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.
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.
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.”