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Petition started

Petition started

Horsham Ratepayers group doing their best to halt city to river plans

A ratepayers’ group has launched a petition aimed at stalling Horsham Rural City Council plans to redevelop the city during the next two decades.

Horsham Rural Ratepayers and Residents, HRRR, unveiled a petition at a meeting on Sunday calling for the council to suspend work under the umbrella of its Transforming Horsham project until ‘an acceptable level of community engagement, inclusion and transparency of process in these and other future plans by the council has been resolved’.

Included under the Transforming Horsham project are a City to River Masterplan, Horsham Urban Transport Plan, Open Space Strategy and Horsham South Structure Plan.

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HRRR president Di Bell said the group was confident it could get enough community backing to force the council to rethink the projects.

She said the group’s primary concerns were a perceived lack of community engagement during the formulation of the plans and that ratepayers did not know how much they would cost.

“Because people weren’t consulted early in the piece this is what it has come to,” she said.

“If you’re doing true community engagement, you work with the community before you hire consultants.

“You can still bring in ideas through that process – ideas that the community might not have thought about, but you go to them first.

“It was a consultant-driven plan initially, and we’re not confident it will be adjusted appropriately to reflect what the community actually wants.”

HRRR member and former Horsham mayor Kevin Dellar said the group had a litany of issues with the plans in their draft form, including the removal of lawn tennis and croquet courts and the Sawyer Park Miniature Railway from Horsham Botanic Gardens; a proposed multi-sport venue being built partially on a floodplain; the removal of angled parking spaces in the central business district in favour of parallel parks; the closure of McBryde Street; and the redevelopment of Horsham City Oval potentially encroaching on Sawyer Park.

“It’s taking us on a pathway that hasn’t got the public on board,” he said.

“No way on earth would any of us councillors from 12 or 15 years ago ever even have considered any of these proposals without first breaking the water with the people.

“They’ve brought consultants in from day one and the people have been tagging along behind.”

Broad vision

But council chief executive Sunil Bhalla said the plans were still in their infancy and only represented a broad vision.

He said the council’s objective had always been to incorporate more community feedback into the plan as it moved into more technical design stages.

“There are many other layers of community engagement,” he said. “People need to understand this is not a done deal, this is the first step in a multi-step process.

“We’ve done a number of strategies over the years and we’ve felt a general frustration in the community that we’ve done this strategic work and it hasn’t actually led to anything. This was about putting together all the strategic work we’ve done in the past so we’re not reinventing the wheel.”

Mr Bhalla said the community response to the draft City to River plan was one of the largest the council had seen.

“The fact that we received 740 submissions on the City to River plan is a reflection of how the community has become involved,” he said.

“This sets a new benchmark in community engagement, not only for Horsham but for the region.

“That many submissions is fantastic, and like any community engagement process there are strong views.

“There are some people who support some elements and some people who oppose certain elements, but the one common denominator is that everyone recognises that as a council we need to have a long-term vision and a plan as a regional city.”

Mrs Bell also attended a meeting of CBD business owners last night and said there was now a focus on creating community working groups for areas that would be affected by the plans.

Mr Bhalla welcomed the suggestion and said it would allow the council and community to be on the same page.

“I would absolutely be in favour of community working groups forming for certain areas,” he said.

“As we move forward into the next stages I think we would have a community reference group so we get broad community representation into the process.

“I think when you have many heads at the table, collectively you do come up with a lot of good ideas, and that’s something we certainly support.”

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