Margaret O’Rourke answers media questions on Wednesday.

THE state government’s shock rejection of a plan to build a major business park on the outskirts of Marong has sent the City of Greater Bendigo scurrying for alternative sites for the multi-million dollar project.

Sites in Marong East, Elmore, Myers Flat, Goornong, Sebastian and Ravenswood could become the business park’s new planned location, after planning minister Richard Wynne blocked the use of the City’s  hard-fought preferred option at Marong.

Mayor Margaret O’Rourke has conceded that leading up Mr Wynne’s rejection of a move to compulsorarily acquire 311 hectares of farmland just outside Marong, the council had expected the state government would approve an application to forcibly buy the land owned by unwilling sellers, the Carter family.

There were signs as recently as last August that Mr Wynne was prepared to do just that.

In agreeing to rezone the land from farming to comprehensive development, Mr Wynne issued a media release titled “Green light for the Marong Business Park” that included a first sentence reading: “The Andrews Labor government is creating jobs in Bendigo by giving the green light to the Marong Business Park”.

“The Labor government has got the planning right – striking the right balance between protecting nearby users of the land and catering for future requirements of the area,” the release said.

“The planning scheme announcement means that the City of Greater Bendigo can now begin the next stage of development of the park.”

This week the message from Mr Wynne was different.

“After careful consideration of all the arguments and after legal advice, the minister decided the amendment to the Greater Bendigo Planning Scheme that would allow the acquisition does not further the objectives of planning in Victoria, taking into account relevant social, environmental and economic effects,” said a media release issued by the statement government,” he said

“The minister determined that the acquisition overlay did not strike the appropriate balance between the wishes of the landowners and the future commercial potential of the site.

“Community views were also considered in the decision.

“The Victorian Planning Authority will now work with the City of Greater Bendigo to look at other ways to secure suitable land for businesses in the Bendigo area.”

Cr O’Rourke conceded she was disappointed by Mr Wynne’s decision but that ultimately it was business and the council would move forward.

“In terms of the bigger picture for greater Bendigo, we do need an industrial area for the growth of our city, there is no doubt about it, so I think the strategy is absolutely right, it has been there a long time and it will continue,” she said.

“State government are very supportive of the strategy, they agree and want the strategy.

“I think it was really, when it came down to it, it was about personalities.”

The stakes are increasing for Bendigo, expected to reach population of 200,000 by 2050.

The 2006 Bendigo Future Industrial Land Strategy identified seven sites using criteria including transport links, ability to meet land area needs and bypass the CBD.

The Marong site scored the best of the seven, but the independent panel that reported in 2016 it could find no justification to move to compulsory acqusition, and noted a site identified at Elmore also scored well.

That panel also noted that scoring the Marong site highly for access to rail was “premature given the dilapidated state of the decommissioned rail line”.

Cr O’Rourke conceded the council may have to go down the path of compulsory acquisition again.

“It is very likely that that could happen because many other sites were considered, the other sites had multiple owners,” she said.

“(Over 16 years) there have been changes of staff at the city, changes in discussions with the (Bendigo Manufacturing Group), but as our population has grown, the impetus for it has grown stronger.

“We were in the early stages of looking at an industrial park when Ballarat, Geelong and Shepparton didn’t have them, they have now got them.”

– Sharon Kemp