RDASI chairman Hugh Cooke discusses Yass Valley issues

NEW VISION: Hugh Cooke with three of his sheep dogs at his property in Yass. Photo: Toby Vue.
NEW VISION: Hugh Cooke with three of his sheep dogs at his property in Yass. Photo: Toby Vue.

Following the announcement of Hugh Cooke as the new chairman of Regional Development Australia Southern Inland (RDASI), the Tribune recently caught up with him about development issues in Yass Valley.

He also touched on issues in the wider region.

Yass Tribune (YT): What are the major development issues in Yass Valley you would like to make impact on as chairman?

Hugh Cooke (HC): Having just started in this position, there are no specific issues at this stage, only a wishlist of infrastructure to support growing local businesses and attracting new businesses that are being forced out of metropolitan areas.

The feedback so far has pointed to an upgrade of Barton Highway from Yass to Canberra, in particular to Canberra Airport for freight purposes.

Water infrastructure and the restoration of specialist services back to Yass Hospital are things always on the wishlist but maybe beyond the powers of the RDA.

YT: What specifically about the hospital would you like see improved?

HC: We used to be able to deliver babies because of a maternity department. They took it all away and the region’s growing.

It’s a joke that for women to give birth, they have to go in an ambulance and travel over an hour to Goulburn or Canberra.

For such a supposedly wealthy country, that’s third-world.

The latest information session about the $8m redevelopment of the hospital is a great start and hopefully that momentum is kept going.

If we can get a few medical trainees into Yass, the momentum starts to roll.

This is where this position [RDASI chairman] comes in - to assist that as businesses will find it hard to attract good well skilled people and their families to settle here if we don’t have health and road infrastructure we deserve.

YT: What makes Yass Valley a unique area within Southern Inland NSW and how would you maximise its uniqueness to help its development?

HC: From an RDA point of view, Yass Valley is unique due to its location.

Yass being situated on the Sydney–Melbourne transport highway with B double truck access and rail access.

This situation allows Yass to act as a conduit for producers from central and southern NSW. 

Combine this with access to Canberra for tourism and a 24 hour international airport, it is an attractive package for a new business.

You’ve got to take advantage of that.

The Singapore flights are also coming in,so it’d be about convincing those visitors to come and explore our areas.

Yass is also a connecting point between the ACT and Central NSW.

It’s a joke that for women to give birth, they have to go in an ambulance and travel over an hour to Goulburn or Canberra. For such a supposedly wealthy country, that’s third-world.

Hugh Cooke, RDASI chairman

YT: What are some challenges in Yass Valley that impact its development and how would you mitigate them?

HC: Providing a structured offering of affordable residential land supported by efficient public transport to Canberra and Sydney.

This means working with the council to promote the requirement for a dual highway from Yass to Canberra and work with ACT RDA for updates to the major road junctions so commuters do not sit in a traffic jam once they reach Canberra.

Yass Valley has so much to offer and as the RDA Chair, I hope to try and remove the (largely) State Government barriers so current business expand and new business set up here.

From my understanding, it appears the State Government has redistributed funding from us to the Canberra region joint organisation (CBRJO) for allocation within their respective LGAs.

Which is good. Because I think they’re closer to the action so it makes sense. 

It’d be great if we can increase the diversification in the region.

YT: What’s one of the RDASI projects you’re keen to work on?

HC: The Wool Sales Relocation project is one in particular – whether to bring the centre to Goulburn or Yass.

The project has gone quiet but I don’t know why.

So it’d require drilling down another level and asking what the issues are.

YT: What is your action plan for the first 2–4 months?

HC: Once I settle in, specific examples and details will be worked on.

My plans for the next first month or two is to go and talk to all the mayors about their priorities.

The big picture is that I’ve been appointed and am really looking forward to the role.

First we’ll need to look at what’s been done or is ongoing and any legacy projects that need to be completed.

Our role is essentially to identify where there are development issues and go to governments and other relevant stakeholders for consultation and assistance.

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Mr Cooke was born in Temora and now lives at Yass running a cattle, sheep and wool production operation.

His term as chairman is set for three years.

RDASI is part of a national network of 52 RDA Committees across Australia

These committees are made up of local leaders who work with all levels of government, business and community groups to support the development of regional Australia.