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Johnstone Shire, Australia
Johnstone Shire Council, located the tropical far north of Queensland, Australia, is centered on the Town of Innisfail. Its population of 19,144 is divided equally between urban and rural communities. The economy is based on sugar cane and banana farming, with recent growth in tourism.

Australia has three distinct levels of government: federal, state and territory, and local. Although the Australian Constitution designates land-use planning and environmental management as state responsibilities, the Queensland State Government has delegated these responsibilities to local authorities. Queensland's Planning and Environment Act (1990) requires all local authorities to prepare a statutory Town Planning Scheme to guide their future development.

Work on Johnstone Shire Council's new town plan commenced in 1991. It is currently awaiting approval from the Queensland State Government before implementation.

The genesis of the present plan arose from numerous factors, including the personal aspirations of local representatives for improvements in the management of environmental resources, the desire for a corporate structure more responsive to community needs, inadequacies in the existing town plan, and a wish to increase public involvement in the decision-making process, planning and the environment.

Beginning in 1991, Johnstone Shire Council used meetings and the local press to disseminate information concerning the Johnstone Plan, and "to find out what the people really want from their council" (Johnstone Shire Council, 1991). From this basis the council established core values and long-term objectives that emphasize both community involvement in decision making and awareness of community aspirations. The Johnstone Shire Plan considered economic development, community wellbeing and protection of the environment. In September 1994, Johnstone Shire joined ICLEI's MCP.

Preparation of the Johnstone Shire Plan was overseen by a Plan Steering Team. The organizational structure incorporated a number of stakeholder groups called Consultative Committees. In turn, Peak Bodies were formed in response to the specific needs of key Consultative Committees.

Plan Steering Team
Consisting of the mayor, the general manager and the planner (and joined by the shire engineer during the latter quarter of planning), the Plan Steering Team was deliberately kept small to maintain a clear focus on an agenda of change.

Consultative Committees
The Plan Steering Team made the final selection of Consultative Committee members-mainly individuals and representatives of key interest groups within the community-from nominations received by the council. Individuals with expertise relevant to the programme were approached directly to serve on committees and additional members were co-opted on an as-needed basis.

All recognized organizations within the shire were invited to participate. However, a small number declined for reasons including a mistaken perception that their involvement would not influence the outcome, apathy and an historic reliance on other methods to achieve objectives.

The Consultative Committees had an advisory role only. All decisions remained the responsibility of the elected council. The Committees' mandate included providing information and feedback to council on matters relating to growth and development of the shire, promoting understanding between different points of view within the community, and encouraging wide and informed community debate on planning issues.

Peak Bodies
A number of peak bodies, representing environment, development, culture and commerce, were formed before and during the planning process in response to specific Consultative Committee needs. These peak bodies included the Johnstone River Integrated Catchment Management Committee, the Cassowary Coast Development Board, and the Sporting Peak Body. The council undertook joint planning studies with each body and incorporated the relevant findings into the Johnstone Shire Plan.

Meetings were also held with special interest groups and partnerships were established with representatives from a broad spectrum of services and organizations from the Chamber of Commerce to Meals on Wheels to Wildlife Preservation.

The principle outcome of this phase, concentrated from 1992 to 1994, was the establishment of a formal organizational structure for the planning process.

Community-Based Issue Analysis
For three months during the planning exercise the shire council consulted extensively with the community using combined community/ committee meetings, press communications and community workshops. After the major issues were identified, snowball interviews (personal interviews with key people representing disadvantaged people who were unlikely to become involved in the mainstream planning process) and community workshops were held to set priorities and involve key people unlikely to join the mainstream planning process.

The main issues identified concerned retaining quality farming land, strengthening the local economy and managing tourism to promote growth while ensuring a low impact on the quality of shire life and the environment. Other issues emerged regarding opportunities for youth, Aboriginal peoples and the disabled, and also affordable housing.

All methods employed were invaluable to this phase of the process. Most respondents were satisfied with the outcome, and in particular, the impact of consultation.

Issue Assessment
Directed by the planner, external consultants undertook a range of biophysical, economic and demographic studies over a three-year period. These results were incorporated with the community-based knowledge gained through the Consultative Committees.

Action Planning
To guide sustainable development, the shire council recognized the importance of linking a corporate plan with physical land use plan.

In developing this "partnership" concept, three main areas of joint council-community decision making evolved: council's own decisions such as where to build roads or provide social services, land-use planning with outside interaction and local community actions. Balanced with these arenas of decision making were four programme areas council wished to establish under its corporate plan: environmental services, social services, works and corporate services.

The next logical step to ensure sustainable development was linking these elements into an integrated operational system under the umbrella of the community vision of the Johnstone Plan.

Implementation and Monitoring
At the time of writing, this phase was yet to be initiated as it was subject to final approval of the Queensland State Government. Implementation will be through the Umbrella Action Plan and possibly a multi-stakeholder group based on the original four Consultative Committees.

Lessons Learned from the LA 21 Planning Process
  • Objectives should be broken down into policies that relate to individual groups within the community, thus providing incentive to community groups to be part of the process.
  • Strategic partnerships maximize community involvement and ownership of the process.
  • Community involvement and education are important. In Johnstone Shire, some participants indicated that their committees were hampered by the refusal of some key stakeholder groups to participate. In addition, some respondents stated that their participation was limited due to a lack of knowledge about the issues and the process.
  • The decision-making methods used by committees-emphasizing interaction, discussion and consensus-greatly affect both the overall outcome and individual views of participants.