IT’S one of Ballarat’s longest running and most contentious debates, but the return of traffic to the Bridge Mall could be officially back on the agenda this week.
Despite emerging opposition from local traders and shoppers, Councillor Samantha McIntosh will use a City of Ballarat Council meeting on Wednesday to put forward a motion calling for a community consultation process to consider the move to help boost Ballarat’s retail sector.
Bridge Mall Traders Association president John Marios said any return of cars to the mall would be a waste of money and that the community consultation was not required after a 2005 petition collected more than 16,000 signatures against the move.
“The mall is working well in its current form and there are some very successful businesses operating out of the area at the moment,” Mr Marios said.
“We have Rip Curl opening in the next month and there will be another national brand opening a store very soon, so it is not the time to change the opportunity shoppers have to walk from store to store in the Bridge Mall.”
Mr Marios said he and Bridge Mall traders welcomed discussions about the improvement of Ballarat’s CBD to benefit shoppers and retailers but said there was little need for renewed debate about traffic.
With more than 120 tenants, the 500-metre mall has received substantial City of Ballarat and Victorian government funding for landscaping, a newly opened playground and community amenities.
Last year, former Ballarat mayor David Vendy added his voice to calls for the reopening of the mall to traffic but the latest chapter of the debate hinges on support for the council motion on Wednesday night.
Cr McIntosh said she and the City of Ballarat were supportive of the work of the Traders’ Association but that a debate about maximising the mall’s potential should be had.
“I have been visiting Stawell where they have opened their mall and traders there are very happy with how it is working now,” she said.
“The messaging that I got from them was that it activated their trade very quickly after the opening, causing a clear difference to their businesses.”
She said Ballarat could learn from similar debates in cities including Bendigo, Brisbane, Alice Springs and Launceston.
“The concerns I have heard from retailers operating with the mall closed are worries about safety, comfort and cover,” Cr McIntosh said.
“Al-fresco style dining and the ability to create a buzz and entice even more visitors to the Bridge Mall could be a positive outcome for us.”
Cr McIntosh said the restoration of heritage facades in the area would restore the traditional entry to the city to its former glory and that challenges around car parking could also be addressed.