Interview with: Coffs Harbour City Council GM Steve McGrath

Coffs Harbour City Council General Manager Steve McGrath had been working in GM roles from 1991 before serving as President of Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) and delivering capacity building projects with local government clients at Morrison Law Consultants. Steve spent a number of years in the private sector before taking on the role of General Manager at Coffs Harbor City Council.

Tell us about yourself? Why did you decide to join council?

When I joined Coffs Harbour City Council nearly 8 years ago, I did so with the knowledge that Coffs Harbour had a great reputation as a city of diverse opportunity and an enviable lifestyle, being located right on the doorstep of one Australia’s most beautiful coastlines. The weather is not bad either!

We are making Coffs Harbour an even better place to live, work and play with careful planning and attention to project delivery.


How would you describe your vision for Coffs Harbour City Council?

Our vision includes building a true regional capital city with a reputation for being the home of State and National events – whether those events are sporting, cultural or social – and a vibrant, growing city that prides itself on its diversity and inclusiveness.

I see Coffs Harbour as a vibrant city, with a reputation for being innovative and sustainable and a City Council that uses SMART solutions to deliver innovative outcomes for our community and visitors.


What are the top three industries in your council’s municipality? How many active businesses are in Coffs Harbour?

Health care and social assistance is our main industry in Coffs Harbour, followed by the retail industry and construction for full-time employment. We have a population of over 74,000 in our local government area, with 5,592 businesses.

We are currently working with the State Government to look at how we can increase our sustainability efforts in our city centre for the benefit of our local environment and to also improve the lifestyle enjoyed by our community.

We are very proud that Coffs Harbour has been identified by the NSW Government as one of the three regional cities on the north coast of New South Wales. We’re forecast to receive a lot more growth than other areas, so we are continuing to focus our efforts on renewable infrastructure and, of course, on delivering efficient, and effective projects for the community.


What are your infrastructure priorities for 2018/19?

Our current main infrastructure priority is to continue the planning and preparatory work for the City’s new Cultural and Civic Space. The project includes the construction of a new city library, regional gallery, museum, co-working space, council office accommodation and Council Chambers along with community meeting spaces. The goal of the Cultural and Civic Space is to make our city centre come alive and bring four different council locations into one.

We will also be looking at key road entry infrastructure for our communities on the northern beaches.

As a regional city, Coffs Harbour plays an important role in supporting the broader region –we can provide the services our regional community needs and wants to improve their quality of life and enhance their lifestyle.


What are your plans for the council from an operational perspective for the 2018/19 financial year?

Our main focus will be improving a visitor’s first impressions to Coffs Harbour through rejuvenating our public amenities across the LGA and improving the approaches to the beach communities on our northern beaches.

While the Pacific Highway Bypass isn’t due for completion by the State and Federal Governments until 2022, we want to be ready for it. We need to start planning now to lessen the impact this bypass could have on Coffs Harbour.

We are also upgrading our C.EX Coffs International Stadium; a $50 million investment to expand and upgrade the seating capacity, player and corporate amenities, media amenities and ‘fan-facing technology’.


How does the council contribute to Coffs Harbour overall in terms of the area’s functionality and ability to grow?

Our number one priority is to make sure we have a growth plan in place for Coffs Harbour. We know that Coffs Harbour has a strong role to play as a regional capital, providing support to the broader Coffs Coast region. This means ensuring we have the right services for our community’s needs and aspirations, in order to have a great quality of life.

We want to be a major tourist destination and we need to make sure Coffs Harbour is tourism-ready, with a robust and sustainable economy. We are continuing to focus on encouraging locally-grown creative start-ups to make sure the regional economy continues to grow in order to help support our community.

Everything that we do is done very carefully in terms of the important natural environment in which we live and it is very important that we recognise the unique natural surroundings that the community values and enjoys.


Why do you think regional capital cities deserve a place in national policy?

Regional capitals throughout Australia have the potential to accommodate many more opportunities for Australia’s growing population. They have the potential to ease many of the growing pains being felt in Australia’s metropolitan capitals, while also improving productivity outcomes for our nation.

Coffs Harbour City Council joined Regional Capitals Australia because RCA can influence national policy to achieve better outcomes for regional capitals and the regional communities we serve.