with Dmitry Greku, Publisher/Editor, GWP Magazines
At age 32, Dr Michelle Byrne is the youngest person to ever be elected Mayor of the Hills Shire. Dr Byrne said down with Dmitry Greku to discuss her first few months as Mayor and her vision for the future.
D.G: How have you found your first few months as Mayor?
M.B: It’s been very enjoyable. I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of government. The Hills is such an exciting Council to be involved in. I like being so connected to the community. One of the great pleasures of this job is that I get the opportunity to meet new residents and business people I otherwise wouldn’t have met.
D.G:How long have you lived in the Hills?
M.B: I’ve lived here for 19 years, most of that time in Baulkham Hills. I went to William Clarke College and I know the area well. I’ve seen the Shire change so much since I was a child – but it’s retained that same character that it’s had for many years. It’s a safe, family friendly place to grow up and I hope that when I have children they can enjoy the same Hills that I grew up with.
D.G: What do you envisage will be the biggest challenges of your tenure as Hills Shire Mayor?
M.B: The Hills is one of the fastest growing local government areas in Australia and it has a growing business sector to match. We’re seeing big multinational companies expand their Norwest Business Park base and we’ve also got the North West rail link under construction. The key challenge out of all of this will be how to best manage our future growth. We’ve got housing and population targets that we want to meet. We want to keep unemployment below the national average and we want to connect the Sydney Hills to the rest of the city. At the same time, I want the Sydney Hills to retain that character that has made it such an attractive place to live, work and play. Another big challenge is connecting with the community. There are people who don’t understand the functions of local government and I want to change that by going out and meeting residents and explaining
how The Hills Shire Council can help them. The other goal I have is to help build a better quality of life for residents. We can do this by better connecting our town centres, building new roads and finishing off footpaths.
D.G: The North West Rail Link is still years away but the construction phase is getting underway. What will the next few years be like for those living or working near the rail line?
M.B: There will be some difficulties for residents and businesses who are close to the new stations or the rail line. We’ve commenced our Think Big initiative where we’re calling on businesses to start planning for those difficulties. There will
be some pain in the short-term but what we’ve got to keep in mind is the long-term benefits
that this rail line will bring. Businesses should prepare now for the constraints that will come with the construction.
D.G:Will the North West Rail Link attract more people to the Sydney Hills?
M.B: We expect a big increase in both residents and workers. The Sydney Hills will be more accessible to the rest of Sydney, businesses will have greater access to the most talented people and we expect places like Norwest Business Park to further develop as attractive places for big companies to base themselves. In 2011-2012, Council approved 1161 non-residential buildings, which was a 431% increase on 2010-2011. Our unemployment rate is 1.7% below the national average and we’re planning for new ways to accommodate an expected 250,000 residents by 2030.
D.G:What lasting effect would you like to have on the Sydney Hills?
M.B: I’m lucky enough to be the Mayor of the the Hills Shire at a time of great change. Our big focus at Council this year is rejuvenation, infrastructure and connectivity. So we’re building footpaths, we’re upgrading old pipes, we’re covering potholes, refurbishing community facilities – fixing up the assets we already have. I want to prepare the Sydney Hills for the big changes that are coming, while maintaining what we’ve already built.