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  • Writer's pictureRichard Plumpton | ii |

When a chance for real change comes knocking.

Barrington Tops National Park, NSW | © Craig Fardell and Christina Armstrong

[Image: Barrington Tops National Park, NSW | © Craig Fardell and Christina Armstrong]

I've recently found myself involved in some nature–based tourism planning work with the MidCoast Council, one of New South Wales' recently merged councils.

Now whilst the work itself has been interesting, being exposed to the, somewhat controversial, council amalgamation process has been absolutely fascinating.

It's fair to say that very few communities have embraced the amalgamation proposals with enthusiasm, with reluctance or downright resistance being the most common responses. And, as a resident of a community where the merger has ultimately not proceeded, it's easy to see why there's so much antipathy towards the plans. A potential removal of local autonomy, a watering down of often fiercely held local identity and the likely disconnection of community members from decision makers are just some of the potential threats that the mergers have brought to the surface.

In spite of this, some new Councils are trying to embrace this new reality and use it as a catalyst for some long–term planning that has the potential to truly transform the structure and make–up of the communities they serve.

Now, admittedly, the potential provision of up to $25 million in transitional funding is a big carrot to help inspire this 'embracing attitude', but in the Councils where I've seen the most positive approach it's clearly much more than a money driven exercise.

MidCoast is one such example, where the Council leaders have initiated a number of proactive initiatives to try to grab the opportunity for lasting change that this structural change represents.

The initiative I've been part of is looking to try and shape their Tourism Industry over the next 20–30 years to be not just a key economic pillar for the region, but also one that more closely reflects the broader nature–based aspirations that the bulk of the population hold. This is something that has always sat in the separate strategic plans of the 3 Councils that were merged to create MidCoast, but until now neither the capital nor the will have been sufficient to really drive the transformative change that is required.

Now, amidst the cacophony of community negativity towards the State Government's amalgamation plans, the MidCoast has seen an opportunity – one that, in my view, holds the real potential to create a more vibrant and self–sustaining region over the long–term.

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