Decisions that come to the council table can be difficult for a wide range of reasons.
Planning matters can be particularly challenging, but a councillor’s role is to make the best decision with the information available to them and under the Act they must make decisions for the benefit of the whole municipality.
The recent Marong Business Park decision was undoubtedly the most difficult for council so far this term.
Prior to becoming a councillor I was not convinced of the need for a business park or the preferred location in Marong, which ultimately meant pursuing compulsory land acquisition. So I did a great deal of research.
Firstly, there has been speculation of pecuniary interests over the years for current and former staff – this is not correct.
Also, councillors are the decision makers in this matter and there is no conflict of interest directly or indirectly for any of the current councillors.
This project has spanned 16 years (four council terms), starting in 2002.
Over that time, Greater Bendigo has grappled with the fact it will need an industrial park of a substantial size to support business growth over the next 30 years.
The preferred site is 313ha. Our regional counterparts have already gone down this path. Geelong, Ballarat, Wodonga and Shepparton have business parks and are seeing the benefits of having a dedicated area for large-scale industrial businesses to thrive.
South Australia is even offering financial incentives to attract such businesses to relocate.
Retaining our successful businesses and the jobs they provide is very important.
We don’t want to lose them to other parts of Victoria or interstate because we don’t have enough industrial land for them to expand.
Jobs in manufacturing have declined in many parts of Australia but Bendigo continues to have great success in specialised manufacturing fields.
Greater Bendigo only has around 10 years’ industrial land supply left, which is scattered in and around the municipality in small pockets.
We have no large-scale industrial plots near to each other and with the right transport links to accommodate some of our successful businesses that are now looking further afield to expand.
In time, it is expected the business park will support an estimated 3500 jobs. It is listed as a strategic priority for the Loddon Campaspe area, as highlighted in the state government-endorsed Loddon Campaspe Regional Growth Plan.
Keeping jobs, skills and innovation in Bendigo is critical for our growing population.
I’ve had many people ask me, “So what businesses want to move to Bendigo?”
This is commercially sensitive information but there is real and genuine interest to move and invest.
Local manufacturers have committed to invest at least $295 million into their own businesses over the next three years, which will create 500 additional jobs.
This investment would likely be substantially more if there was dedicated industrial land available.
An independent study of eight possible sites found the preferred site in Marong to be the best site for the business park.
It is accessible for B-double trucks, is adjacent to the Calder Highway and within easy access of the Calder Alternative and Wimmera highways, which provide links to Melbourne, Mildura and Adelaide, and is on the right side of Bendigo to access freight rail links in western Victoria that are currently being upgraded as part of the Murray Basin Rail Project.
It is also in an ideal location to support surrounding areas, with the Loddon, Mt Alexander, Gannawarra, Campaspe and Central Goldfields shires also recognising the need for a business park.
The site was rezoned last year by the planning minister to allow for industrial use, so the land is three times more valuable today than it was under the former farming zone and the city has made a considerable and genuine offer to the family based on the value of the land under the new zoning.
The family would also be able to continue farming the land until it is required for development, which would likely happen in stages as state and federal government and private funding become available.
The planning panel assessment called for further investigation to take place and this work has since been done and informed council’s decision making.
It is difficult to quantify the amount spent on getting this project to this point, as much of the work has been completed internally using staff time.
Costs have been incurred through legal fees, consultant reports and an independent study, but the value of this work does not amount to millions of dollars as some have speculated.
Our council is not the first to be challenged by the dilemma of catering for a growing community.
Greater Shepparton, Brimbank and Whittlesea councils have also pursued compulsory land acquisition to support business development.
Councillors have a responsibility to plan for future jobs and economic growth, and we take this task very seriously.
Council looks forward to receiving notification of the planning minister’s decision in the near future.