HOW SUSTAINABLE ARE OUR ISLANDS?
Just how sustainable are our islands?
And, by sustainability, we mean just what infrastructure and services would be required to ensure the strong and sustainable health of our islands?
In broad terms, there are approximately 11,000 blocks of land on the four Bay Islands which have building rights, not taking into consideration Coochimudlo and North Stradbroke Island.
Should all of these blocks be developed and built upon and occupied; on the basis of a theroretical population of 2. 2 person per household (the national average), then we would have a potential population of 22,200 people.
Breaking it down, it would roughly mean:
• 1000 people on Karragarra
• 2000 people on Lamb Island
• 6000 people on Macleay Island, and
• 13,000 people on Russell Island, or thereabouts.
Currently the population on the islands is (via the most recent census):
• 450 people on Karragarra Island;
• 1200 people on Lamb island;
• 3500 people on Macleay Island; and
• 3700 people on Russell Island.
The current total is around 8500 people.
As can be seen from the above figures, we could have quite a long way to go.
If we were to ever reach the 22,200 maximum, just what would living on our island be like, and what sort of services would be required to maintain such a population?
'Massive', would be one word that could be used.
We sought the opinion of Divison 5 Councillor Mark Edwards on the matter.
And just an aside, if we ever did reach the maximum proportions, then just on Local Government figures, x2 Local Government councillors would be required to manage our islands, based on the current level of nearly 11,000 people per division at council.
He believes the 22,200 threshold will never be met: "Because it is unlikely all the blocks will be built upon and the constraints of the infrastructure likely to be provided, such as congested transport and parking, will limit the growth potential.
However, he believes the more important question for residents is: "What is the ideal population peak that is compatible with the infrastructure and services that the islands can cater for in the future.
He says: "It really is a lifestyle balance for island living.
"A regular question asked of me is should the population growth be limited, as the increasing number of residents impacts on the reduction of bushland and the social feel of the islands. "Unfortunately, the people who ask these questions have already taken advantage of their right to build upon their own property and forget the same right applies to people who own land and have yet to build.
"It is a bit like wanting to shut the gate after the horse has bolted."
As it currently stands, each land owner has an equal right to build on their land.
Cr Edwards has no doubt in his mind that the current situation of over supply of small blocks of land on our islands, relates back to poor planning by the State Government who controlled the islands during the early 1970's .
"It has now forced us to pose the question, what is the ideal population for our islands?
Some would argue that the population we now have is 'about right' as once the redevelopments around parking and transport are completed, little needs to be done other than road sealing. However, the reality is that the population is increasing by around 300 people per year. And whilst that sounds like only a few, it adds up quickly over time and puts extra strain on island resources and services.
Cr Edwards says from a Council point of view, limiting or slowing growth enables better planning and provision of community assets.
He continued: "From a community view point, limiting growth is the retention of the amenity that we now enjoy. The elephant in the room is how to restrain or cap population growth when people have legal rights to build upon their land?
"The only way to extinguish those rights is for government to purchase significant tracts of land and convert the use to other uses such as community or conservation.
"However, that comes at a great cost and would need to be balanced against allowing growth and the cost to government to service the needs of a larger community.
"A smaller number of privately owned properties equals a reduction in rate income, so the economic assessment becomes complex.
"The over-riding decision, however, should be a consensus of the island population on residential growth and understanding that those decisions will have impacts on what is delivered in the future by all levels of government.
"The hard part, which may prove insurmountable, is in gaining commitment from government to purchase thousands of blocks of land that upon acquisition will have nil value and heavily impact on any budget," the councillor concluded.