On one hand, it’s easy to understand how and why the City of Greater Bendigo would be so disappointed at this week’s announcement by planning minister Richard Wynne that the much anticipated, but highly controversial Marong Business Park would not proceed.
To be clear, on August 21 last year, Mr Wynne issued a media release that said in part:
“The Andrews Labor Government is creating jobs in Bendigo by giving the green light to the Marong Business Park.”
The media release was even afforded the affirmative headline: Green Light for Marong Business Park.
It also claimed: “This project gives Marong the potential to be a flagship destination for the big manufacturing, logistics, research and development and service companies. It means more jobs for more locals – right on their doorstep.”
The lack of any disclaimer, that has now proven to be the project’s downfall, meant that council probably assumed the Marong Business Park was effectively a done deal.
But there was one significant hurdle that was yet to be negotiated, and that was the compulsory acquisition of the more than 300 hectares of land owned by the Carter family, the very site council had identified as the preferred site for a major industrial and commercial development.
And in the absence of agreement between the parties, the planning minister this week said he could not support the case for compulsory acquisition, and so delivered the knockout blow.
This project would have delivered thousands of jobs for Bendigo and for the surrounding region.
It would have shored up countless others.
It cannot be lost.
Just because the independent panel said no to the business park being established on the Carter family’s land does not extinguish the need for this project to happen. Somewhere.
Even the man who ultimately slammed the door shut on the City of Greater Bendigo earlier this week, Mr Wynne, supports the establishment of an industrial park in our region.
As the City of Greater Bendigo goes back to the drawing board, every single resident of this city should hope that council officers and those working with them can find a satisfactory plan B. And soon.
Without an alternative, jobs will slip away. Business owners will be tempted by offers to set up or relocate their operations elsewhere.
Investment will be stifled and jobs will stagnate.
It’s difficult for the council to publicly justify its claims that opportunities are already being lost for Bendigo with businesses opting to go elsewhere, because discussions like these are usually treated as commercial in confidence, and deservedly so.
The community is only made aware when a deal is done, hands a shaken and an announcement is made.
We’ve no reason to doubt those who spruik these claims, just as we’ve no reason to doubt their comments that more opportunities will be lost to Bendigo while we continue to meander through the process of finding a site, or sites, to support industrial jobs growth in Greater Bendigo.
The Weekly understands that at least two major employers, one in the transport sector, the other a food manufacturer, either have been or will likely be lost to our city in the aftermath of this week’s decision. So far.
This week’s decision is a win for the Carter family and their supporters, but in the longer term, it could well be a loss for everyone else.
That’s not the Carter family’s fault and they had every right to contest the compulsory acquisition of their land, and we congratulate them and wish them well for the future.
A substantial amount of time and money has been spent in the past 15 or so years by the City of Greater Bendigo on this project. It ranks as one of the most strategically important projects for economic development of our city and our region, and for that reason, this week’s decision must be seen as a setback, and not a conclusion.
But council needs to learn from this experience and to reflect on how this went wrong so that it can apply the learnings from this week’s setback to any subsequent plans to support local industry that is so important to Bendigo’s future growth.
Council failed to prosecute its argument to the satisfaction of the independent panel back in 2016, or to subsequently, it seems, convince the planning minister that the parcel of land owned by the Carters was indeed the only option for Bendigo’s future plans, therefore necessitating the land’s compulsory acquisition.
And for that, the rest of us are owed an explanation, and some assurances, from everyone involved.