Council opposes park loss

By Jackson Russell

Mitchell Shire Council will register its concern through its submission to a State Government planning scheme amendment about the effect the Wallan Area Network Improvements project could have on Wallan Community Park.

The project includes three stages: the Watson Street interchange upgrade, an upgrade to Watson Street itself, and an upgrade to the Northern Highway with several other upgrades included within the scopes of each stage.

As part of the project, the planning scheme amendment proposes to introduce planning controls, which would allow the Department of Transport to acquire land necessary for road reserve widening and allow for construction without a planning permit.

Council submission includes its concern with the use of Wallan Community Park as a temporary construction site and laydown yard, a section of council-owned land not being included in the public acquisition overlay and footpaths that do not connect to Station Street and Wallan station.

In its submission, council requested the removal of a special controls overlay on the park, which would stop it from being used as a laydown yard.

“The exhibited SCO extent doesn’t appear to have taken into consideration the existing conditions of the community park and how it is currently utilised by the community,” the submission said.

Council’s reasons included the extensive revegetation of the park, limited cleared areas, it’s use as a key open space, the proximity of homes that back onto the park and impact on fauna.

Council also requested the extension of a shared path on the upgraded Watson Street through to Station Street and Wallan station.

The motion to approve the submission was carried unanimously after south ward councillor Christine Banks, who lives near the park and ran for council on a platform of saving the park, declared a conflict of interest.

South ward councillor Rob Eldridge said he strongly opposed how the Department of Transport’s original plan affected the park.

“If I was to give anything back to the people that did the planning for this submission, that’s the state public servants, it probably looked like a good idea on paper but the problem we have with it is the Wallan Community Park is very well-used by the community,” he said.

“It’s the most-used piece of open space in Wallan and we don’t have a lot of them, and the proposal of the laydown area would last the length of those three stages which could be five years or beyond which would take that out of the public realm for that time.”

North ward councillor Fiona Stevens said it was disappointing the plans had caused the community so much heartache and angst.

“If there had been more conversation with council staff and councillors, we may have been able to avoid this situation but I’m confident we’ll be able to move forward, contribute to this in a positive way and find a solution that is palatable to all stakeholders involved,” she said.