by Ian Blyth
MITCHELL Shire Council has moved to set up a working party following growing community opposition to the planned Wallan to Heathcote rail trail.
With some 45 per cent of the proposed route currently in private ownership and much of this over private farm land, concerns over biosecurity, land acquisition and loss of privacy have been widely expressed.
Critics of the community consultation process have also raised concerns over the objectivity of the consultants. Pyalong resident, David Waye, described the consultants who conducted the process as “hipsters who were condescending to local residents.”
“The lead hipster was a man clad in cycling Lycra whose main selling point was that the rail trail would result in the local store growing into an IGA supermarket, increasing employment in the town, due to walkers, cyclists and riders dropping in to do their grocery shopping,” Mr Waye said in a letter to the North Central Review (see page 8).
When the matter was discussed at the March council meeting Cr Bill Chisholm, clearly aware of the community concerns, moved an amended motion to establish a working party comprising landholder, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and user groups, to increase community involvement in the process.
The motion to endorse the findings of the feasibility study and matters relating to seeking external funding, along with the forming of the working party was put and carried seven votes to one with Cr Bob Humm, who has previously expressed concerns over farm biosecurity issues, voting against.
“It’s a long term project, 30 years at least, and we should be looking at more important issues in the same detail. We need to concentrate on these important immediate issues now,” Cr Humm said.
Speaking to the North Central Review following the decision Mitchell Shire Mayer, Cr Rhonda Sanderson said that the working party will be a positive step in the process.
“Everyone needs to talk and it important that we find a solution. I believe working together will achieve this. Issues such as the route, biosecurity and potential fire hazards will all be on the agenda,” Cr Sanderson said.
“I also think that it important to realise that at this stage the rail trail is very much at concept stage – it is an extremely long-tern project. As our shire grows, community will expect this sort of infrastructure to be in place but we’re talking very long term – 20-30 years,” Cr Sanderson added.
Cr Sanderson also said that council had no plans to compulsory acquire private land for the rail trail.
The Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail is projected to be some 78km long, will cost at least $17.8 million to construct. Even with funding for construction coming from other sources the ongoing maintenance will fall to council and ratepayers.
The current route travels through farms, residential and rural properties despite over 70 per cent of the owners consulted opposing the project. Many of the landowners haven not been consulted as yet, despite the route being mapped across their properties.