Interview: Mayor of the City of Swan
By Charlene Chin
Hybrid cars, illegal dumping, and an enormous astroturf.
What is your vision for the city?
I want to ensure City of Swan is regarded as one of the best cities in Australia and known as a great place to live, visit and do business. I am fortunate to be Mayor of such a diverse area comprising of agriculture, tourism, nature, burgeoning suburbs, industry and key metropolitan hubs.
The City needs to play to its strengths. By leveraging the advantages of our proximity to Perth Airport and major industrial areas, we are well placed to strengthen our economy. Meanwhile, the Swan Valley, as Western Australia’s oldest wine region, is emerging as a world-renowned tourism area with 3.1 million visitors last year. These strengths need to be built on to sustain City of Swan’s reputation as one of Australia’s most exciting local government areas.
Overall, I want to ensure the City of Swan is a better place for the future generations and that means fostering a sense of community while ensuring our environmental footprint is minimal.
What role does technology play in it?
Hybrid cars, waterwise solutions, and advances in technologies that can protect City of Swan wetlands all perform a role in ensuring our environmental impact is minimal. Meanwhile, by maximising our presence on social media platforms, we are able to show the world everything our region has to offer.
How will you develop your digital services?
City of Swan is implementing a software system that will enable it to better harness the power of its residents to make the community a better place. More than 15 million Australians own a smartphone while about 12 million have a tablet device.
This new software system, just like Uber and Netflix, will eventually enable the City of Swan to provide a more “on-demand” service to its residents. Named “One Council”, the software will open the door for citizens to interact with the City, report issues or request services at the touch of button on their smart devices, any time of day. It also has the potential to provide automated updates on the wide range of projects the City is involved in - whether that be building a road or removing graffiti at the local park.
Implementation of the software has started but I anticipate the full rollout will not be complete until about 2018-19. The process involves combining the City’s various core IT systems across various departments. Once finished, it will improve transparency and communication between different branches of the organisation which, in turn, will allow projects to run even smoother. In other words, we can improve our productivity and save on costs, which is something all ratepayers want to hear.
Other than creating efficiencies in service delivery, it also has the potential to save the City money through cooperating with its residents. The City recently launched an online tool for residents to report illegal waste dumping, which costs ratepayers almost $1 million a year to clean up. By enabling easier reporting of illegal activity, the City and its residents can work together to eliminate unnecessary expenditures.
Essentially, this technology will enable us to improve focus on serving the community, rather than being bogged down in paperwork and reporting.
What has been the greatest innovation from your civil service?
The City of Swan recently built the largest synthetic playing surface in the southern hemisphere, representing a game-changer for WA local governments. As many council areas face the triple threat of water restrictions, increasing population and demand for recreational facilities, City of Swan’s new Ellenbrook Sports Hub is a paradigm shift. The four synthetic soccer fields opened in September and are adaptable to five-a-side futsal, small sided AFL, touch rugby and ultimate Frisbee.
Several years ago, we needed a solution to provide playing fields for the Ellenbrook district - where the population is set to almost double in the next 20 years. Faced with the challenges of limited land, the exploding population and uncertain water supplies, the City needed an innovative solution to secure recreational space.
Research determined traditional grass turf would simply not cope with the future wear and tear caused by the burgeoning community, whereas synthetic turf could handle with three times the use. Due to the limitations of the Ellenbrook District Outdoor Space northern site, four rectangular synthetic fields were deemed the answer to the area’s requirements.
Meanwhile, the two cricket and football fields on the southern site remain traditional grass and have been in use since 2014. Not only can the rectangular synthetic surfaces handle a high turnover of teams, the maintenance and overall cost is lower than natural turf.
What has been the biggest challenge that the city overcame in 2016?
As an outer metropolitan growth Council, there is constant pressure for the City to provide and advocate for improved services and facilities for its growing community. The City of Swan’s current population of about 138,000 people is expected to grow by 62 per cent in the next 20 years so planning is well advanced for how we will cater for all these extra residents.
What is your top priority for 2017?
In terms of infrastructure, I would like to see work progress on a new bridge that would help create a 7km link between Midland and Perth International Airport. It would also vastly improve access to key freight routes and industrial areas in the eastern corridor of Perth. Midland is the economic heart of City of Swan, and with the addition of a new hospital and ongoing redevelopment of the historic town, it is imperative the bridge is built to ensure it can be efficiently accessed.
In my role as Mayor, it is my priority to celebrate the diversity within my community and promote the City’s role in improving the lives of residents.
What is the biggest area of spending for the city?
Delivering major infrastructure projects for the City’s growing population. In 2015/16 the City spent $27.4 million on community buildings, $12.8 million on parks and reserves infrastructure and $31.3 million on roads and bridges. We also completed the Ellenbrook Sporting Hub – a $16.6 million facility that will provide for the areas burgeoning population for many years to come.
If I were to visit your city, what one place would you recommend?
One of my favourites is the Swan Valley, which is the oldest wine region in Western Australia and home to some of the state’s finest wineries, breweries and restaurants. It also has a rich indigenous history, containing a memorial marking the final resting place of Aboriginal warrior and icon, Yagan. Conveniently, it is just a 10 minute drive from Perth Airport and 25 minutes from Perth CBD.