COUNCIL clearly missed the point about Cr Les Larke’s Notice of Motion last Wednesday calling for the Wonthaggi to Inverloch Inland Trail (WIIT) to be put on hold.
He simply wanted Council to hold off spending $4.7 million of ratepayers’ money, when the State Government had already committed to developing a 40km coastal walking and cycling route of its own between San Remo and Inverloch.
He said the shire should wait to see what the government did first because if the WIIT became the only trail between Wonthaggi and Inverloch, it amounted to a massive cost shifting exercise to allow the shire’s ratepayers to pay for what was essentially a State Government promise, notwithstanding the fact that they’d committed $3 million of their own money.
He also called on the shire to stump up the business case first before investing in the WIIT.
But, in amongst the hyperbole, the singing from the shire’s hymn sheet, the obfuscation and lessons in stating the bleeding obvious during the debate that followed, one key question remained unanswered.
It was a question from Cr Rochelle Halstead who ultimately voted for the project to be put on hold pending the presentation of a proper cost-benefit analysis and meaningful community engagement on the specific 14km inland trail that the ratepayers were being asked to contribute $4.7 million towards.
“Mr Mayor, I would just like to ask a question if I can. I am having trouble remembering being briefed on this particular project. I just wonder if this council, this current council was briefed. Was there a briefing that I may have missed on the actual logistics of this trail?” said Cr Halstead.
The shire’s General Manager Place Making, James Stirton, frankly couldn’t remember either.
“I can’t recall off the top of my head a specific briefing day. I know this pathway formed an important part of this council’s adopted advocacy strategy and also the council resolution to seek funding from the Growing Suburbs Fund application process as well.”
So, no specific briefing with a cost-benefit analysis of this specific project.
Despite that, the council voted 6:3 to push ahead.
Cr Les Larke summed up:
“Thank you Mayor Whelan and I appreciate the comments by various councillors.
“However, insofar as the Wonthaggi to Inverloch inland trail, in my view, on reflection, despite previous decisions, council has not done its due diligence as to why $4.7 million for ratepayers’ money should be spent in circumstances when the Victorian State Government committed to fully funding a consolidated coastal walking and cycling trail from San Remo to Inverloch.
“Notwithstanding a potential $3 million contribution from the Victorian State Government’s Growing Suburbs Fund towards the overall cost of $7.7 million, if the Wonthaggi to Inverloch inland trail is ultimately the only route between Wonthaggi and Inverloch it is a form of cost-shifting to council of $4.7 million which could otherwise be used for other key projects across the shire.
“And importantly, the strategic basis, any feasibility study, cost-benefit and overall economic benefits and usage of the inland trail are not evidence and supported by deliberative community engagement and communication.
“That’s the reason for this Notice of Motion, to put the project on hold, pending the final outcome of the Yallock-Bulluk marine park project, including development of an iconic tourism coastal park and trail running the full length from San Remo to Inverloch and fully funded by the Victorian State Government. Thank you.”
Cr Bruce Kent had previously said the council could benefit from seeing the cost-benefit reports called for by Cr Larke.
Cr Bauer said it wasn’t clear to the community whether the shire was building a coastal trail or inland path.
Cr Le Serve read from the explanation on the shire’s website but concluded by saying that delaying could jeopardise the whole project.
Cr Rooks said connecting towns with shared pathways was a critical part of state and local government policy.
Cr Tessari said Cr Larke’s opposition “beggar’s belief”.
Cr Halstead asked the key question.
And Cr Laing claimed Cr Larke had made an embarrassing backflip after supporting the application for funding in September last year.