We need Ballarat to get back on track for its future

Last Wednesday Heritage Victoria announced that an application from the Pellicano Group to build self-contained apartments on a large excised section of prime land at the Ballarat Railway Station had been approved. This approval also includes internal alterations to the heritage goods shed to allow for a small conference centre and retail spaces. This proposal, to my mind, is economic vandalism.

From the outset the Save Our Station (SOS) group, of which I am a member, has been responsible in ensuring that, where possible, we were dealing with the facts, trying to get cut-through from the political spin of the state government. When we regularly sought information from the government and its departments on the proposed redevelopment of the Ballarat Station precinct, our freedom-of-information requests were often refused, making us very suspicious of the activities at Spring Street.

We clearly want the station precinct developed; the issues we faced were the continuing dilapidation of the precinct through the neglect of successive governments and the lack of advocacy for the station from successive councils on behalf of the community.

Our fundamental concerns relate to car parking and access. Current public parking will be reduced by 80 spaces, with no provision for future growth. Access for people with mobility issues is missing entirely from the government’s proposal. Despite promising to spend a combined $550 million on upgrading the rail line between Ballarat and Melbourne, and Stage 1 of the Ballarat Station Master Plan, our central station will be the only one on the entire line that is not Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant when it is fully upgraded at the completion of works in 2019. 

Even last Wednesday’s media release from the government is misleading. It suggests that the government is spending $25 million when in fact it has promised to date $32 million. Not to mention the subsidy of $15 million it has gifted to the developer to establish self-contained apartments/hotel and convention space and retail that will compete directly with unsubsidised Ballarat accommodation and conferencing providers. Where is the fairness in this?

The Save Our Station group acknowledges that the government has taken notice of some of our concerns. However, over 90 per cent of people surveyed recognised the need for a fully integrated transport hub, and that this proposed development is not the appropriate way forward for the station and will be a disaster for commuters into the long-term future.

We are seriously concerned about the processes that have occurred to date and the fact that the original master plan for the station precinct has been seriously if not irrevocably compromised. Added to this concern are the ad-hoc announcements made more recently by the state government, where there has been no plan or strategy.

As we have maintained from the beginning of our campaign, the proposals to date remain inadequate for the future of the Ballarat Central Railway Station precinct – no fully integrated transport hub plan, no disability access, and insufficient car parking – which will result in commuter chaos.

Can you imagine what $32million could have done to transform our station into a 21st-century transport facility, something the Ballarat community desperately needs? Ballarat’s future is predicated on fast, efficient train services, and, as we have continually reaffirmed, the station platforms and associated facilities must be brought into line with 21st-century commuter facilities. That $32 million would go a long way to achieving this goal.

It is time for Ballarat’s leaders to come on board and demand a better outcome for our central station and for Ballarat’s future.

Ron Egeberg

Soldiers Hill

This story Letters first appeared on The Courier.