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    Horsham Rural City councillor John Robinson

Horsham councillor John Robinson fuels planning debate

A Horsham municipal councillor has added further fuel to debate regarding a Horsham Rural City Council City to River project, claiming a lack of credibility in many community submissions.

Cr John Robinson, in a letter to The Weekly Advertiser, said he believed results of a community survey fell well short  of providing a mandate for the council to proceed with large-scale redevelopment plans.

Here is his letter – 

SIR, – At the November 25 ordinary meeting of Horsham council  I endeavoured, without success, to achieve clarity on the number and validity of submissions received on the ‘City to River’ project.

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 I did this following widespread ratepayer concerns regarding the questions asked, the interpretation of the submissions, as well as the acceptance of votes of children, in what is an extremely complex process.   

Approximately 265 of the 740 responses to City to River appear invalid  – leaving 475 valid votes.

• Ninety-five submissions have no valid name.

• About 150 submissions are from children aged 15 years or less. 

• An estimated 20 submissions in the 16-25 age bracket are under 18 years of age.

Analysis of all 740 responses

• There is no overall support for the draft master plan despite an unprecedented campaign.

• The ‘clear support’ vote represents a mere one percent of the Horsham municipal population of 20,000.   

An acceptance level of 85 percent or above might provide a mandate to spend $100-million plus of ratepayer and taxpayer funds and to justify the significant community upheaval.

• Clearly on the basis of the survey there is no such mandate.

• Increasing community calls to halt the process cannot be ignored.

City to River projects already cancelled or modified 

Community pushback has already highlighted a substantial lack of support for the project:

• The petition to save McBryde Street received 550 valid signatures and forced a council backflip.

• The Facebook response – about 500 hits – and other criticism of the planned parallel and reduced parking in the CBD now has the council stating that it did not suggest this.

• Community response to the disposal of long-standing clubs – lawn tennis, croquet and the miniature-rail group, with no prior consultation – has forced a partial back-down.

• There has been no community discussion nor mandate given to dismantle the Soundshell and Sawyer Park, which seem to be inevitable consequences of the proposal to turn Horsham City Oval 90 degrees and expand it to AFL size. 

• The planned civic square in the middle of the police station has been abandoned.   

Community confidence in the process is essential

The City to River process has been driven by the chief executive and senior council staff working with consultants. Councillors and our community had no say in what projects our council prioritised for funding support in the lead-up to the last election.

No cost estimates were provided, and in fact, assurances were given that there would be no costs associated with approving the plan. 

Cr David Grimble sought to address the integrity issues with a motion to have the City to River process independently audited.

This proposal was rejected and this now leaves the credibility of the whole process exposed. 

My earlier rescission motion to create the opportunity for further community engagement and for councillors to more closely examine the whole proposal prior to public display was also rejected.

How can the community move forward?

The first task is to remove all projects that can never succeed, either because of technical, financial, historic or other valid reasons.

This process has already started with the removal from the plan of the proposed city square from the middle of the police station and the removal of an artificial lake. We don’t need to pay consultants to tell us the obvious.

To allow for community stability we need to re-affirm the tenancy of those groups, organisations and individuals that have been impacted and are clearly not going to be moved.    

We can then genuinely focus and engage with the community on those projects that are achievable, have widespread community support and are incorporated in our council plan as part of our existing vision.

Examples include riverfront improvements not just near the central activity district but from the Riverside Bridge to the weir, enhancements to the CBD and encouraging but not building a riverside café.

We might need to consider a community advisory committee such as the rates committee to assist us in this endeavour.

John Robinson BM OAM

Horsham Rural City Councillor

The entire December 4, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!