Decision Explainer: Child Care Centre and the Ironbark Gully Trail

For this latest blog post, I will give some background to a recent council planning decision, and how it affected a community priority in the area. It will get a bit detailed, so be warned!

The council decision related to a child care centre that is planned for a vacant block of land at the intersection of Eaglehawk Rd and Marong Rd, in Ironbark. The block of land used to be home to a heritage-listed foundry. There were several issues with the application, such as heritage, tree removal and traffic, but the one I will focus on is a community priority for the area—the Ironbark Gully Trail.

This Trail is a concept that has been campaigned for by a community group for many years. The idea is supported by council and has about $500K allocated to it, and there is a concept plan, but for various reasons has not been able to be constructed.

So what has this got to do with the childcare centre? Well, part of the planned Trail goes beside the land on which the childcare centre is planned. In fact, for the trail to work, the trail would need to use a thin slice of the land owned by the childcare centre applicant. In fact, this is the case for several parts of the 4.3km proposed trail, and council has to either buy land from private owners or negotiate use of the land. Although this section of the Trail (near the childcare centre) does not have detailed designs yet, the Trail is obviously a priority for the community, and for the council. What to do?

Here is where the ‘weeds’ of council decision-making comes in. The council planners had recommended that councillors approve the childcare centre. The Ironbark Gully Friends agreed, but lobbied councillors to put a ‘permit condition’ on this approval, in an attempt to ensure that the childcare design included space for the Trail. The design appeared to include such space, but this proposed permit condition would put it in ‘black and white’, so to speak. Permit conditions are common when applications are approved, and usually include requirements related to drainage, environment, sustainable design, landscaping etc.

I proposed this extra permit condition to other councillors, and (as is the practice) we got advice from council planning staff. Unfortunately, they advised that if the applicant (the group planning the childcare centre) went to VCAT to dispute this permit condition, they would likely win as the land is theirs, and council cannot impose conditions on private land related to some other council priority. So, we could vote to put the permit condition on the permit, but it would likely be shot down at VCAT, wasting council time and money. It became clear that I would not have the support of enough councillors for this course of action.

Still, I wanted to find a way to make clear that the Ironbark Trail needs to be somehow taken into account at this location. The next best solution was for me to move a motion straight after the childcare application. I did this, Cr Jen Alden seconded it, and it was carried unanimously. This what it reads:

That Council request the CEO to progress design of the preferred alignment of the Ironbark Gully Trail and initiate any land acquisition and/or land use discussions with land owners in order to determine the Ironbark Gully Trail Alignment, ready for project delivery.

You can read this in the minutes of the meeting. Unfortunately, if you read the Bendigo Advertiser report of this matter, you would only see that we approved the childcare centre. Thankfully, the Bendigo Times included details of the extra motion:

Cr Fagg raised an additional motion to request the CEO to progress design of the preferred alignment of the Ironbark Gully Trail and give the City authority to commence land acquisition in relation to the trail.“This additional motion makes it absolutely clear that council is behind the Ironbark Gully Trail and its future development,” Cr Fagg said.“It will have the effect of completing the design for the entire 4.3-kilometre trail so it’s ready for delivery.”

The effect of this motion is that council will put together detailed designs for the entire trail, and start conversations with the land owners involved – hopefully they are open to selling small parts of their land, or agreeing for the land to be used for the wonderful Ironbark Gully Trail.