THE last most of us heard about the Wonthaggi Activity Centre project was in April 2021 when the council unanimously backed the Wonthaggi Activity Centre Plan.
This plan was the result of six years of discussion and consultation, and included extensive streetscape works to slow traffic and improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Under the approved plan, some parking places were to be removed and the footpath widened to create a dining and entertainment precinct and a mid-block pedestrian crossing. It would be a place to linger, listen to music perhaps, meet your friends, have a meal. A touch of a European city in Wonthaggi.
During the consultation period, some McBride Avenue traders expressed the fear that they would lose business when a limited number of parking spots were removed to widen the footpath. There is plenty of evidence, however, that encouraging pedestrians to linger in welcoming spaces actually leads to more unplanned shopping.
When the motion to adopt the plan was passed, then Bass Coast Mayor Brett Tessari emphasised the importance of these documents in planning for the future of Wonthaggi. The following month the State Government announced a grant of $2 million towards implementing the plan. Most of us turned our attention elsewhere.
It was only last month that I learnt the motion to adopt the plan included an amendment moved by our local councillor, Cr Les Larke, that further consultation on the plan would occur exclusively with the Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association (WBTA).
At this meeting, the consultants produced a completely new plan for McBride Avenue. The plan hasn’t been publicly released yet but by chance I’ve seen a copy and I can tell you it’s nothing like the plan we all thought was approved back in April 2021.
The new plan is an insult to modern urban planning and the potential of McBride Avenue.
It’s also an insult to all the volunteers who attended countless meetings where everyone, including traders, was welcome to express their ideas and thoughts.
The Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association should not have a secret veto over use of public space.
Wonthaggi set for makeover
April 23, 2021 - The Wonthaggi CBD will have “new life breathed into it”, according to councillors who unanimously backed the Wonthaggi Activity Centre Plan at Wednesday’s council meeting.
The Heart of our Town
April 4, 2021 - The liquor and gambling industry should not be telling us how to use our public space, writes Frank Coldebella
“We’re delighted with feedback from the Wonthaggi Community after meeting with key stakeholders for the Wonthaggi Activity Centre Streetscape Masterplan.”
Hansen Partnership, November 2022
I have been unable to get answers to the following questions:
- When and why did the council reverse its motion of April 2021?
- What was revealed at the second consultation, conducted exclusively with the traders, that justified the dumping of a strategy that came out of an inclusive, transparent and successful consultation process?
- Why was it necessary to employ new consultants?
- What was the new brief given to Hansen Partnership and why was it not released publicly?
- Who has been advised of the substantially amended new proposal?
- Why was the announcement restricted to a “select few” given that this had been a very openly discussed issue for several years?
- Who selected the “few” to attend the announcement?
- Why give exclusive access to private stakeholders? Why can’t any resident or ratepayer comment on any or all of the plans produced by consultants over the years?
- Have private beliefs based on no evidence over-ridden a thorough, open urban planning process?
Social trust in government is essential for democracy to work. Our elected representatives should remember trust is eroded every time decisions are made in secret and covertly announced. Secrecy leads to speculation that the game is stacked and the big end of town always wins. If you’re not being listened to, why bother taking part?
Wonthaggi’s proud history of unity and achievement was based on democratic discussion and decision making. We will need to mine our shire’s collective knowledge and skills to solve the interconnected problems that lie ahead.
"The Wonthaggi Activity Centre Plan was adopted by Council in April in 2021 and had a number of recommendations.
"One recommendation of the Activity Centre Plan was a streetscape master plan for Wonthaggi, which is this piece of work. The Draft Wonthaggi Streetscape Master Plan is a more detailed design of the Wonthaggi town centre than the high level concept conveyed in the Activity Centre Plan.
"Traders who may be impacted by construction of the master plan have been consulted with in the early stages of consultation. Broader community consultation will be conducted in 2023."