Extending the Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) north-west from Leongatha to Korumburra and then on to Nyora is on top of the South Gippsland Shire Council’s list of five priority projects for advocacy in 2019/2020.
The council will now lobby the Victorian and federal governments for the balance of $2 million still needed to pay for the two-stage $6 million project to convert 36 kilometres of former railway line to a walking, cycling and horse-riding path.
The Rail Trail currently runs south-east from Leongatha to Port Welshpool, a distance of about 71 kilometres.
Shire funding of $4 million has already been earmarked in the 2019/2020 budget for the two Rail Trail extensions, which are first and second on the list.
In third place is the $6.5 million Korumburra Community Hub project, which still needs $2.4 million to add to the council’s budgeted $4.1 million to relocate and modernise the Korumburra Library and re-house several local groups and services.
In fourth position is the Korumburra Streetscape, with the Leongatha Community Hub fifth on the priority list. Both of these projects are still being developed but are anticipated to be ready to proceed within a year or so.
Shire council administrator Rick Brown said he was “pleased that this year’s priority projects are now confirmed”, after the administration panel voting to adopt the list at the ordinary council meeting held at Leongatha on Wednesday September 25, 2019.
“Only two-thirds of the shire’s underlying income comes from rates and consequently, very few major projects in South Gippsland Shire happen without the support of state or federal governments,” he said.
“Every year Council lobbies governments to get that support and it is important that the lobbying be targeted by nominating specific projects as the Shire’s top priorities.
“South Gippsland Shire Council has a strong track record lobbying for its priority projects, and we believe that the projects that we are nominating this year can deliver strong strategic outcomes for the Shire,” Mr Brown said.
“This year’s projects are focused on our two major centres. We believe it is essential that these towns thrive for the shire as a whole to grow.”
“We expect that extending the Great Southern Rail Trail from Leongatha to Nyora will be an economic benefit to the shire,” he said.
“Since the opening of the Rail Trail from Leongatha to Welshpool visitor spend has increased by $2.6 million, up by six per cent.”
A report to the council also noted that “after completing the [GSRT’s] missing link between Koonwarra and Meeniyan there was an increase in visitor spend by 15 per cent in the following peak season across these two towns.”
Mr Brown said “there are those who pin their hopes for the future of the shire on the return of passenger rail services to Korumburra and Leongatha, and whether or not this hope is realistic is a matter of opinion.
“Regardless of people’s views on this hope, what is clear is that it is not going to happen any time soon and the shire cannot sit on its hands in the meantime,” he said.
“Turning the Trail into something which is both a social and economic benefit to the residents of the Shire will create an asset for the community.
Rail Trail may reach to Clyde
A report in the September 25, 2019 meeting agenda stated that “the long-term vision is to develop Australia’s longest rail trail in partnership with adjoining municipal councils.
“To support advocacy efforts, [the] council in partnership with Cardinia Shire Council and the City of Casey have engaged [consultants] to undertake a cost benefit analysis and economic impact study for the entire rail trail extension from Leongatha to Clyde,” the report continued.“To realise the full benefit of the GSRT, [South Gippsland Shire] Council will support any advocacy efforts of the Cardinia Shire Council and City of Casey for the trail to extend beyond Nyora to Clyde.”