Macedon Ranges Shire councillors have voted to pursue a fight to protect five trees and the 147-year-old Bunjil Creek bluestone bridge and channel in Gisborne.
The introduced-species trees and bluestone assets are under threat by works to the intersection of Melbourne Road and Kilmore Road.
Following an announcement by the State Government in 2018, Regional Roads Victoria received several submissions from the community concerned about the detrimental impact of the proposed works on the historic gateway entry into Gisborne township.
RRV said at the time that works would not impact existing heritage listed sites and impacts would be minimised for local tree and flora species.
It had planned to build a bridge over the bluestone bridge but will now pursue its original design proposal to use a culvert solution that will not enable the retention of the bluestone bridge and channel.
RRV intends to reuse the bluestone from the historic bridge in the project, which will most likely feature a roundabout at the intersection.
However in June this year RRV updated to council to say that, due to more recent flood modelling, it is unable to retain the core heritage fabric of the bluestone bridge and channel.
The roads authority now intends to regress the work on the intersection upgrade with the aim to have works underway in early 2022.
Neither the bridge and channel nor the introduced plantings of elms and oaks were listed in the Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme and therefore had no statutory protection.
Independent consultants identified in April last year the 1874 bluestone bridge and channel met the local level of heritage significance, and two very mature English Elms were also of historical significance to the municipality and warrant protection in the Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme.
However, in June this year, the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne determined that he had determine to decline the two requests for interim heritage overlays.
Mr Wynne wrote in a letter to council: “These requests are not considered necessary, considering the agreement reached between the council and the Department of Transport/Regional Roads Victoria which will support the implementation of the intersection upgrade project and the retention of locally significant heritage features.”
At the August council meeting Cr Rob Guthrie moved that council continues to advocate for the protection of the heritage fabric of the bluestone bridge and channel, and trees, and request the chief executive officer to resolve the conditions of authorisation and progress planning scheme amendment C143 to exhibition as soon as practical.
“The Gisborne community wants to see this area maintained as in tact as possible and we need to be telling them that we are advocating on their behalf. We’re not going to just give in to what the regional roads corporation is telling us, we want to maintain it,” Cr Guthrie said.
Cr Geoff Neill was the sole opposer of the motion, saying he believed pursuing amendment C143 would be a waste of money to save three trees, as the two trees and the bridge and channel already had proposed interim heritage overlay protection.
“I’ve no problem with pursuing our advocacy and I’ve really got no problem with those trees being included, they’re magnificent trees, but I do have an issue with pursuing a planning scheme amendment for three trees only,” he said.
But Cr Jennifer Anderson responded to Cr Neill, saying that since they negotiated a potential solution to build a new bridge over the bluestone bridge, the minister for planning said that solution would not preserve the bridge and declined the requests for interim heritage overlays.
“We’re in a different position than when we were [negotiating],” Cr Anderson said.
“The minister has said that if things have heritage protection, they are more likely to be protected, so we need to tell our community that we believe this is worthy of heritage protection and the sooner we do that, the better, because the more likely it is that we’ll get feedback from the community that they support us, because they’ve already told us they do support us in this decision,” she said.
The motion was carried eight to one.