Petition reinforces Hill End’s battle
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.”.