Governing diversity brings unity

"One of the best things about the creation of the Yarra Ranges Shire was the strengthening of this area's common identity," said Chief Executive Officer, Eric Howard. "With the one Local Government decision making body, regional issues such as tourism and major infrastructure can be addressed in a more integrated manner.

"Local people identify with the Ranges circling the Yarra Valley. These physical features provide a strong sense of identification for the new Municipality. People have always come to live here for the environment and lifestyle it offers.

"The area welcomes visitors with its variety of attractions, forest trails, nurseries where rich displays of azaleas and rhododendrons flourish, wineries, cafes, craft shops, Puffing Billy, the Healesville Sanctuary and other leisure pursuits.

"Since early days, this has not just been a place for residents of Yarra Ranges, it is a place which Melbourne residents 'own' too."

This readily determined the key issues facing the new Council. These include enhancing the environment which is so attractive to residents and visitors alike, planning for a future which allows sympathetic development and providing a road system that will cope with demand.

"The Councillors have worked well together to manage these issues," Eric Howard said. "They have risen to the challenge of bringing the place together through a strong commitment to consultation, consensus and agreement."

The main challenge and achievement has been to bring four communities together, at Council and staff levels, as well as community level.

"Policy development has been strengthened because of effective consultation with an interested and involved community and the excellent staff who have worked persistently to build a new ethos," he said.

In adversity, the strength of the community was tested and found up to the task when bushfires swept the area in 1997, tragically taking three lives. The response from everyone united the region and demonstrated the capacity and capability of the Council and Yarra Ranges residents.

Many Council staff live in the area adding to the affinity with residents and the community. Eric Howard believes the area is well poised for a great future. Growth in tourism and primary industries, especially wine, and advances in technology with a 'light footprint' will enable companies to develop and add value to their products.

This will provide new employment opportunities for many young people in the Yarra Ranges. Technology will also help overcome the problems of distance by reducing remoteness and isolation.

Networking between the many interrelated commercial, community, cultural and sporting activities in the area will also cement the Shire together.

"The main thing is for the Council to respond to pressure from the community to protect what we have," Eric Howard said. "Because what is here at present is irreplaceable."