Petition re­in­forces Hill End’s bat­tle

Warragul & Drouin Gazette - - NEWS -

The wait­ing game is con­tin­u­ing for the Hill End com­mu­nity and its bid to have the state gov­ern­ment re­tain the site of the town’s for­mer pri­mary school as a pub­lic as­set.

But at a meet­ing last week to present a petition to be tabled in state par­lia­ment this week Mem­ber of Nar­ra­can Gary Black­wood said he was feel­ing a lit­tle op­ti­mistic that the wait may even­tu­ally be worth it.

With a state elec­tion to be held next year an an­nounce­ment may be be­ing with­held by the gov­ern­ment and made dur­ing the cam­paign, he said.

The petition seek­ing the prop­erty be main­tained in pub­lic hands and con­tinue as a com­mu­nity cen­tre was signed by 425 peo­ple, a num­ber that Baw Baw shire coun­cil­lor Michael Leaney re­marked also em­pha­sised its im­por­tance to users and vis­i­tors from a wider area given that the Hill End area’s of­fi­cial pop­u­la­tion is 167.

He said all Baw Baw shire coun­cil­lors had added their sig­na­tures.

Up­per House Mem­ber for East­ern Vic­to­ria Melina Bath was due to ac­cept the petition and present it in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil this week but was a forced ab­sen­tee on Thurs­day due to a car ac­ci­dent that re­sulted in her be­ing ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal.

Mr Black­wood said the coali­tion Lib­er­als and Na­tion­als would ar­range to ta­ble the petition if Ms Bath was un­able to at­tend par­lia­ment.

Since the school closed 11 years ago Hill End Com­mu­nity Inc. has main­tained the build­ings and grounds for use as a venue for mar­kets, meet­ings, func­tions and get-to­geth­ers, an­nual art show, quilt dis­play, an al­paca show, other events and, last week, a Mel­bourne Cup day lun­cheon.

Its fight to keep the prop­erty in pub­lic own­er­ship has been go­ing on for more than a year af­ter it was re­vealed the Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing De­part­ment planned to have the site re­zoned and sold for pri­vate use.

Al­though there is unan­i­mous sup­port for the school site to re­main a com­mu­nity hub from four mem­bers of State par­lia­ment for the re­gion all from dif­fer­ent par­ties –Gary Black­wood (Lib­eral) and Up­per House mem­bers for East­ern Vic­to­ria Har­riet Shing (La­bor), Ms Bath (The Na­tion­als) and Jeff Bour­man (Shoot­ers and Fish­ers) – an­swers aren’t com­ing from the gov­ern­ment.

Gov­ern­ment mem­ber Ms Shing told The Gazette the mat­ter was still un­der re­view but she hoped to be able to say more on the is­sue in the com­ing weeks.

In re­sponse to ques­tions raised in par­lia­ment by Ms Bath in Au­gust the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter James Mer­lino ad­vised his de­part­ment would li­aise with the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, Land, Wa­ter and Plan­ning to ex­plore op­tions and pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive sites for com­mu­nity users of the for­mer school.

He said HECI would be fur­ther con­sulted be­fore any fi­nal de­ci­sion.

HECI spokesper­son Chris Wil­liams said noth­ing had been heard from the gov­ern­ment.

Mr Black­wood and Mr Bour­man said they had not re­ceived re­sponses to their rep­re­sen­ta­tions in sup­port of HECI’s pro­posal.

Ms Bath has also not heard any­thing other than the an­swer to her rais­ing the mat­ter in par­lia­ment three months ago, but said she’d chain her­self to the build­ing if the site was to be sold off for hous­ing.

She said there had al­ready been two in­quiries by gov­ern­ment de­part­ments into the is­sue, the costs of which would have prob­a­bly ex­ceeded what would be raised if the land was sold.

Cr Leaney told the gath­er­ing of res­i­dents on Thurs­day that the com­mu­nity needed to con­tinue to “make a noise”.

He said sell­ing the land for pri­vate use was a false econ­omy.

The amount spent al­ready on how to sell it would be more than what its sale would bring, he claimed.

Mem­ber for Nar­ra­can Gary Black­wood (third left) re­ceives a petition to be pre­sented to par­lia­ment this week calling for the re­ten­tion of the for­mer Hill End school as a com­mu­nity cen­tre from Hill End Com­mu­nity Inc’s Chris Wil­liams and a past pres­i­dent of the school coun­cil Rachel Cochrane at a gath­er­ing of res­i­dents last Thurs­day.

Past and present Hill End res­i­dents, from left, Liz Bow­ley, Barb Hard­ing and Liz Buck­ing­ham were at a gath­er­ing at the for­mer Hill End school site last Thurs­day lend­ing their sup­port to the cam­paign to have the build­ing and grounds re­main as a com­mu­nity cen­tre.

Mem­ber for Nar­ra­can Gary Black­wood, left, ex­pressed quiet op­ti­mism the Hill End com­mu­nity would even­tu­ally win its bat­tle to save the for­mer school site while Baw Baw Shire coun­cil­lor Michael Leaney (right) urged res­i­dents and oth­ers to “keep up the noise.”.

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