SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council recorded a vote split six in favour and three against paying to reseal a section of no-through road in Poowong at the open ordinary meeting held in Leongatha on Wednesday March 16, 2022.
The three dissenting councillors were generally seeking to “avoid setting a precedent”, that of spending council funds to fix a matter that Cr Sarah Gilligan summed up as having “a long history of mistakes and faults made by many parties.”
The council had resolved in December 2021 to discontinue a 3430-square-metre area of Gardner Lane next to the Poowong Abattoir and to sell the land to the adjoining landowner and abattoir operator, GBP Australia Pty Ltd, in order to separate livestock trucks accessing the facility well away from other road users.
In addition, the council had voted to build a replacement section of gravel road to serve Gardner Lane residents, property owners and businesses located beside and beyond the abattoir, parallel to the existing road that had been sealed some 20 years ago at the abattoir’s expense.
After the December 2021 decision the council received submissions from several Gardner Lane property and business owners objecting not so much to the proposed road discontinuation and land sale but to the new roadway being made of gravel and not bitumen.
At last Wednesday’s meeting Cr John Schelling, seconded by Cr Adrian Darakai, moved that the identified section of Gardner Lane be discontinued, and the land “sold at a price no less than its valuation as determined by Council’s Valuer not more than six months before the sale.”
The motion also called to “construct the new section of Gardner Lane as a sealed road on the basis that the renewal of the road should not be at a lesser standard than what Council currently provides, being a sealed road.”
Cr Schelling added a request to the motion for a report on replacing trees removed during the road building works to be tabled at the May 18, 2022 ordinary council meeting, too.
“This has been an ongoing issue for many, many years, and the expectations of the surrounding businesses in the area are to retain a bitumen road, to ensure that the businesses, especially the slaughterhouse, complies, and jobs are kept in the Poowong area,” he said.
“There are savings as we go forward in the grading of roads and onwards if we make this a bitumen road, and it really will solve the issue that we’ve been experiencing for a long time in that area.”
Even though he supported the motion, Cr Darakai expressed concern about “the precedent this [selling public land that would in effect benefit private enterprise] could set may have astronomical financial and ethical consequences.”
Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cr Darakai said, “a man is usually more careful with his money than his principles, and here we are voting on a matter putting both money and principles on the line in what essentially is a compromise, making up for questionable decisions by the council and the abattoir.
“Whether you’re a café in Nyora, a stockfeed store in Leongatha or a real estate agents in Foster you must meet your legal obligations without the expectation that the council will foot the bill,” he said.
“Ripping up bitumen to replace it with gravel is not a better way forward … and sealing Gardner Lane is common sense.”
Deputy Mayor Cr Nathan Hersey said that while “it’s important to ensure safety for the users, residents and businesses of Gardner Lane, unnecessary expenditure of council funds to seal a dead-end road that doesn’t go anywhere does not pass the pub test.”
Cr Gilligan said the Gardner Lane matter’s “long history has been complex” with “mistakes and faults made by many parties.
“I would hate for this to become a precent in the future,” she said.
Speaking for the motion, Cr Mick Felton said “this matter should never have been allowed to go on for so long.
“We need to get this item fixed; it needs to come to an end whichever way and should not become a precedent.”Mayor Mohya Davies put the motion, with Crs Schelling, Darakai, Felton, Jenni Keerie, Clare Williams and herself voting for, and Crs Gilligan, Hersey, and Scott Rae against, in one of the first non-unanimous decisions of the recently-returned South Gippsland Shire Council so far.