Growing the Wimmera: Zoning key in population discussions

BULOKE Shire’s 2017 Citizen of the Year believes zoning is needed to help small Wimmera towns survive.

Donald’s Graeme Harris said zoning for towns with less than 5000 people and situated 200 kilometres or more from Melbourne could help boost small-town populations while reducing Melbourne’s overcrowding and infrastructure problems.

“The problem is the same for all local government areas within the Wimmera Mallee: the Horshams and Hamiltons can survive on internal growth and provide services to the small towns, but soon there will be no small towns,” he said.

“Country towns are losing population, businesses, skilled employees, and professional services. There is a decline in quality housing and business premises and school enrollments, vacant shops in main streets, and disappearing sporting bodies.

“Zoning is desperately needed in an economic development strategy for small towns.”

Mr Harris said incentives to encourage decentralisation and provide growth and investment in small areas were varied.

“Such incentives for new business or growing business could include: no payroll tax; reimbursing relocation costs; and reimbursing planning and building fees for industrial buildings or housing,” he said.

Mr Harris said housing particularly was a crucial consideration when encouraging people to relocate to country areas.

“People can move without jobs and without public transport, as long as they have housing,” he said.

“It is important that housing be included in zoning.

“A housing-led recovery in country towns would stimulate the local tradies and services and assist in solving the affordable housing problem.

“Zoning incentives could apply by increasing the home ownership building incentives by a further $10,000 or $20,000 and developing a genuine incentive program to establish job-producing businesses in rural towns.”

Mr Harris has submitted his thoughts to Member for Lowan Emma Kealy and Ripon’s Louise Staley.