Off track – golden opportunity to enhance Leongatha slipping
IMPROVING Leongatha’s former rail yard appears to not be a high priority for South Gippsland Shire Council, despite council naming the site a “priority project”.
Council lists “Development of Leongatha Rail Yard” in its document Priority Projects for Support, published June 2013.
But despite VicTrack, which owns the land, being willing to discuss selling the land to council, council has no immediate plans to secure use of the wasted yard.
Social planning officer Vicki Bradley last week told The Star, “There are some other priorities that are higher on the list.”
By letting the land lie empty, council is missing an opportunity to reinvigorate Leongatha’s CBD.
Business owners are becoming frustrated with the delays while some shops on Bair Street have stood empty for more than three years.
Sandra Fleming, secretary/treasurer of Leongatha Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the rail yard could be converted into car parking, and a stunning park to host markets and cultural events.
The issue had been stagnating for too long and was holding the town back, Ms Fleming said.
She called for authorities to act and transform the ugly rail yard into a place the community could be proud of.
“Regardless of what happens to it, it should be cleaned up because it looks quite untidy,” she said.
Council mayor Cr Jim Fawcett echoed her sentiment, saying that uses of the land “could be a range of things, not least of which would be to tidy up and use a fairly vital piece of central Leongatha.”
South Gippsland Tourist Railway line supervisor Step O’Rafferty said VicTrack owns the land and currently leases it to the tourist railway, which would consider relinquishing its lease if council wanted to use the land.
He was also positive about the concept of a partial lease wherein the tourist railway would lease the rail line and the station, and council would lease the yard.
“That would be great for us,” he said.
“At the moment I have to keep the weeds off that whole block.
“It can be done with a land use agreement with South Gippsland Tourist Railway.”
Mr O’Rafferty speculated VicTrack might hesitate to relinquish control of the land in case the rail line to Melbourne is ever reopened.
However, VicTrack spokesperson Jason Murray said, “VicTrack is open to selling the land to council and that’s something that’s been bubbling away for a period of time, but that would require council coming to us and opening up a discussion about purchasing the land.”
Cr Fawcett indicated council might be interested in the land for car parking or for council offices.
However, council’s director of development services Phil Stone said, “There is no plan in place at this stage to either purchase it or to start to develop any kind of investment.”
Ms Bradley pointed out the alternative truck route around the CBD would affect the rail yard because it is close by.
The alternative truck route along Long Street is an example of a high priority for council at the moment, she said.
Local business owners came up with various ideas for using the rail yard when asked by The Star.
“You’ll still be asking this question in 20 years’ time,” Shirleyanne Wright of Shan’s Lingerie and Leisure warned.
“I’d like to see some parkland, definitely, or an entertainment complex.
“Maybe more long-term car parking with access to the main street.”
Ms Fleming also raised several possibilities.
“Maybe the old station could be developed into a cafe and people could come off the bus and eat there,” she said.
“Perhaps the old railway land could be developed for parking and perhaps we could have the footbridge back and we would then have access to the street.
“If we had nice parkland there, we could have markets there because we do not have a wide space like Mirboo North and Meeniyan do.
“People coming from Melbourne would have no option but to see it and markets bring people to town and they do other things while they are there.
“We are trying to get the Daffodil Festival bigger and to have a park would be ideal for that.”
Ms Fleming was keen to see public discussion about how the site could be used.
The Draft Leongatha Community Infrastructure Plan is currently open to public comment.
Find it among the exhibition documents on council’s website and either submit your thoughts or attend the drop in session on Thursday, February 6.
Submissions close Friday, February 14.
Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=9804