SJ Shire’s big tourist push could cost ratepayers $70K for just the...

SJ Shire’s big tourist push could cost ratepayers $70K for just the plans

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It was The Seekers who first tugged at the nation’s heartstrings by proclaiming that ‘we are one, but we are many’ – a call for unification through the celebration of our collective differences.

Councillors at the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale’s March council meeting invoked the song’s sentiment to rationalise the development of shire-wide entry statement signage.

“This is about bringing the community together. We need a strategy that doesn’t separate Byford from Oakford, that doesn’t separate Oakford from Mardella, or Whitby from Mundijong, or Keysbrook from Hopeland. We’ve got a very diverse shire, and I think this is a very important way of bringing that shire together,” President Rob Coales, who instigated the idea, said.

“The signage on our roads is the most important thing we can do to show people travelling through our area that we are one shire,” Cr Tricia Duggin reiterated.

Shire officers reported to council that unified entry signage could bring a range of benefits including a ‘sense of arrival’ to the shire and townsites, cohesion and consistent branding, clearer wayfinding for visitors, the potential to draw in more visitors and the economic benefits of that, increased road safety by vehicles slowing as they anticipate their arrival at a townsite, and increased civic pride.

But they also noted that many towns had already developed their own unique welcome signs, pointing out Keysbrook’s new entry sign, and Jarrahdale’s trail town signage which was only unveiled at the end of last year.

They also noted that “entry statements can vary hugely in price, style, size and structure” making it difficult to estimate the costs of such an initiative.

They highlighted up to 13 townsite entrances and eight regional entrances as likely places to install signs.

Councillors debated a motion to develop design concepts for the unifying welcome signs and a strategy of community consultation and implementation, which could cost up to $70,000 before the signs even materialise.

The dollar value proposed to be set aside for building the strategy raised eyebrows from all at the meeting.

“I do balk at the $70,000 and I think about what else we could spend that money on,” president Coales said.

“But there is no consistent messaging throughout the shire. You come into Byford and there’s some brickwork and some sculptures which are lovely and it says Byford and then you’ve got the green and white Main Roads sign, then you move further down south and you don’t know when you’re in Cardup, you don’t know when you’re in Keysbrook, you don’t know when you’re in Hopeland. It’s quite simply disjointed.

“So, while $70,000 is a lot of money, I support this motion to allow us to do things, and to do them properly.”

Cr Duggin reasoned that the money was ‘justified’ because a decision of this kind needed to be based on the ‘best information’ available.

“When we’re talking about increasing the number of tourists we get into our shire – I just think it needs to be done right,” she said.

But Cr Shaye Mack couldn’t bring himself to see past the exorbitant planning costs.

“We have other priorities in the shire right now where this money could be spent,” he said.

“The design is in the eye of the beholder. We’ll have residents who come back after $70,000 has been spent on this and say it was an absolute waste of money because what we did was rubbish. And some people will love it and say it’s great,” he said.

“You talked of bringing the community together. Do we not have a community engagement team employed within the shire? Can we not do some of this in-house?”

Ultimately the motion was passed, and an amount of $70,000 for the strategy will be included for review in the 2024/25 draft budget.

President Coales made a note that the dollar figure could be revised down during the budget approval process.