THE team behind the Aspire project has ruled out using land at the base of the Sacred Heart Cathedral for parking, saying it is already a dangerous corner where Wattle Street meets High Street.
Aspire chairman Gordon McKern also confirmed the project has reapplied for funding from the federal government’s stronger regions fund after missing out last year.
Mr McKern said plans to build the multi-million-dollar project were proceeding but were likely to be delayed by an appeal to VCAT brought by nearby residents because no additional parking would be built under existing plans.
In fact, spaces will reduce by eight.
The appeal is against the City of Greater Bendigo’s decision to allow development without extra spaces in an area residents say already suffers from inadequate parking.
Mr McKern said people he had spoken to about the project had loved the faith-based concept and supported development of the land in front of the cathedral.
But there was a persistent misconception that the land could also include a car park.
“That was a suggestion that was floated unofficially many years ago,” Mr McKern said.
“What people seem to have trouble accepting, and I don’t just mean local residents, I mean everybody, is the land below is actually half owned by the church and half crown land.
“The land on Wattle Street corner is crown land which means that Aspire couldn’t possibly put a car park on it because it is not even church land, and besides which, VicRoads have made it quite clear the last thing they want is more cars entering or leaving from that corner.
“It is already a dangerous corner because High Street makes a bend at that point.”
Mr McKern said he sympathised with residents in the area about the lack of parking but it was part of living in the city that there was not always a free space outside your destination.
“There are parking challenges at Ulumbarra (theatre) but people seem to find somewhere to park, whether it is legal or illegal I am not sure,” he said.
The outcome of the VCAT appeal could mean more than a delay for the project if the council is forced to ensure extra parking is built around the project.
Aspire has forecast the project will attract more than 40,000 visitors a year but a report to council informing councillors of parking conditions before the vote said there was enough on-street parking to cater for peak demand.
Aspire’s plans were passed at the December council meeting, five votes to four.
Simultaneously, the council announced it would trial timed parking for some spaces in the area.
Mr McKern said it would be useful to have the trial results before the VCAT hearing, which is scheduled for early July.
In the meantime, the project board was making arrangements to meet with Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie to advocate for the federal funding.
The project already has more than $10 million committed but missed out on $5m in stronger regions funding last year that went instead to the Bendigo Tennis Association for its facility upgrade.
“We are still progressing with routine things, we have got the planning permit which is being disputed which is fine, assuming the planning permit holds, then our next step is to structural drawings and calling for tenders from companies that will build it,” Mr McKern said.