Small community, smart tech: innovating for growth in regional infrastructure

By Sarah Morgan

Monday June 18, 2018

Using smart technology to make residents – and turtles – safe in Burnett Heads.

From mood lighting for turtles to longer car parks which allow you to pick up fishing supplies for the day with the boat in tow, the new town plan for Burnett Heads is a roadmap for how to integrate “smart technology” and common sense to cut costs and improve safety.

A sleepy fishing village, Burnett Heads in the region of Bundaberg is probably the last place you would expect a town plan to be developed with a specific goal of adopting smart technology – today and into the future.

Burnett Heads has a population of 2656 residents and is the third largest town in the Bundaberg Region on Queensland’s south-east coast behind Bargara and Greater Bundy city, with the famed fishing spots of the Coral Sea and Burnett River forming two of its borders.

Cr Scott Rowleson

Bundaberg Council believes Burnett Heads will “experience significant growth over the next 10-20 years…instigated by investment in regional infrastructure”.

The Burnett Heads Town Centre Plan was developed and adopted by Bundaberg Regional Council in September 2017 with a clear mission to “cater for and integrate smart technology and design”.

As part of the process, Council engaged GWI to develop A Digitally Enabled Community Roadmap – a practical way to adopt and implement technology into the town centre as part of its Town Centre Plan.

“We have found there has been a lot of interest in the area from developers because of its close proximity to waterways,” Bundaberg Councillor Scott Rowleson explained.

“In developing the Town Centre Plan, we spoke with the community about what vision they had of the area for the future and we were surprised when they came back and said they wanted more. They wanted a main street, accommodation houses, and attractions for tourists.

“They had a clear vision of wanting buildings to remain low rises, a main street which would set the standard for the area and developed in a way which was sympathetic to the surroundings.

“As a Council, we were also keen to see what technologies could be adopted to help us realise the vision for the area and to better service ratepayers. We wanted a main street that would work in the future and utilises current technology with the capacity to build on that and use future technologies as they evolve. But we had a gap in our knowledge so we sought out GWI.”

The issues they didn’t expect to hear

GWI Manager Dan Wood explained their brief was to talk to the community, find out what they wanted and needed and explore ways of using smart technology to improve the standard of living and manage costs.

Wood explained that GWI staff door-knocked the area and spoke with as many residents as possible to understand what they needed and wanted from council.

Dan Wood

“One of the things which kept coming up was frustration at parking in town,” Wood explained. “We didn’t expect to hear that because we were seeing a lot of empty car parks and couldn’t understand what the issue was.

“The problem wasn’t with the number of car parks provided; it was because the locals are often towing boats and there were no car parks in town which were long enough for cars towing boats to park.

“It was a genuine source of frustration for the residents and one which, when understood, could be remedied easily by providing car parks in town for cars with boats.”

This may sound like a change which is of little consequence however, for an area with a growing population, it was a significant issue.

“While car parking was a clear problem looking for a solution, we also looked at ways we could use technology within the Burnett Heads town centre for the benefit of residents and visitors,” Wood said.

“We pushed for the adoption of smart lighting throughout the town centre so people could walk safely with enough light to see well. This allows lighting which isn’t being used to be turned off remotely so the town will not have to foot enormous electricity bills to keep the area lit and safe.”

Other technology GWI suggested included smart electricity and water meters, free wi-fi for the entire town centre and smart lighting at the local skate park.

Turtles: the town’s other important residents

As for the turtles, which return yearly to the nearby Mons Repos Conservation Park and Oaks beach nesting areas, Council has included them as residents for the purposes of the study and digital lighting systems have been introduced around nesting sites to reduce the glare and impact on turtles and hatchlings.

The lighting can also be dimmed remotely during the nesting and hatching season as required.

“It was exciting to be a part of the Burnett Heads project because it allowed us to test the appetite for technology in a small community, engage with them to find out what their needs were and find solutions which can be built upon as technology develops,” Wood said.

“We see this as the way of the future; town planning which explores and adopts available technology and prepares communities for the new technology yet to be developed.”

The plan is currently being delivered by Bundaberg Regional Council thanks to state and federal funding for key projects.

Smart tech for a regional community

  • Smart Lighting – street lighting that can be controlled centrally and switched on/off or dimmed dependent upon conditions or a predefined schedule which leads to energy savings
  • CCTV Video Surveillance – community safety with surveillance monitored by Queensland Police Service
  • Electronic Billboards – light pole and ground based billboards with content that can be centrally controlled and delivered within seconds
  • Public WiFi – free community access
  • Electric Car Charging – electric car charging point for the electric car industry
  • Telstra Fibre Network – fast network installation to support smart technology and provide a network foundation to support improved community internet performance

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