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Arty boost for ‘Gatha

LEONGATHA’ S future is looking bright according to South Gippsland Shire mayor Cr Don Hill.

Last week Cr Hill said he is pleased to see Michaels IGA, Aldi and Woolworths investing in their retail spaces, the newly opened Wakachi Japanese eatery “is going gang busters, Sweet Life is moving and expanding, CPK McLaren MotorBody has expanded, the shops on Long Street are doing well, Tradelink is renovating and the Powney’s land is being used to grow the industrial agriculture sector”.

Cr Andrew McEwen also put forward some positive ideas when questioned by The Star about revitalising Leongatha and he suggested a couple of projects that could be run by the town.

He suggested an annual major sculpture competition for Bair Street with winning sculptures through time forming a sculpture trail along the spine of the town and the development of a proper theatre for arts and culture.

“We are very strong in sports, but we are also a leading arts community which we should capitalise on. Arts along with food and wine are major attractors for tourists and new residents.

Commenting on how council could push for more business in Leongatha and see the Bair Street revamp project get off the ground and newly elected Leongatha based Cr Jim Fawcett said, “We are a market based free enterprise society. Council is therefore constrained in what action it can directly take to benefit individual businesses.

“What it must do is provide the planning process and supportive infrastructure that encourages business to open and consumers to shop in our town.

“Small retailing is a hard gig across Australia and not specific to Leongatha. Competition from online and the larger retailers is fierce.

“The days are long gone when you could simply open a shop, provide reasonable service and prosper. Now you need to provide exceptional service, understand consumer trends and choices, give an exciting or unique shopping experience while at the same time have a price that is within cooee of the corporate retailers.

“Previous Councils put in place plans for Bair Street and the railway precinct and saw the completion of the Anderson Street entrance and town centre bypass.

“The previous Council to this also provided over $30 million for infrastructure in the capital works program that recognises Leongatha is the largest town in terms of population, rate revenue, manufacturing, education, health and professional and industry services.

“The current group of councillors has removed altogether or deferred many of those programs years into the future and allocated that money elsewhere. Their behaviour over the last two years has also impacted on our advocacy role and our ability to attract grant funding. I will leave it up to readers to judge their commitment to our fine town.

“It is not all doom and gloom. The retail sector is but one part of our town, it is concerning that there are vacant shops and yes lack of places to get a coffee on a Sunday afternoon but that in no way reflects our real strengths. We have dynamic retailers, we have strong population and employment growth, we are the service and industry hub of South Gippsland. I am extremely optimistic for our future.

“What we should not do is be complacent about our position. I would encourage residents to challenge all councillors on their willingness to advance Leongatha.

“What is needed is real money spent on infrastructure, sooner rather than later.”

As to the $5.4M Bair Street revitalisation project that Council did indicate when the heavy vehicle alternate route around Leongatha was established and the trucks were removed from Bair Street would proceed.

Cr Hill said, “The Heavy Vehicle Route has only been open for two years. In strategic planning terms this is not ‘an eternity’.

“In that time officers have done the community consultation, presented several different options to Council and then back to the community, undertaken the complex civil design work and pursued a number of grant opportunities.

He said, “Council has done all the strategic planning to support a revitalised Bair St precinct, but without Federal Government support to supplement the money that Council has allocated then the project will remain on hold.

“The Leongatha Revitalisation Project (which includes Bair Street redevelopment) is still a priority project of Council. 

“In November 2018, Council submitted an application to the Federal Government’s Building Better Region’s Fund for the Leongatha Business Precinct Redevelopment Project to complete works identified in the Bair Street Redevelopment Master Plan.

If residents and the business association want to assist then I encourage them to contact Russell Broadbent’s office and pressure him to support this project. They could also contact Jess O’Donnell, the ALP candidate for Monash.

“Since the completion of the Heavy Vehicle Alternate Route at the end of 2016, Council completed the master planning process for Bair Street which was approved by Council in August 2016 following significant community consultation.

“Council has subsequently completed the detailed civil design based on the masterplan ready for tendering when funding becomes available. In 2017, Council sought funding through Regional Development Victoria in 2017 but this submission was not invited to application. In November 2018, Council submitted an application for funding under the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund (See Nov 2018 Council minutes) and is awaiting the outcome of that submission. Council is also giving consideration to an application for funding of $1.5M under Round 2 of the State Government’s Fixing Country Roads Program which is expected to open in February 2019. Consultation has been undertaken with the funding body; Regional Roads Victoria, regarding the eligibility of the project.

“Councils and governments can only do so much. Success in towns is driven by Council, people and organisations working together. 

As to how much longer Leongatha has to wait for this project to start and Cr Hill said,

“Timing of the project is dependent on grant funding, the community should be putting pressure on our Federal Government  – look at the Long Jetty and what can happen when the community gets behind a project.

 “Council has consistently spent more money per head in Leongatha than other areas. It has committed over $13m for projects in Leongatha. It has had a series for workshops with leading place makers and main street developers to help towns help themselves.

“Unfortunately Leongatha does not have a community plan or vision. Council would be willing to resource the development of a plan and vision for Leongatha.

The Star put it to Cr Hill that former Council planning chief  Phil Stone said some time ago that he believed Leongatha has positive economic future and the right planning measures are in place to help new businesses establish.

Cr Hill said, “This time last year we adopted the Economic Development and Tourism Strategy. You can read it here: http://www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au/downloads/file/2587/economic_development_and_tourism_strategy_2018-2020

“I believe we have done a great job in fostering business development in South Gippsland. Look at Loch, Korumburra, Mirboo North, Meeniyan, Foster, Fish Creek. These towns are booming.

“Part of the issue in Leongatha is that we previously had semi-industrial businesses like Knight’s and Gleeson’s and hardware stores in the main streets. So when these sorts of businesses move to the more appropriate areas such as the industrial estate then it can leave large main street sites unoccupied.

“There’s not necessarily fewer businesses in the town, it just leaves conspicuous vacancies in the main streets. Further to that I’d point to our unemployment rate, which is the lowest in Gippsland and lower than the state average.

“Council has reduced fees and charges in relation to small businesses to encourage businesses to move here.”

As to the remaining empty shops in the town and how the council could assist to see some action in attracting new business to the town and Cr Hill said, “When potential new business owners look at Leongatha and see rents that are higher than makes sense from a commercial perspective they look at other towns for a location.

“There is no justification for such excessive rent demands and the commercial decision to reduce rents to a sustainable sensible level lies with the landlords.

“The responsibility for the empty shopfronts rests primarily with the landlords. If rents are too high to encourage new businesses into town then the local residents and the business association should be putting pressure on those who set the rents”

As for the Leongatha’s industrial zone and what Council’s strategy is to grow this sector and encourage new business and Cr Hill said, “Powney’s land on the way out to Koonwarra has been rezoned for just this reason”. 

Commenting on how to fill the empty shops and get the Bair Street beautification project started and Cr McEwan said from a personal view point, “Success is an elusive quantity for small towns”.

“Many towns are under stress and are declining. Online shopping is becoming more pervasive and is disruptive to retail businesses. The world has changed from towns just being product, service and business centres. Successful towns attract people and have distinctive attractors that draw people in and give people unique experiences.

“Loch has the food and wine festival, Loch Distillery and  Gin, cloths and village qualities, Fish Creek has five art galleries, the Fishy Pub with its fish sculpture, quality food and coffee,  Meeniyan has the Garlic Festival, art gallery, quality food, the pub, gifts, cloths, Outer Space sculptures and Meeniyan Square, Korumburra has developed the Borough Department Store, a new brewery, a bespoke bike shop, Grow Lightly and a new fish shop and  Mirboo North has its picturesque pool, a brewery, cafes, arts and Italian Fiesta.

“Korumburra is still waiting for Commercial Street and its community hub,  Foster had to wait many years for its Main Street renewal and Loch Main Street will be done this year, but it had to wait seven years.

“Being successful is based on hard work and shared leadership. It needs a clear future vision and plan. Successful towns have a structure and process that engages and involves all interests in decision making and implementation. They identify and develop attractors for people to the town. Successful towns have a distinctive personality and character that people are attracted to experience.

“Having vacant shops and very expensive rents does not help.

“Meeniyan has reinvented itself doubling its employment in 10 years and attracted some 10 new businesses to grow from 21 to 31 in two years. The Business and Traders Association, the progress associated, the recrecreation reserve committee and the Festivals and Events Committee along with individuals and businesses have worked together with a vision for a prosperous future.

“Council is more than willing to partner with the community. The lesson of the success of small towns is the willingness for the community to work together, developing a great community plan with a shared vision.

“We do need contemporary facilities and main streets for all our main towns and we need help from State and Federal Government for funding these projects.

“I argued unsuccessfully in the last council when there were 17 vacant shops for a town vision and plan and funding of a business development facilitator or place maker for the town.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=27182

Posted by on Jan 22 2019. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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