  We are certainly not taking the lead. In an earlier paragraph it is stated “we perhaps lag behind out neighbours to the north and south”.   There is the proof we are not leading the change.   Yet this nevertheless followed the statement; “we are on the cusp of something big”.   Well I for one hope they are not standing on the edge of a chasm or a bottomless pit.

So what was the message the chief planner of NSW was trying to get across to us?  To achieve the desired outcome planning has to be within the regional growth plan released by the State Government. And apparently delivery is achieved by stakeholders in the Regional City Action Plan.  Whatever that plan is.  And how is it related to the MyCoffs plan?  Is there in fact any link between this myriad of plans and how are they to be operationalised?

In my mind it is all ‘as clear as mud’.  Never mind, we are told “the significance of council’s planning strategies must be recognised as they play a key role in complementing the strategic planning framework provided by megatrends and big picture goals”.  To this eloquent piece of waffle I say; ‘so what’?

In the past few weeks all I have seen is a push to tell us ‘they’ are ‘making plans’.  Or should that be they are making plans for the plan to have a strategy?  Or have we got to a level where we are making plans for the plan to plan for the strategy to drive us forward?  In old fashioned talk this is known as planning for planning.  And of course we will also need a plan to tell us how the planning is going.

No wonder they do not ask the residents for their input, until they pretend they want it that is.  Take the latest Jetty Consultation Version 101 for example.


Acting Editor’s Note;  COB has been resident on the Coffs Coast for the past dozen years when they moved here to retire.  In a previous life COB was a lead financial auditor for both the Federal and NSW State Governments.


  1. Already the Council is consulting “Stakeholders” what they would like to see with the planned Cultural Hub in Gordon Street.
    Firms of professional “influencers”, consultants and marketers have been engaged (at a considerable cost).
    Several concept plans have been shown to a limited audience, with a variety of floor options put out for consideration.
    What started out by having Councillors approve the concept of an enlarged library, art gallery, Council offices and chambers, has now taken on another plan to include a relocated Museum. All in the one central location in the Coffs CBD.
    This will be bundled together will be in a building, at least six to seven stories high.
    What the ratepayers will be asked to support will be this so called “iconic hub” to serve Coffs Harbour for generations to come.
    The cost is growing as the Council’s staff’s wish lists grow, so much so, it is likely to be in the vicinity of $50million by the time it is completed (expected to be 2022).
    I ask, who is prepared to fund this, even with a portion of the costs being from Government grants ?
    Note that this site will not have any Entertainment or large performance space, which is what Coffs has been denied for now on 35 + years.Yes, it gets talked about, but there is a huge mental block on the part of Council staff when City Hill is mentioned. Their eyes simply roll. Can someone please explain this and why Council are so anti City Hill.?
    Yes, over the years in Coffs Harbour plans get made, the community gets consulted, but at the end of the day, very little changes as the years roll by.
    Just more of the same old, same old I guess

  2. An interesting article and a very informative follow up comment from Kevin too.

    Firstly on the article and the growth in plans I have to say it strikes me as being a combination of what the Coffs City Council thinks it has to be seen to be doing so as to to look as if though they are doing ‘community consultation’. Same old, same old as Kevin said.The comments under the Advocate articles tells one what those respondents think of that angle!

    Also I suspect a lot of planning is being driven by State Govt too – although whether it is linked and all supports a master strategic plan is a moot point. I suspect Bello and Nambucca Councils might be struggling with similar edicts from Sydney too.

    The consultation around the next stage of the Jetty strikes me as being a compromise between Council and the State Government because they couldn’t agree on what happens next. For what it is worth I can recall viewing Jetty plans at the Sunday markets a few years back. I’m pretty sure most people who did that exercise thought that was the final stage of Jetty consultation. I’d be surprised if many people are enthused about doing it all over again!

    Kevin: I didn’t know about the proposed grandiose six to seven story building in Gordon Street. That is news to me and I’m sure it would be news to more than a few other ratepayers too. It sounds awfully like monument building the way you have described it. Perhaps Council might care to tell the citizens more about it!

    Re: Entertainment Centers and City Hill. From what I have been told Council has realised they will not get the money they want from State and Federal Governments to build an entertainment center in Gordon Street. I am told they are looking at medium to longer term alternatives in already existing locations. Possibly the education campus. I also hear some talk about a possible regional outdoor auditorium/concert venue not a million miles from the education campus too.

    Why Council has a ‘mental block’ on City Hill is interesting. No cogent strong reason seems to have publicly been given as to why they wont develop that site, a site that would probably get state and federal monies from what I can see. The Council staff’s attitude to City Hill is a shrouded mystery. As is the case with more than a few Councillors and our Mayor too.

  3. Grant - Acting Editor

    Apparently the Jetty Foreshore consultation runs until late May – details of outcomes in June. See here;

    Acting Editor.

  4. Pat McKelvey

    My experience in Coffs has been that public consultation has often been comprehensive and thorough and eventuates in some interesting plans. Fine.

    The plans are ‘costed’ then put to the vote and accepted.

    Then the delays as we scramble for funding, deal with the weather, and fight for a share of time, energy and commitment from staff assigned to implement it.

    Delay, stall, delay, adjust, cost blowout, adjust, blame and sack people, hire another consultant to investigate and prepare another plan, cost blowout.

    Back to square one, or maybe two or three, but certainly not to where the plan should have been, and with only a portion of the cost now needed.

    What a waste.

    Working dogs are exhorted (okay – shouted at) to “PULL TOGETHER!” It would save a lot of time and money if, once decisions were made, people did.

    • Yes, that sounds remarkably familiar from what I have been told Pat and not just here either. What you really are saying I suspect is that the process is fine until it is time ‘for the rubber to hit the road’?

      If so then I know of a process to overcome this developed by the folk at SEGRA. They have trialed it in two regional settings, one in NSW and one in Queensland. Interestingly they have discovered if the private sector and/or community groups drive regionally significant projects in the first instance, rather than the local Council(s), then their chances of eventual success increase exponentially. At the very least the process tells you if something will fail prior to investing time, money and other resources – to no avail.

      I’m currently in the process of writing a paper on it with my co-authors.

      Grant – Editor.

  5. Pat McKelvey

    Grant, you have to get the powers-that-be to relinquish their hold on the controls for it to work. We know it can work and has worked, but only when everyone is pulling in the same direction, like the working dogs, or better still, huskies in the snow.

    It’s not unlike farmers who can’t quite bring themselves to turn the chequebook over to the next generation, even when they understand that if they don’t, the next generation may not hang around.

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