Anxiety over plans
Sport and recreation groups are up in arms about a Horsham Rural City Council vision to redevelop the city’s botanic gardens precinct.
Horsham Lawn Tennis Club, Horsham Croquet Club and Sawyer Park Miniature Railway fear for their futures after being left out of a council draft masterplan to transform the city during the next 20 years.
The council will vote on a rescission
motion by Cr John Robinson concerning the public display of the masterplan at a special meeting tonight.
The plan has angered the groups, which claimed council consultants failed to follow adequate engagement procedures.
The plan aims to closely link the Horsham Botanic Gardens and riverfront area to the city’s central business district via the southern end of Firebrace Street, as part of redevelopment works.
About 15 people, including members of all three clubs and councillors Robinson and David Grimble, attended a meeting at the tennis club on Monday night to discuss the implications of the plan.
Both councillors expressed concerns about the plan at last month’s ordinary council meeting and voted against publicly displaying it.
Cr Robinson released an open letter on Monday stating he would stand aside for tonight’s special council meeting because of concerns about what he described as a lack of appropriate governance standards within the council.
Cr Robinson’s move attracted an immediate response from council chief executive Sunhil Bhalla, who refuted Cr Robinson’s claims of breaches in protocol and lack of community-consultation opportunities.
Mr Bhalla said councillors had seven days’ notice of the special meeting, in compliance with Local Government Act requirements, and that councillors had an opportunity to be involved in development of a draft masterplan, starting with a councillor briefing in August last year.
“It was stated that the proposed plan was a draft and it would need to be resolved by council to make it available for public exhibition, which would provide an opportunity for feedback on the proposal by the user groups,” he said.
At Monday night’s meeting miniature railway president David Mcdonald said the group was not contacted by council consultants and had not been mentioned in the masterplan.
“We’ve recently been told, ‘this is what’s going to happen. Stop spending, stop doing anything at the club because we’re going to kick you out’,” he said.
“The amount of effort to re-lay track and do infrastructure like that needs manpower, and if we have to move the club will just close.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into building it.”
Mr Mcdonald said although the club was small, it remained relevant to the Horsham community.
He said the miniature railway had carried more than 1000 children at an Operation 19:14 community day last year.
Horsham Lawn Tennis Club president Andrew Dorman said he found the exclusion of the club from the council’s plans ‘disturbing’.
“I can’t see what the justification is for tennis going,” he said.
Mr Dorman said issues identified in the plan, such as a lack of lighting and toilet accessibility could be addressed ‘at very little cost’ to bring the club up to a standard capable of hosting regional tournaments.
Croquet club president Betty Etherton said the club was classified as one of three regional centres statewide in a Croquet Victoria ‘Growing Croquet Facilities Infrastructure Planning Project 2020-2030’ report. But the council plan had incorrectly identified it as incapable of hosting regional tournaments.
“It is very disappointing that proper research and consultation was not undertaken,” she said. Cr Robinson encouraged group members to attend tonight’s council meeting and make their voices heard.
He said while there was some ‘good stuff’ in the plan, it needed to be workable before being taken to the public.
“The civic green that I think we all want is planted in the middle of the police station, for instance,” he said.
“All that means from my perspective is the green we all want is put off for another 20 years, because it will never be achieved at that site.
“We simply delay going forward by having unrealistic plans.”
Cr Grimble told the meeting he understood concerns about a lack of consultation.
“It’s not generated from the grassroots up which is problematic,” he said.
“The plan itself is quite visionary and from my perspective I think parts of it look okay, but the council should have been involved in the process right from the start on your behalf.
“I don’t see why your needs can’t be incorporated into the broader visionary work.
“That’s a conversation that should have happened before these plans became available for the public to look at.”
Cr Grimble said the lengthy tenures of the tennis club, 136 years, and croquet club, 96 years, at their current locations should be taken into account.
“If you’ve been there for that long, you’ve got a significant stake in that parcel of land,” he said.
• See next week’s edition of The Weekly Advertiser for more on tonight’s council meeting.
• See page 13 for Cr Robinson’s full letter, and www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au for Mr Bhalla’s response.