MORE than half of the Great Lakes’ population is over 50, posing a huge planning challenge for the future. Currently there is no council strategy in place directly dealing with the needs of its older residents, but that is set to change.
The Great Lakes has left behind neighbouring council areas in terms of its aging population including Port Macquarie, which has 46 per cent over 50; Taree at 45 per cent and Port Stephens at almost 40 per cent; as well as retirement meccas Gosford (39.1 per cent) and Coffs Harbour (39.8 per cent).
About 53 per cent of the Great Lakes’ population is over 50, and the population is continuing to age. To help develop a strategy to provide better services for this major population group, people over 50 living in the shire have been urged to take part in a survey that will allow them to rate services for older people in the area. The survey takes in everything from transport to health and other areas of concern. People over 50 are also urged to make suggestions for its improvement.
Great Lakes Council’s community services coordinator Lyndie Hepple said the survey, and the results of recent focus group studies, would be used to create a council Ageing Strategy.
The strategy is being put together by Great Lakes Council and COTA (Council of the Ageing) and will serve as a pilot for the rest of NSW.
“It should help us identify gaps of services in the area,” Ms Hepple said.
Major issues to come out of the focus groups were a lack of public transport (particularly in outlying areas such as Tea Gardens and Stroud), health service provision and communication problems.
Tea Gardens-Hawks Nest is a particularly important area for planning for the elderly, as the 2011 Census showed it had the highest proportion of 60-64 year olds in NSW (11.2 per cent).
“In some areas we will be able to come up with strategies to make improvements,” Ms Hepple said.
“It could be something as simple as improving a footpath to the shops or allowing for enough bench seating for people to be able to take regular breaks while walking.
“In other areas that council cannot directly improve, like health services, we can be an advocate and lobby for improvements.”
COTA consultant Dr Jane Bringolf has taken the lead on the development of the council strategy and has focused on the idea that creating a community and environment that suits an older person ultimately suits everyone.
“It suits people with prams, a young person with a broken leg – it’s not something they might need every day, but it’s there for them as well,” Ms Hepple said.
The survey closes on May 2 and is available on council’s website. People without computer access can contact Ms Hepple on 6591 7490 and she will post the survey out with a reply-paid envelope.
The results from the survey and focus groups will be used to create a draft strategy. Once it is adopted by council, it will go on public display for people to make further comment.