Projects prime shire
Afinancial rubber stamp shoring up an underground physics laboratory project in Stawell has helped place the city and its surrounding district on track for a dramatic population increase.
Figures based on permanent fulltime jobs generated by projects underway in the shire suggest Stawell district population might grow by 1000 within five years.
Northern Grampians Shire Council is already busy working on ways to accommodate a potential influx of workers, likely to include a broad mix of employees through Bulgana Green Power Hub as well as the underground laboratory.
It is working with neighbouring Ararat and Pyrenees councils to address a pressing regional housing shortage.
Expectations are that the Bulgana hub, involving renewable-energy company Neoen and horticulture producer Nectar Farms, will generate hundreds of jobs while the lab will create about 80 ongoing positions.
Northern Grampians council chief executive Michael Bailey said longterm development projects underway would have a profound impact on the municipality.
“It’s going to involve a massive change in socio-economic dynamics, right across the shire,” he said.
“We recognise Northern Grampians is on the move. We’re seeing different retail developments, Bulgana hub, the physics laboratory, the reignition of Stawell Gold Mines, which is doing amazing things, and Frewstal continuing to be a world leader in meat processing and export.
“And it’s not just Stawell – we have hay exporter Gilmac at St Arnaud and an expansion of events such as Marnoo Merino Field Days.
“Councillors have been incredibly passionate about moving Northern Grampians forward through development and it’s paying dividends.
“It shows what local government can achieve.”
Mr Bailey said a $5-million State Government commitment to back Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory represented about six years of speculation, investigation, planning and advocacy.
“Just to understand what this project is about takes a lot of headspace and councillors have been able to articulate potential benefits, not only for Stawell and the shire, but internationally. It’s been a huge effort,” he said.
“The reality is there could be a Nobel Prize for the science at the end of it all and to think our shire would be at the heart of this would be something special.”
The science lab will be one kilometre underground at Stawell Gold Mine and provide environment and research facilities needed in the search for understanding about ‘dark matter’, one of the great mysteries in the universe.
Expectations are that the project will generate $180.2-million for the Stawell economy in its first 10 years.
Most contractors for laboratory construction and fit out will come from Stawell district and western Victoria, with 15 full-time-equivalent roles created during the first phase of work.
This will involve geotechnical engineers, earthmoving-equipment operators, electrical tradespeople and transport operators.
Mr Bailey said education benefits for Stawell were considerable, especially when considering a counterpart project in Italy attracted visits from about 8000 students a year.
“Some of the most recognised science brains in the world will be visiting or establishing themselves in our community,” Mr Bailey said.
“That has to have dramatic impact in moulding the dynamics of the community and futures of our children.
“What’s it all about? In laymen’s terms, we have a big hole in the ground where there is literally already an established ‘pot of gold’.
“It’s been about looking beyond that and seeing another vastly different type of ‘gold’.
“This is a great case of industry meeting global education, science, government and community. It absolutely ticks all the boxes when it comes to realising potential that might have otherwise gone unrealised.”
The Federal Government is also funding construction of the lab, which will be 30 metres long, 10 metres wide and 10 metres high.
Northern Grampians mayor Kevin Erwin applauded the State Government’s commitment to the project.
“It will mean the creation of local jobs and education opportunities in our shire. This is very exciting,” he said.
Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes said the lab would place Victoria’s scientific expertise on the world map.
“It will not only position us as a leader in dark-matter research, but it will also bring job opportunities and investment to the region,” she said.
“It will diversify Stawell’s economy – attracting a new highly-skilled workforce to the region to live and work.”
The project is a collaboration between University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Adelaide, Australian National University, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics.