The Weekly Advertiser

Horsham 20-year masterplan put on ice – special meeting called

Horsham Rural City Council chief executive Sunil Bhalla.

Horsham Rural City Council chief executive Sunil Bhalla.

By Colin MacGillivray
A Horsham Rural City Council special meeting on Wednesday, July 3 will decide whether a 20-year masterplan to transform the city is put on public display.
At Monday night’s council meeting councillors voted on a proposal to publicly display a ‘Wimmera River Precinct and Horsham Central Activities District Vision and Masterplan’ for 28 days.
The motion passed by five votes to two, with councillors John Robinson and David Grimble voting against the proposal.
Immediately after the motion carried Cr Robinson gave notice he would move to rescind it at a future council meeting.
Mayor Mark Radford said it meant the plan was effectively on hold.
“He has to give notice to the chief executive in writing and then it has to go to another meeting; we have to vote again is basically what it means,” he said.
“Nothing in the decision to publicly display the plan can be enacted until after that vote.”
Council chief executive Sunil Bhalla called a special council meeting for Wednesday next to consider Cr Robinson’s motion of rescission before the next scheduled council meeting.
The masterplan is a multi-tiered document aimed at developing Horsham’s river, sporting and central activity district precincts during the next 20 years.
The document states the project will attract investment, enhance Horsham as a tourist destination and provide infrastructure for many sport and recreational groups in the city.
The plan is conceptual and would be subject to change after community consultation.
Mr Bhalla said about $2.5-million was already available for the council to start work on the project after the Federal Government pledged $1.65-million towards developing the Wimmera River precinct in May.
Among proposals for the river precinct are a potential café-restaurant and boardwalks along the river.
Mr Bhalla described the plan as a ‘transformational project that takes a long-term view’, but Cr Robinson said there were more pressing issues to address.
“It is concerning that three groups that I’m aware of have already been advised of their fate before we’ve even agreed to take this out to the community for consultation,” he said.
“The community has consistently told us there are a number of priorities that are an issue for them, and this isn’t up at the top of the list.
“The standout seems to be a bridge to the west to get rid of the traffic, the trucks and dangerous goods out of the CBD and reduce the congestion on the Wimmera Bridge.
“It seems to me the community feels this is more important than ‘lattes by the lagoon’.”
Cr Robinson criticised what he described as a ‘taxpayer-funded $1.65-million grant for the construction of a café-restaurant on the Wimmera River that was negotiated without the knowledge or agreement of councillors’.
Cr Robinson also raised concerns about the inclusion of a multi-user sports stadium in the sports precinct redevelopment plan after months of friction between the council and Horsham Amateur Basketball Association about plans to build such a stadium.
Cr Grimble also voted against the proposal, saying councillors had not been given enough input in the development of the plan.
Councillors Pam Clarke, Les Power and Alethea Gulvin argued passionately in favour of the proposal, saying it represented a badly needed step forward for Horsham’s development.
Cr Clarke described the plan as a ‘visionary, conceptual and forward-thinking document’ and refuted some of Cr Robinson’s claims.
“The $1.65-million from the Federal Government is not for a café,” she said.
“We didn’t know what it was for until the minister announced it.
“When the mayor was brought forward to talk about what could happen on the river he mentioned quite a few things, one of them being a café, but that it was a possibility in the future, not that we’re going to spend $1.65-million on a café – that’s ridiculous.”
Cr Power said it was imperative the council made decisions with an eye on the long-term future.
“Forty years and the basketball stadium hasn’t changed,” he said.
“Forty years and the football ground – our pride and joy, City Oval – hasn’t changed.
“I can go to Stawell and see a better oval, I can go to Ararat and see a better one, I can go to Ballarat, Geelong – anywhere.
“Why are we so far behind? Because we keep on saying, ‘let’s wait, let’s look at the figures, let’s take our time, let’s work through it’.”
Councillors Power and Clarke said the council had persisted with successful projects such as the Horsham Town Hall redevelopment and the building of Horsham Aquatic Centre despite opposition and should persist with the masterplan.
“We can sit back and say, ‘let’s take our time’, but it’s time now,” Cr Power said.
“We need to catch up with the rest of the world; they’re not waiting for us.”
Mr Bhalla agreed Horsham needed to modernise.
“The plan is for 20 years, but the legacy of the plan is for the next 50 to 60 years,” he said.
“We have to ask ourselves the question, ‘do we have the facilities that can service this community for the next 50 years?’ and my simple answer is ‘no’.”
Cr Radford said he hoped the plan would pass at the next council meeting so the Wimmera public could have its say on the proposals.
“Most of us are pretty keen to get it out there out there for the community to have a look at and tell us what they think,” he said.
“Hopefully that will happen in the not too distant future.”

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Posted on Jun 26 2019

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