Victorian government launches funding for community climate projects

The Victorian State Government has just announced grants for the community greenhouse programs for local community action on climate change. The O'Hea Biketown Project in North Coburg was used as the flagship for the launch of the program by Victorian Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings at CERES environmental park in Brunswick today.

"Climate change is one of the community's greatest challenges and the Brumby Labor Government understands that promoting actions at the grassroots level can be an important way to tackle its impact," Gavin Jennings said at the launch. "Our $105 million Climate Communities program encourages local, grassroots, volunteer-based initiatives to take action to shape a sustainable future for Victoria."

The community greenhouse program administered by the Department of Sustainability and Environment will provide funding of up to $50,000 for community lead projects in renewable energy, permaculture and community gardening, cycling, sustainable transport and energy conservation.

You can just about smell the election in the air as the Government disburses this funding and at the same time is seen as being pro-active in climate action.

While all of these community initiatives are worthwhile for Government to support financially, it is the big ticket items of closing Hazelwood coal fired power station and providing financial and structural support for building a renewable energy sector to transition from coal that will be important in restructuring the Victorian economy to a low carbon future.

The flagship project launched at CERES - the Ohea Biketown project - will encourage residents living close to the innovative O'Hea street bike path to take up cycling with the provision of a free bike for those residents that meet certain criteria.

The O'Hea street bike path is a dedicated bike path which has priority over the residential minor roads that intersect O'Hea street. The path connects with the north south running Upfield Bike Path, the Merri Creek Bike Path and Sussex street on road bike lane.

"Encouraging sustainable transport, such as bike riding, is important in reducing Victoria's total greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Jennings said. "Six hundred local residents will receive a bike, training and support to use the new path regularly, reduce car trips and improve their health and fitness. We know that bike riding not only reduces reliance on cars - saving at least 4 tonnes of greenhouse gas annually per car - but it improves health and wellbeing and saves money."

It seemed funny that the launch was chosen to take place at the politically correct CERES in Brunswick in the south of the municipality, rather than actually on O'Hea street. Perhaps a more appropriate location would have been the O'Hea Street Bakery and Deli, 203-205 O'Hea street near Sussex street. Then participants could have borrowed a bike (and helmet) and actually experienced the bikepath.

Instead the small crowd of political advisors, moreland cyclists and residents heard the Minister's speech, a speech from a DSE bureaucrat, and a short speech from Paul McKay from Moreland Bicycle Users Group. All well and good but a long way from the suburban streets and residents of North Coburg and Pascoe Vale that this project is primarily aimed at.

While Moreland Council have been working hard to upgrade bicycle facilities across the municipality, often the stumbling block comes to the building of bicycle friendly road crossings, and negotiating the traffic light priority given to pedestrian and cycle crossings as cycling numbers increase. The Upfield Path crossing of Munro street in Coburg is particularly bad with no lights and no median island. Crossing this road with it's high level of traffic would daunt any new cyclist hoping to commute to the city from the O'Hea street catchment area.

One of the best ways for the State Government to promote cycling would be to exempt the need for a helmet when using the Melbourne Bike hire scheme. There is little statistical evidence that mandatory helmet laws have reduced the incidence of cyclist head injury, but the laws have been a substantial impediment to increasing cycling numbers. A relaxation of these laws could drive a huge increase in cycling which would increase the safety of cyclists overall on the roads. Statistically, it would make more sense for car drivers and their passengers to have to wear helmets to prevent head injuries resulting from high speed crashes.

I must be getting old and cynical. I would rate this launch positively for supporting pro-active community initiatives on climate change but negatively for it's smell of greenwash funding in the leadup to an election, and for launching in a location not directly associated with the flagship project. Sixty out of one hundred.

You can read the Minister for Climate Change Gavin Jennings media release, or visit the O'Hea Biketown Project website, or the Victorian Government Climate Communities website for more information.

Round One Climate Community Grant recipients included:

  • Ballarat Permaculture Guild - Backyard Bounty - $50,000
  • Rotary Health of the River Forum - Health of the River Youth Forum - $7300
  • Sustainable Gardening Australia - School POD Gardening Group- Pilot Project - $27,400
  • Warrnambool Community Garden Inc - Healthy Urban Building (THE HUB) - $50,000
  • Bendigo Sustainability Group - Bendigo Celebrates Sustainable Living - $50,000
  • Rotary Club of Mildura - Engaging Mallee Communities in Sustainable Technology - $49,800
  • Surf Coast Energy Group - Grow It! - $50,000
  • Australian Alpine Valleys Agribusiness Forum Inc. - Empowering NE Victorian Farming Communities to - - Adapt to Climate Change - $50,000
  • Castlemaine Community House - Growing Abundance - $49,980
  • Birallee Park Neighbourhood House - Growing Food and Shade Plants in a Community Waterwise Garden in Wodonga - $50,000
  • Lake Lascelles / Coorong Committee of Management - Mallee Bush Retreat Community Solar Initiative - $31,607
  • Briar Hill Primary School - Briar Hill Sustainability Hub - Share, Learn, Connect - $50,000
  • Moreland Bicycle Users Group Inc - O'Hea Biketown - $50,000
  • Energy Innovation Co-operative Ltd - Community Carbon Education and Reduction Project - $50,000
  • Young Men's Christian Association of Geelong Inc - YMCA Camp Wyuna - Centre of Practical Learning and Environmental Sustainability - $38,000
  • Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group - The Story Of Warrnambool, Land Between the River - Pilot Project - $48,500
  • Wonthaggi Community Garden - Wonthaggi Community Garden - Adapting to Change - $50,000
  • Mind (Mind Australia) - Sprout - Local Food, Local People, Global Thinking - $50,000