“We believe that in 2023, the council will not need any energy from our national grid”, says Isaac Smith, Mayor of Lismore City.

Those are grand plans for a city to go green, and the Australian council has already set the ball rolling – they are three years into a 10 year plan to be energy neutral, he tells GovInsider.

We caught up with the Mayor to find out more about how he plans to scale this, and what else he has in store.

Sustainability and going green

“Our vision for Lismore is to create a sustainable and independent local government area, so we’re currently investigating ways that we can better manage energy, waste, and water issues” to reduce dependency on outside-city services, Smith says.

The city has since started a community solar farm scheme, where residents are invited to invest in solar projects, and are paid in return, he says. The projects are expanded once they have gathered 40 investors, and this process is continued until the solar farm reaches a sustainable size.

There are currently two projects on-going, both of which started a few months back. One solar farm was set up to power the city’s waste facility, “which is one of our highest energy use area”, Smith explains. It floats on “an old sewage pond that’s now no longer being used”, he adds.

Other initiatives include improving water and sewer systems to minimise chemical use and treatments, and ensure capacity for future growth. “Our new treatment plant in South Lismore will run with 25 percent less chemicals than the old plant that’s replaced”, he says.

Co-working spaces

The council has also laid out new workplace arrangements for its citizen-facing and administrative teams. In the past, such teams used to work in different locations, which resulted in silos and inefficiencies. But they have realised that “the more that these people work closely together, the more efficient they are and the better they work as a team”, he explains.

There is a dedicated unit within the council that “directs staff to specific problems that residents alert us to”, Smith says, called the “Civic Pride” team. “They will be based right amongst our council works department so they can respond and react more quickly to what residents require”.

Citizens matter

The city government has also slashed resident complaints by half. “One big change was actually making sure that people in the call centre were trained for everything the council does,” Smith says. This has helped ensure that callers can get their answers through one call, instead of being transferred between units.

Lismore’s digital strategy has also helped cut down complaints. Citizens can give feedback on social media, and a team monitors them to ensure that service standards are met. “Our aim is to make sure that year on year, there are less complaints about staff and less complaints about what is being completed”.

Ongoing priorities

The council’s biggest spending is on road networks. Maintenance of road infrastructures were done poorly, he admits, because “councils kept adding to their road networks, but they weren’t adequately planned to maintain them”.

Further, Smith is also focused on attracting residents to its urban region. The government is pouring in resources to develop infrastructure – setting up office blocks, art galleries and parks to create a conducive environment. “What we’re trying to do is bring people back into our urban centre, after quite a long period of greenfield development and development at the suburbs.”

The Mayor believes that over the next two decades, people will start returning to the cities. “We need to cope for that growth by providing really good public spaces for people to spend time in,” he says.

The city is cutting off its reliance on energy grids, improving public infrastructures, and keeping its residents happy. It is predicting the needs of its citizens, far beyond its time.