In an unusually brief - and testy - council meeting on Wednesday, discussion was dominated by two topics: plans for the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project, and the future of the heritage level crossing gates smashed by a runaway train late last month.
The first full council meeting presided over by the new interim CEO Janet Dore took place virtually due to the increased COVID-19 restrictions and discussion of the power network was first up. A hot topic this week as AusNet Services scopes out where the transmission line will run from Bulgana near Ararat to north-west Melbourne, it was raised in two separate public questions.
Director of development and planning Angelique Lush clarified the project had not been approved and the City of Ballarat was not responsible for approvals.
"We are not aware of the exact route," she told councillors. "We know exactly the same level of detail as every other community member knows." She said they were working with neighbouring councils to advocate on behalf of the community and that they were "aware of heightened concern."
Councillors will receive a report with further detail at a future assembly meeting (private meetings where councillors are briefed by City of Ballarat staff). While approving that, Cr Mark Harris said: "We've got a network of wind and solar power we need to utilise. These people need to do their jobs. I don't want to see council take a position that is really not our place to take."
IN OTHER NEWS
The meeting's final topic of discussion proved the most contentious, with council considering a late notice of motion from Cr Samantha McIntosh about the heritage level crossing gates that were badly damaged on May 30.
A completely revised motion from the one originally published was subsequently flashed on viewers' screens. It recommended affirming the heritage importance of the gates, asking VicTrack to keep council informed, and noting that council were the responsible planning authority and would deal with future planning permit application on its merits.
The original had cited a February 1997 council decision to refuse planning permission for boom gates as they would "significantly detract from the unique historical character of Ballarat."
I couldn't understand the first notice of motion at allCr Mark Harris
Several of her fellow co-councillors were strongly critical of Cr McIntosh's intervention - and raised serious safety concerns.
Cr Des Hudson said the original motion "didn't make sense" while Cr Harris was even more damning: "I couldn't understand the first notice of motion at all. I just don't think it's seemly for an authority of any description to put its views this way. I don't support the motion."
Cr Amy Johnson agreed, saying she had only 60 seconds to two minutes to consider the amended motion. "It is not an example of good governance," she said.
Mayor Ben Taylor said:" This is a well written motion [compared] to before. Why was this not presented in the first place?"
He later went on to argue for the motion to be deferred, saying he would prefer to wait for more detailed findings to come back to council from VicTrack.
While noting the heritage importance of the gates, he also said he did not want to preempt investigators' findings. He said if council forced heritage gates to be installed it could present issues in the future.
"We would be very irresponsible if we ...hold firm in a path, and an accident could happen again - we could then be liable for that problem," he said.
Cr McIntosh described the move to defer as "quite ridiculous". "I have absolute care and concern for the train driver and the passengers," she said.
She was backed by councillors Jim Rinaldi and Grant Tillett. Cr Tillett said: "How can we not proceed? This is the lifeblood of the city. We've got to make sure our heritage is front and centre."
The motion was eventually deferred by six votes to three, with Cr Rinaldi calling for a division - often requested when councillors wish their opposition to be recorded.
Other officer reports passed without fanfare or debate. They included an annual update on the council plan; a report on the City of Ballarat's recent submission of an expression of interest for state funding to help the development of regional Material Recovery Facility; and a move to streamline the council's community grants process.
There was also discussion of the city's Urban Forest Plan, which aims to increase the amount of trees in the city by 25,000 over the next 10 years. Councillors approved a recommendation to focus tree-planting in Sebastopol and Delacombe for the next financial year.
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