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 plan has been four years in the making and will guide development at four key strategic sites; Apex Park, McBride Avenue, Graham Street and the Wonthaggi Secondary school site.
It includes streetscape works in McBride Avenue and Graham Street to help slow traffic and increase the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
The footpath in McBride Avenue will be widened to create a dining and entertainment precinct and create a mid-block pedestrian crossing, while a tree-planted median strip in Graham Street will enhance the visual character and ease pedestrian movement across the street.
At this stage the plan is still conceptual but its adoption represents a collective vision for the town centre and allows council officers to continue their work to enhance it.
In his report, the council’s head of planning, James Stirton, said it established a vision for Wonthaggi as a key centre servicing the Gippsland region and a vibrant place for people.
It defines key characteristics of the town in relation to land use and activity, access and movement, built form and public space. It includes recommendations from the Wonthaggi Access and Movement Study relating to freight, car parking, public transport, pedestrians and private vehicles, including car parking.
The access and movement study found local people overwhelmingly used private vehicles for transport, even for short distances, and recommended actions to increase walking and cycling.
The most contentious aspect of the plan is the proposal to remove car parking spaces in McBride Avenue to accommodate a dining and entertainment precinct.
Following a petition from the Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association, councillors committed to further consultation with the association on the question of car parking.
Cr Leticia Liang, who moved the motion to adopt the plan, said it would breathe new life into the town centre. “It’s visionary, aspirational, and importantly it’s research based.
“Towns like Sale, Warrnambool, Mornington and Ocean Grove which have achieved these developments have consistently seen an uplift in trade as more people are able to access the shops and hang around more enjoyably and safely.
“The research from the access and movement study shows we have a lot of opportunities to really grow with our community in an active way that accesses those beautiful wide footpaths.”
Cr Laing said the council would investigate additional options to offset any loss of parking, particularly priority parking for people of limited mobility.
“Parking losses will be kept to a minimum because we hear loud and clearly the messages from traders that parking loss is a concern should the plan go ahead. People still need to drive into the precinct and we are working hard to find other parking options.”
Cr David Rooks said the plan was a great opportunity to improve the look and feel of the township with a focus on active transport. “The benefit will be for the entire community and visitors and it’s also a great program for the environment. I hope the community embraces the opportunities available in this plan.”
Cr Clare Le Serve said the long-awaited plan set the stage for Wonthaggi to become a regional centre. “It’s critical that we get it right. The most important thing is making the centre of the town appealing and not driving people to large shopping precincts … out of town. It’s got to be an appealing and interactive place for all.”
Cr Michael Whelan said the emphasis for parking should be on priority parking. “There are certain people who need to get into the heart of the town. There are others where you’re better to provide facilities for walking and biking. It’s good for the environment and it’s good for the town.
“The places I visit around the world that are really vibrant and lovely places to be are those that accentuate that active transport with walking boulevards. We need to put people ahead of cars and that’s why the crossings in Graham Street are so important, as are the arterial routes through town for bicycle trails.
Cr Les Larke said lower speed limits and pedestrian crossings at roundabouts would change the ambience of Wonthaggi.
“If we can encourage a cultural shift to encourage people to walk 20 minutes to town instead of hopping into their car, that’s going to have positive impacts on health and wellbeing.
“It will create an ambience where people will not just hop in the car and go into one shop but they’ll come into town and they’ll graze. They’ll have a coffee, go into a dress shop …”