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Ray Wittmer speaks out against Kilmore rejuvenation project

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By Colin MacGillivray

KILMORE businessman Ray Wittmer has delivered a scathing assessment of Mitchell Shire Council’s plan to rejuvenate Sydney Street, claiming it would ‘take the town back to the stone age’.

The rejuvenation project – which involves the removal of car parks on the main street and the addition of off-street parking, as well as the installation of pedestrian traffic islands and historic town branding – was given the go-ahead by councillors earlier this year, with council commencing a tender process for the streetscape upgrades following a meeting on September 20.

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Mr Wittmer owns six properties on Sydney Street, including shops at 22, 24 and 26, as well as the vacant former car yard at 58 and 60.

He said council had for years stymied proposed developments by both him and other property owners, leaving the main street languishing.

Mr Wittmer said rather than boosting Sydney Street, council’s rejuvenation plan would make it more difficult for businesses.

“I’ve spoken to most of the traders along there since this nonsense reared its ugly head and I think most of them are going to say ‘see you later’,” he said.

“They’re mortified at what the council is proposing – taking out 34 car parks along the street.

“People stop in at shops all along the street and those car parks for most of the day I reckon rotate every 10 or 15 minutes.

“If you accept they’re being rotated two or three times an hour from 7am until 5pm, that’s 30 people stopping in each of those car parks and they’re talking about removing 34 car parks – that’s more than 1000 people who are not going to stop.”

Mitchell Shire Council chief executive Brett Luxford said the rejuvenation project would encourage more shopping by boosting pedestrian traffic along Sydney Street.

“The $3.37 million Kilmore streetscape rejuvenation is a significant investment and vote of confidence in the future of Kilmore,” he said.

“When completed it will provide much improved amenity and encourage more people to shop locally in a welcoming environment. People will linger and stop and browse rather than go to individual shops.

“The streetscape works will make it easier and safer for pedestrians to move around and also introduces much improved all abilities access and bus stops. Significant canopy tree planting will also contribute to improved amenity.

“In addition to these improvements, the Kilmore Structure Plan identifies a number of opportunities to improve parking in the precinct. A report is due back to council shortly outlining these options in more detail.”

But Mr Wittmer said the project’s aim of enticing pedestrians to the centre of town would not work until a Kilmore bypass took heavy traffic out of the town.

An artist’s rendering of what the Kilmore streetscape could look like.

Mr Wittmer said it would also present challenges for people trying to maintain their properties.

“Think of a woman with a baby in a pram standing on a traffic island in the middle of the road with B doubles passing either side of her. It’s bloody madness,” he said.

“And you’ve got a number of old buildings there that are going to need work done. All of that requires working room out the front.

“What’s going to happen with delivery trucks? How is Australia Post going to access the mailbox on the main street? Are they just going to stop in a traffic lane?”

Mr Wittmer said many Sydney Street traders were fearful of losing business if car parks were removed.

“When I last counted there were eight vacant shops in the main street. The shop at 26 Sydney Street has been vacant for three months and there has been very little interest there. Kilmore is already dying,” he said.

“People are not going to stop if we don’t have parking. If I drive through a town and I see a bakery with a car park out the front I’ll stop, but otherwise I’ll go to the next town.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this is going to destroy the town. It will destroy a lot of businesses and it will all have to be undone very soon.

“There’s no doubt that a restructure or rejuvenation of Kilmore would be wonderful, but to half build it and then have to pull it all to bits again, by which stage all your tenants and property owners have left town, is not the way to go.”

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  1. Some of Ray Wittmer’s comments (NCR 16/11) are absolute nonsense. Australia Post will always have designated parking in front of post boxes (as they do now) to enable collection of mail. If Mr. Wittmer had read the Sydney Street Rejuvenation Plan he would know that no raised concrete pedestrian refuges will be installed – they will be painted onto the road surface. The reality here, as another commenter has stated, is that a number of the rather unattractive heritage sites & vacant blocks in the heritage precinct of Sydney Street are owned by the very people who complain about the state of the town. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money and that is not happening here. Council can’t make property owners look after their properties, nor can they force them to develop them. Council can only intervene if these properties become unsafe &/or a threat to public health & well-being. Meantime, we are seeing a number of property owners sitting on their hands expecting unrealistic sale prices on commercial heritage buildings which will need the purchase price plus more to reinstate them to a useable state. It’s just not going to happen. While residential prices have boomed in regional towns over the last few years, prices for heritage buildings have not. That is simply because those buildings generally need a lot of expensive maintenance. When those heritage buildings are located in towns like Kilmore where property owners have been focused on profit rather than social investment we get a town which doesn’t look like a great business opportunity for new & innovative businesses. Kilmore is not a pretty town. But, add verandahs to buildings in the heritage precinct, get rid of vacant lots, create rental incentives to new businesses, remove off-street car parking in front of businesses and create a continuous shop frontage in the historic precinct, it all could start looking a lot more attractive to new businesses and shoppers.

  2. I’m totally in favour of the Sydney Street Streetscape Rejuvenation Plan. Multiple community groups have been consulted regarding the design and have been overwhelmingly positive in their responses. Unfortunately, what is good for community liveability and long term plans for rejuvenation does not always align with the interests of property owners & business investors. I love this streetscape plan and well done to Mitchell Shire Council who can’t please all of the people all the time but do manage to please a lot of the people some of the time. Such is life in a democracy.

  3. For one thing, if people are already avoiding using pedestrian crossings when stand 20 or 30 meters away, your not going to change any cultured habit by spending $3+ million. I agree that its not going to be good for businesses in the foreseeable future. I travel through Kilmore every day morning & night and I agree with the street parking usage regularly rotating. I believe we have a problem with the Cart before the Horse once again, such as, no confirmed future timing of the By-pass to provide heavy transport vehicles a clear path around Kilmore or such works, nor will it provide them clear & safe access to Sydney street business’s. Yes I’m aware that this is Vic roads and other governments however, my point being that Kilmore has become a huge bottleneck since the opening of the large takeaway food chain stores and the recent opening of new shopping complex’s (time reference only). Since this time, traffic is now backed up well past Willowmavin road several times a day due traffic constraints at Clarke St traffic lights and continues through to Union St traffic lights. We once knew our peak time as the School Mum run but now we have the all day ever lasting “Peak Hour”. In addition, a number of “No Right Turn” signs have been removed or not replaced but god forbid, you hit a over sized “Watch out for Cyclist” sign in the centre Island before the new foot bridges, its immediately repositioned or replaced, if only pot holes were attended too that quickly..

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