Port Stephens Council will reconsider its financial support of horticultural services at the Ngioka Centre, Little Beach.
Port Stephens Council officers are recommending to Council later this month (20 June 2017) that the Ngioka Horticultural Centre at Little Beach be leased to a National Disability Insurance Service (NDIS) provider who has indicated that existing services to disability clients and a native nursery will continue.
Sounds simple! However, the ramifications of this are much more than what meets the eye.
Nowhere in the consultation process had Landcare 355c groups been consulted until Council officers received wind of a special meeting of volunteers called last week. Then, hastily a Q & A sheet was emailed to over 200 volunteers the evening before. That Q & A only tells half the story of what leasing this community owned facility could really mean for the future.
This lease is being negotiated with a private profit making provider with their priority naturally being NDIS clients. There will be no guarantee that when any future cost cutting measures are to be taken by that organisation, that the native nursery will not be first to go.
Our community and Landcare groups from across the Shire depend on Ngioka for local native endemic plants. It is an absolute waste of volunteer time to plant anything other than these plants.
The roundtable meeting of volunteers certainly came up with lots of ideas for this important community owned facility. For example, this centre could be a true centre focusing on all things sustainable with its prime focus being the nursery and disability services. It could be the umbrella management centre for all the volunteer Landcare and Tidy Towns groups. Its location close to the Native Flora Garden and the Cultural Centre make it an ideal place to develop tourism opportunities such as guided tours. Linked to that there could be educational displays of native plants, animals, vegetation, indigeneous and wartime history (Fly Point) and even have a small shop such as at the Marine Rescue.
It could also be a centre to recognise the work and achievements of local Landcare groups. Given the potential ground space which could be developed, it would be ideal as a base for environmental and support staff from Port Stephens Council.
The Centre costs Port Stephens Council $150,000 a year to run. This is mainly the wages of the two council employees. In the past the Centre has relied on receiving $50,000 a year from the State Government Disability Program. This has now been disbanded and the funding transferred to the NDIS. Funding through the NDIS is attached directly to the client enabling them to access services directly. This funding model disadvantages the Ngioka Centre as there is no reliable block funding available. The loss of the disability funding has meant that the Centre has been running at an increased loss. The centre is not self-sufficient and needs to find another funding source to supplement the money coming in from the sale of plants and from Port Stephens Council.
This site is zoned public recreation and yet Council are wanting to offload this to get money from a lease.
We recognise that disability services have changed with the introduction of the NDIS. Council should be moving with these changes instead of taking the easy way out and losing control of a vital community owned facility. The loss of horticultural knowledge of the two staff employed at the Centre will also be lost to our community. The need for a better business plan and major improvements are fully recognised. Most in our community don’t even know about this extremely valuable facility. Good marketing would be a start. Bunnings plants just “don’t cut it” for planting for the future natural environment we all value and enjoy.
20 Jan 2017: Ngioka Centre: Horticulture and a Helping Hand
Compiled by Margaret Wilkinson for TRRA – Corlette Landcare volunteer for 10 years in Port Stephens – With assistance from Cath Norman TRRA Secretary and Landcare volunteer
“In all of this, the missing equation has been consultation with the Landcare volunteers who need this service to continue planting local endemic native species to sustain the beautiful natural environment we live in for future generations. All the reports to Council leave out the valuable $ contribution Landcare and Tidy Towns volunteers are making. This is a basic service that should be retained and has the potential to expand into an outstanding facility to promote not only the social interaction and activity for those with disabilities, but also one which values the future of our planet by continuing to provide local endemic species for planting. The ideas that came forth from volunteers at the roundtable at Medowie yesterday should be listened to by Council instead of handing this facility over to an NDIS provider likely to take the axe to the native plant nursery if it doesn’t perform 365 days per year, and, make a “profit”. Council officers just “don’t get it”, that extremes of temperature and climatic conditions dictate when it’s best to put in plants so that they survive and thrive without a lot of work and watering by volunteers.“