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Will you still love me tomorrow? Delivering sustainable outcomes in the City of Gosnells

Wayne van Lieven

City of Gosnells


The City of Gosnells is situated in the South East Corridor of Perth WA, located some 20 kilometres from the Perth CBD. The City comprises 127 square kilometres, the same size as greater Paris, of diverse landscape ranging from mostly State Forest and Regional Park on the Darling Scarp to the east through a mostly urbanised core and on to the south west where rural land use is fast giving way to urbanisation.

The City has a socially and economically diverse population of 85,000. 62 nationalities are represented in this diverse group.

The City faces the challenges of rapid population growth, very limited means and unfortunate planning legacies. Add to this significant environmental issues, pockets of economic decline and perceived high crime rates, and the challenge becomes formidable.

The City of Gosnells in 1996 was operating in a functional but outdated form that was inadequate to meeting these new needs. There was an imperative to shift quickly from being reactive to proactive.

The City’s restructure came at an opportune time. It provided a timely opportunity to take stock of the City’s circumstances as well as its organisation.

The City was on the cusp of a growth spurt that to this day provides economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities. Attention, though, was also demanded by the City’s community to ‘fixing’ enduring problems in other areas.

It seemed strange, after hearing the triple bottom line mantra for some years, to realise that the essence of the community’s demands (read desired future) was to ‘fix’ the City’s environmental, social and economic ills (not that it was enunciated or conceived by the community as such — people are far more pragmatic than strategists).

In addition to day to day governance, the City was challenged to meet the demands of this new task sheet — not only watching the road ahead, but also paying more attention to the care and maintenance of the bus.

Organisational challenges

Several issues arose immediately:

The organisation: We were an archaic Local Government dinosaur with no awareness, understanding or focus on the issue of sustainable development.

The tasks: These were new demands that required new solutions.

The budget: How to meet the challenge within existing constraints?

The City of Gosnells is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Australia, the fourth largest municipality in WA in terms of population, but thirteenth in terms of revenue. A pragmatic, streamlined approach is critical to our response.

The number of challenges: How to prioritise?

Rising to the challenge

The City’s restructure was not without pain.

The introduction of ‘sustainability promoting’ policy, strategy and action continues to challenge us today.

The City’s first Strategic Plan in 1998 provided the framework for a future direction that addressed the community’s immediate and other less obvious sustainability issues.

The Council, with widespread community consultation, input and support, developed a strategic vision for the City of Gosnells, to ‘secure a better and safer City in which to live and work, and to facilitate a sustainable future for all’.

Our community gave us more defined direction. They told us they put high importance on protecting the environment and improving public safety. They also highlighted the need to arrest the economic and social decline of the Gosnells Town Centre.

The Strategic Plan 2000 provides further strategies to confirm the pace and direction for the City.

The City of Gosnells is still only at the beginning of its journey, however radical shifts have occurred in a short space of time.

Institutional response

Institutional response to the new local sustainability agenda/vision required:

• structural change

• policy change

• cultural change

• development of strategic alliances

• forming strong long-term partnerships.

Structural change

Decentralisation was seen as essential and first cab off the rank. Delegation of responsibility.

A strong common vision was developed:

• ground-breaking survey technique, SIMALTO, enabled a realistic dialogue with the community. This technique is used by global ‘blue chip’ companies, identifying clear objectives, rather than wants and desires.

• the City’s Strategic Plan evolved to reflect the community’s vision and priorities

• Council allocated strategic portfolios to elected members.

Organisational mechanisms were put in place to address priority issues:

• a whole-of-organisation Implementation Team was established to develop and implement strategies and capital works to arrest the economic and social decline of the Gosnells Town Centre.

• a broadly representative Town Centre Reference Group works to advise Council on matters pertaining to the Gosnells Town Centre Revitalisation project, and to provide advice on these through regular reports back to Council.

• the SafeCity Task Force, a strategic partnership with State Government agencies, WA Police Force, Ministry of Justice, community groups and services, the Chamber of Commerce and educational institutions was charged with addressing the issue of crime and safety in the community.

• new positions were created for new roles

– the City Designer focused on the revitalisation of Gosnells Town Centre and designing a sustainable urban form for major areas of greenfield development

– the Director of Planning and Sustainability links the traditional planning role with strategic planning in a completely new directorate, guiding the City’s further development towards more sustainable outcomes

– the Economic Development Manager is providing the City with a plan to revitalise the local economy

– the Environmental Coordinator provides strategic input to enhancing and advancing the City’s environmental performance

• resourcing focus was shifted markedly to driving discrete major projects that offered significant community benefit

• Cross Directorate Sustainability Progress Group works in-house to move the organisation to a greater understanding of, and commitment to, promoting sustainability

• monitoring and review processes derive from the Strategic Plan

Policy change

Driven by the Strategic Plan and supported by new people with new ideas:

• the Safe City Urban Design policy derives from ground-breaking analysis of urban form to designing out crime

• urban development embraces the Livable Neighbourhoods code (the City’s implementation for the Town Centre was recognised as world’s best practice at the New York Planning Congress, 2001)

• planning requirements have been reviewed

– mixed use zoning provides economic and social benefits to urban and commercial areas

– reduced parking requirements provide stimulus to commercial development and contribute in a small way to changing transport usage patterns

– provision for alternative transport modes is included in all new development

• the Environmental Management Plan and Policy guide the reduction of the City’s environmental impact and the enhancement of its capacity towards environmental sustainability

• the Community Group Self Reliance Policy promotes independence and self reliance for groups historically dependent on Council support

• the budget process links to the Strategic Plan through the Resource Allocation Model, designed by Curtin University. The model assesses proposed capital projects and programs against the Plan’s objectives. It allows congruence and integrity when allocating scarce resources to priorities.

• SafeCity policy translates into community building initiatives including anti-graffiti, ‘People in Parks’ and ‘Streets Alive’ programs, as well as the Community Liaison Service and the Indigenous Community Liaison Officers Service

Cultural change

Probably the most difficult change to pursue. Some immediate and obvious lessons from cultural change at the City of Gosnells are (not rocket science, but worthy lessons):

• compromises are required

• change takes time

• pain and uncertainty for those unfamiliar with the new direction

• change may be brought about by adversity — why change when you’re in your comfort zone?

Recognising, acknowledging and dealing with these factors is an important element of good cultural change.

Key aspects of the City’s structural change promoted an acceptance and adoption of cultural change:

• new people brought a new and exciting focus to the organisation

• the relevance of the Strategic Plan as a guiding document has been increasingly appreciated and adopted

• operationalisation of the Strategic Plan has reinforced its importance

The evolution of cultural change in the City of Gosnells has brought us to a point where there is broad acceptance of the principles of sustainability within the chamber and the office.

Strategic alliances and partnerships

Strategic alliances offer mutual benefits to the partners. In the realisation that the City could not achieve its aspirations on its own, the City sought appropriate partners. Alliances have been formalised with:

• neighbouring regional Councils to progress catchment management and greenhouse gas reduction

• Murdoch University’s Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy

• South East Metropolitan College of TAFE

• Water and Rivers Commission

Partnerships with the community:

• regional community groups in catchment management

• Community Reference Group for a major urbanisation initiative

• Town Centre Reference Group to guide the revitalisation of Gosnells Town Centre

• community engagement through design by enquiry workshops

• Indigenous community participation in a major river restoration project

• the People in Parks program

• the Indigenous Community Liaison Officers Service


• Revitalisation of Gosnells Town Centre

• Application of Livable Neighbourhoods code

• ‘More than footpaths’

• Landmark ‘Green’ Civic Complex

• Making Crime Go Away — The SafeCity Initiative

• Canning River Ecological Recovery Plan

• Environmental Management Plan 2001

• Multicultural Foodfest

• School Incentive Program (truancy management)

• Regional Cities for Climate Protection

• Catchment Management Plan

• SafeCity

• Safe City Urban Design


• Most Innovative WA Local Authority (three consecutive years)

• Planning Institute of Australia Award for Excellence (Gosnells Town Centre)

• Only City in Australia and third in the world to win a Universal Design Award

• ‘World’s Class Planning’ — best practice model, New York Planning Congress, June 2001

• Cities for Climate Protection Regional Group — Milestone 3/4

• 2001 Environment Awards — Perth’s Best Local Government

• Australian Council of Building Design, National Commendation 2001

• First WA urban region to develop planned catchment management

The City does not claim to have all the answers, and it would be untrue to say that the change has not come without pain, however Gosnells is stronger as a result and we have some lessons that may provide help and guidance to others facing the same crossroads.

About the author

Wayne van Lieven has been Environmental Coordinator at the City of Gosnells for three years. In addition to agricultural and horticultural qualifications, he holds a degree in Environmental Management from Edith Cowan University. Wayne has played a key role in introducing the concept of sustainable development to the City of Gosnells.

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