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CFA urged to move out of retail hub

Not in Bair Street: calling on the Country Fire Authority to find an alternative site for a new fire station in Leongatha, were front, from left: Kathy Smith, Sandra Fleming and Shirleyanne Wright. Back: John Schelling, Alan Steenholdt and Glenn Wright.

LEONGATHA traders have called on the Country Fire Authority to not build on future retail land in the town’s central business district.
The CFA wants to build a new fire station on vacant land in Bair Street, but traders believe the land is essential to Leongatha’s future commercial growth.
That view was backed by South Gippsland Shire Council’s planning staff, who have recommended the CFA not be granted a permit to build on vacant land between the former Gatha Hardware site and BP Service Station.
Councillors will decide the future of the development when the proposal comes before council at tomorrow’s (Wednesday) meeting.
The CFA owns the site.
The Leongatha brigade desperately needs a new station, with the existing station in Anderson Street ageing, cramped and inadequate for modern fire-fighting needs.
Traders and CFA officers put their cases to council at last Wednesday’s public presentation session.
Traders emphasised they supported the emergency service work CFA fire-fighters undertake but said the location was wrong.
Alan Steenholdt repre-sented the Leongatha Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We feel that the CFA use of the site would be an inappropriate use of very scarce and vacant retail space in Leongatha and we would hate to see it used by the CFA,” he said.
“If we want the retail sector to expand, then we would want to save it for retail space. Retail is struggling in Leongatha at the moment but it would be silly to base your decision that would stand for 50 years on that.”
Mr Steenholdt added: “There is some talk that Aldi could use the site. We believe that is a serious proposition and I believe it would be a shame for the shire to lose someone like Aldi because the space was not available for them.”
A spokesperson for Aldi ruled out a store opening in Leongatha in the short term.
“At this stage there is nothing that has been confirmed or in the pipeline, but Aldi is looking at opening stores in the area,” she said.
Phil Stone, council’s director of development services, said council has had ongoing discussions with several major retailers, “with Aldi being one of them”.
“It would be negligent of me to reveal any plans, but we feel there is real opportunity for more retail expansion in the future,” he said.
“We think there is a better use for the site than the CFA.”
Former real estate agent Murray Holderhead said the CFA “should forget about Bair Street”.
“If you can tell me of a CFA building in such a high profile site in another town, I would like to know about it,” he said.
“That piece of land is the last jewel in Leongatha’s crown. Even Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could tell you that’s not a suitable site.”
Mr Holderhead suggested the former drive-in on the South Gippsland Highway or near the railway line bridge in Koonwarra Road as alternate sites.
Mr Steenholdt said a fire station in Bair Street would be dangerous given the frequency of accidents at the nearby intersection of Bair and Church streets. That was heightened by the fact the CFA said 60 per cent of call-outs occurred during the day, when people were shopping.
He also questioned whether the site would be big enough for the CFA and believed council planners’ suggestion of relocating emergency services to a central location was a wise move.
Mr Steenholdt suggested the former Shell service station in Hughes Street or an 11 acre block at the end of Hughes Street as other possible sites.
He said while he was aware the existing station was “less than satisfactory”, Mr Steenholdt contradicted claims by the CFA that parking at the new station would not be as dangerous as at Anderson Street, as fire-fighters would have to “cross Bair Street”.
Bair Street business-woman Shirleyanne Wright echoed the pleas to retain retail space and ensure public safety.
“We only need to look and observe our neighbour, Bass Coast Shire, and how they are embracing new development and competition in the business district of Wonthaggi,” she said.
“We do not believe that an essential service such as CFA needs or warrants being situated in one of two main commercial streets in our town.”
Mrs Wright added: “We may not be here in five, 10 or 20 years but would hope for the future of this great town of Leongatha, with all our heart, that our children and grandchildren will not be saying: ‘What were you thinking of?’”
John Schelling, repre-senting Evans Petroleum, operators of the service station adjoining the CFA site, said the fire station would affect access to the service station.
He also suggested the former Shell service station as a suitable alternate site.
“I believe the fire brigade are a great bunch of people but we do not want to see a lot more traffic in Bair Street,” he said.
CFA pledges case

THE Leongatha CFA urgently needs a new station, a town planner representing the fire authority told South Gippsland Shire Council on Wednesday.
Ian d’Oliveyra said the CFA had been searching for a new site since 2007 and had evaluated several sites, but the Bair Street option was deemed the most suitable.
“We are disappointed that (council officers) are not willing to approve this application,” he said.
Mr d’Oliveyra called on council to talk with the CFA about its decision to “avoid an unpleasant confrontation”.
He urged council to defer a decision for a month to enable further consultation, adding the CFA was unaware of anyone wanting to use the site for business purposes.
CFA operations officer Simon Bloink said the existing station in Anderson Street was built in 1930 and extensions had been carried out since.
He said the current station was not big enough to cater for larger contemporary vehicles and fire-fighting gear, and volunteers are forced to cross the busy Anderson Street (highway).
Mr Bloink said the Bair Street site was accessible to volunteers who worked in the CBD.
CFA operations manager Mark Jones said Bair Street was away from residential areas, would give the brigade a high profile and enable fast response times.
“The project is fully funded and the money is available now to be built within the next financial year,” he said.
“The Leongatha brigade is a full volunteer brigade and it’s critical that the station is made available to our volunteers. The new facility will support and enhance the Leongatha brigade in protecting life and property.”
VicRoads initially rejected the proposal but last November approved it subject to traffic conditions, including emergency warning lights, being installed.
The CFA had agreed to that, to warn oncoming traffic that fire trucks were about to leave the station to attend an emergency.
“The brigade would average two call-outs a week and the majority are in daylight hours. There are about 10,000 vehicle movements in Bair Street now and 10 per cent of them are truck movements,” Mr d’Oliveyra said.
He said council planners’ recommendation the new CFA station be part of a broader emergency services precinct would take too long to eventuate.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=3188

Posted by on Mar 29 2012. 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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