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No equestrian centre for South Gippsland

An equestrian and exhibition centre will not be built in South Gippsland after a new feasibility study indicated that it might not cover its own operating costs.

South Gippsland Shire Council’s administration panel described the proposal as “not feasible” at the council’s ordinary meeting held in Leongatha on Wednesday September 25, 2019.

Horse-riding enthusiasts from throughout the municipality, including the members of pony and adult riding clubs, have been lobbying the council for more than a decade for a dedicated multipurpose equestrian and exhibition centre.

The most recent study, dated July 2019, was commissioned by the council and attached to the September 2019 ordinary meeting agenda.

The study included a summary which stated in part that “this feasibility assessment found there would be considerable benefits for the equine industry and clubs to have a local all-weather indoor equestrian arena and a hub for equestrian competition in a central location in South Gippsland.

The summary said “such a centre that meets local demand would support local clubs and riders, increase local participation and provide pathways to other levels of competition, however it is unlikely to make a profit.”

The study looked at five existing locations and one greenfield site in the shire and identified the Stony Creek Recreation Reserve as the most suitable and central location for such a development.

A report forming part of the meeting agenda “recommends that [the] council not proceed any further with the proposal”  because the study “does not provide strong justification on the demand for the facility and identifies that it is unlikely to generate enough income to cover its annual operating cost.”

The report continues that the “development of the facility would require capital investment from [the] council and a commitment to subsidise the ongoing operational and renewal expenditure.”

The report also stated that “the assets would not be on council land and without an ongoing subsidy, the proposal would be unviable.”

The equestrian centre has been discussed and evaluated in many forms for many years. In 2011 the council spent about $30,000 for concept plans and cost estimates.

In 2015 the council paid another $30,000 to investigate economic impact, management models and a business plan, and in 2018/19 a further $27,000 was put towards site investigations and a business case.

A council statement noted that “despite all this there hasn’t been a case put that strategically justifies the investment” and that “minimum construction cost estimates for development of the facility at Stony Creek were between $3-4 million.”

The statement also indicated that “in a rate capped environment this would only occur at the expense of other existing council infrastructure and services” and that “due to the outcome of the feasibility study funding from the state and federal governments would be highly unlikely.”

South Gippsland Shire Council’s administration panel chair Christian Zahra AM wanted to recognise those who had advanced the project to this stage, including the Stony Creek Equestrian Centre Working Group.

“I applaud the community interest of the people who have advanced this project however, the fact remains that this project would need significant council support to be financially sustainable.

“An ongoing public subsidy from council of up to $100,000 per year would be required,” Mr Zahra said.

“When we look at these numbers it is difficult to justify such an amount of public money going to a project of this nature.”

The panel voted to “write to the Stony Creek Equestrian Centre Working Group acknowledging its contribution and effort in pursuing this project” and to provide the working group “with access to the feasibility study for future progression.”

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