Ballarat being dudded in railway precinct
HAVING had the opportunity to receive an extended briefing from the Victorian Government local regional development officer on the proposed upgrade of the railway goods shed and the associated parking area, I have formed the view that Ballarat is being dudded in a very big way in this project.
I was stunned by the process being taken by those in charge of planning for the redevelopment of the precinct. It would appear the project and its ideas are being driven by a very small handful of local people and that it is "their project", and their proposals have sadly fallen into the slot of being driven by a team of bureaucrats operating out of Melbourne who have just been allocated the job of organising the development.
Much of the heritage overlay of the rail precinct has been ignored in the planning process. The premier announced the goods shed development would see a 4.5 to five-star "high end facility" hotel with 100-plus rooms plus a 3000 square metre conference function centre within the goods shed.
At the briefing last Friday, those in attendance were informed that after a tender process, five companies submitted their proposals for the site and the one selected (The Pellicano Group) have dramatically changed the concept to a proposed 46 self-contained apartments operated by Quest, and a shrunken 1700 metre conference centre with a few retail shops attached to be operated by another group.
The proposed apartment-type hotel smacks directly into competition with most of the many accommodation businesses in and around Ballarat (basically providing up to four-star facilities) and is to be very heavily subsidised by the state government. Now, I don't think that is fair at all and would certainly not pass the "pub test".
It would appear that a subsidy of approximately $15 million will go to the developers from the state government to develop their apartment-style hotel which, in effect, is a block of flats and the convention centre. (The government, as stated at the briefing, has offered money to develop a major section of the site for private purposes and not for transport.) Again, I suspect the government has been misled by this very small group of locals, who now appear to be ducking for cover and will not answer correspondence pertaining to this particular project.
While there will be (and already is) much government spin about the whole project, the future will see it turn into a great big flop and to the detriment of existing accommodation providers in our region.
With an existing average of 50 per cent to 60 per cent room occupancy rate in Ballarat, this new "hotel" will only spread the existing room occupancy rates and will not gather the 5 star visitors who will still stay in Melbourne. The tender process has shown that there is very little demand for five-star accommodation in Ballarat. I ask the question: "Why should the goods shed and the surrounding land be sold to a developer through a huge subsidy and not be retained for the use of our travelling public?" Every square inch of this valuable parcel of government-owned land should be retained for commuter use to allow for expansion of facilities, and parking both for the present and for the planned 150,000 population planned for our great city.
I urge your readers to contact Jaala Pulford MLC, Sharon Knight MLA and Geoff Howard MLA to express your concerns about the proposal to redevelop the railway precinct. I am sure Josh Morris, MLC would only be too pleased to discuss this issue with you.
The apartment hotel and convention centre plans should be scrapped and the whole precinct be used for transport purposes.
We still have the opportunity to spend the $32 million of government funds allocated to this project to build the precinct into the best transport terminal in Australia, and not to flush much of these funds down the drain and into the Yarrowee Creek.
- Paul Jenkins, Alfredton