Tourism heavyweight says town would be better in Latrobe City
CRUMBLING infrastructure and slow maintenance shows the disconnect between Baw Baw’s north east and the rapidly growing commuter corridor, according to Walhalla & Mountain Rivers Tourism Association president Michael Leaney.
Above: One of the beams which supported a key bridge in Walhalla. Supplied.
This article was first published in the 12 September 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Get your copy now for even more news and entertainment.
Handrails, park benches, bridges, kerbing and other infrastructure has been slowly degrading over recent years with no repair or replacement, though whose responsibility some infrastructure maintenance is has been disputed by the council.
A bridge to the town’s iconic rotunda took 856 days to replace having been identified as an issue almost a decade ago. Having finally been condemned in April 2012, funding for its replacement came in the 2014/15 Baw Baw Shire budget to give access to the rotunda.
Mr Leaney, who said his views on how the council dealt with Walhalla might not be shared by other members of the tourism association, told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen he thought the council was not keen to maintain town infrastructure because its focus was on key growth areas. He also said investment in Walhalla was more likely to see returns in neighbouring Latrobe City Shire.
“It’s not the only piece of key public infrastructure in Walhalla that is literally rotting into the ground,” he said.
“There is no ongoing replacement, there is no maintenance that goes on up here.
“All the agencies love Walhalla, all have a finger in the pie, until something goes wrong, and then they all argue among themselves over who needs to do something.
“Walhalla attracts 100,000 visitors every year, but this is of little benefit to Baw Baw Shire as nearly all of the benefit flows to Latrobe City.
“Is this the reason for the lack of interest and action [on maintaining infrastructure]? Most likely. Without any economic benefit, there is hardly any incentive to do anything.”
POLL at end of article
But Baw Baw Director of Growth and Economic Development Matthew Cripps said the council was undertaking extensive planning for the Walhalla area and “any suggestion that one policy or project is all council is focused on would be misguided.”
“The recent planning work around settlement strategies and the [Warragul and Drouin] Precinct Structure Plans has been in line with State Planning policy and supporting growth in our largest townships,” he told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“This is only one piece of work the council is working on.
“Council is undertaking a specific planning project, [C110,] in Walhalla with a focus to simplify development in the township.
“Baw Baw Shire is currently undertaking significant investment and promotion of the region from an economic development perspective which the whole of the municipality will benefit from, including tourist and service [towns] like Walhalla.”
But Mr Leaney said there was no economic reason for Baw Baw to engage in major infrastructure renewal for Walhalla as any return on spending went into Latrobe City rates, not Baw Baw’s, as tourists visiting the region were more likely to go via Moe.
“The only economic benefit the council gets is the rates, all the rest goes to Latrobe City,” he said.
“If you are a rate payer in Drouin and Warragul, why the hell would you want to keep hold of a place that costs you extra money for keeping it that has very little benefit to you?
“Baw Baw is a construct of the Kennett government’s amalgamations in the 1990s. There’s not a lot of logic in it.
“Back in 1918 there was a Shire of Walhalla. It was [later] amalgamated into the shire of Narracan [which] at the time was based in Moe, and it was a logical fit and there was a direct link between this region and Moe, like there is today.
“In 1953, the Queen comes out to Australia… and on her tour she declared Moe a city. So Moe was sliced off, and Narracan was kicked off to Trafalgar.”
Mr Leaney said despite support from the Walhalla region for joining Latrobe City during the amalgamations in early 1990s, the town was placed in Baw Baw when its centre of government was moved to Warragul.
“The problem is it has set up the eastern part of the shire, the Walhalla and Mountain Rivers region to fail, because, the one problem I continually face with the council, is I can never put an economic argument to council as to why they should do anything in Walhalla,” he said.
“Because, for instance, I own the Star Hotel. Guess where my laundry is? Morwell. Guess where my vegetable supplies come from? Traralgon. Everything we do in this region is based in the Latrobe Valley.
“Tomorrow when we go shopping we’re going to Traralgon.
“We have people come up and stay here from Warragul and Drouin etcetera; they don’t even think we’re part of the Baw Baw Shire!
“If you ask people where they do this or that, it’s the Valley. All the links are there and everyone agrees it’s a little bit odd that we’re administered from Baw Baw.”
Mr Leaney said Baw Baw’s focus was on growth areas, not the north east.
“What’s going on in Drouin and Warragul is great. It’s great that there’s growth, it’s becoming very much a peri-urban region, it’s been identified by the state government as being one of the main regional areas to be earmarked for growth,” he said.
“That’s great, and it’s going to have a whole range of [growth] issues. It’s very very important, but they’re issues that affect Drouin and Warragul. What affects Drouin and Warragul is a dramatic world away from what affects us here.
“The issues that affect a small community like [Walhalla district], which only has a population of about 500 people, do you really think that’s top of mind when it comes to the majority of the shire? And the answer is no, it’s not.
“It’s the most stupid situation. I have been a long-term advocate that this region should be a part of Latrobe City. Even if my rates go up, I get some results. At the moment I pay my rates for nothing.”
Baw Baw CEO Helen Anstis told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen the council invested in towns according to needs and priorities.
“Expenditure is allocated based on maintenance, community needs, assets and priorities,” she said.
But for Mr Leaney, fighting the connection that he feels Walhalla has to the Latrobe Valley does not make sense.
“We ran the Walhalla Ljusfest festival last month. Thirty-one days it ran for. How many Baw Baw councillors do you think came? One,” he said.
“Now, Latrobe City? Two, and the CEO. Why? They didn’t come because they were councillors, they came because it was their backyard. They came up to have a look at the lights.”
But the state government has indicated no strong message had been received from the people of Walhalla that the townspeople wanted to join Latrobe City, and changing boundaries is not on Baw Baw’s agenda.
“Baw Baw Shire Council has not had any discussions regarding boundary realignment and will continue to do our best for all of the residents of Baw Baw Shire, including Walhalla,” mayor Murray Cook told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
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