Community & Business

31 May, 2024

Expansion hopes dashed

THE expansion hopes of Tolga Industrial Estate businesses have been dashed after Tablelands Regional Council overturned the previous council’s decision to pursue a plan that would have allowed them to expand 15m into the rail corridor.

Expansion hopes dashed - feature photo

At last week’s meeting Mayor Rod Marti finally managed to halt the proposed expansion of the businesses into the 30m-wide rail trail corridor – something he has been trying to do for the past year but never had the numbers in the chamber to stop the process.

The saga has been going on since February 2023 when the council agreed to develop a plan to guide the future development of the industrial estate and that section of the rail trail after years of requests by businesses to expand their holdings.

At its June 2023 meeting, council resolved to adopt the Tolga Industrial Estate and Rail Trail Development Plan Project Management Plan and subsequently, completed costings of the infrastructure required and sent out letters to businesses to ascertain whether they would be prepared to pay their part.

But at last week’s meeting, the Mayor moved that all action on the proposed expansion cease, reiterating his views that the rail trail was too great an asset to be compromised.

“I appreciate it’s a really hard decision, especially for new councillors …. (but) it’s a critically important one for the future of the Tablelands – rail trails are booming throughout Queensland and Australia as they have done in New Zealand and other parts of the world,” he said.

“Our rail trail is in its infancy but we should not discount just what such a living asset can deliver.

“In a few short years, it will be much busier than it is now – especially the section from Atherton to Tolga.”

He said while he understood the desire of industrial estate businesses to expand and “consume” half the rail trail, he asked what the community would get in return.

“What’s in it for the wider community? The expansion of industrial land into the rail trail has no community payoff. The rail trail gets pushed aside to allow for expansion of industrial land,” Mayor Marti said.

“This motion is not about diminishing industry, it’s about looking back in years to come to see the amazing asset we have preserved.”

Cr Kevin Cardew was the only opposing voice to the Mayor’s motion and made it clear he was “disappointed” that the Mayor would seek to undo everything the previous council had put in place over the past year.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort to get where it is at the moment,” he said.

“To change this now is disrespectful to the previous council and we have come too far to cut it at the knees like this – I think it will bring reputational damage to this council no end.

“I don’t see how developers and the community can have confidence in this council if we’re going to do things like this (reverse the direction) – it’s not right at all.”

Cr Cardew said the council should wait for the responses from businesses who had already been sent management agreements to see if all of them were prepared to go ahead and pay the costs involved.

“It all hinges on everyone being in agreement and if one of those property owners along that rail trail decides they don’t want to be in it for any reason, then the whole thing falls over anyway,” he said.

“We should let this play out, we’ve come too far to stop this now – everything is in place and we should wait to see if they’re (the businesses) fair dinkum – if they’re not, it will dead in the water and the Mayor will have achieved his outcome anyway.”

Cr Cardew also raised the prospect of the decision setting a precedent that would affect future opportunities for small businesses to establish along the trail from Kuranda all the way to Ravenshoe.

“It’s untapped, there are opportunities for lots of businesses along the way and it would be unique – I can’t understand why the Mayor would want to do this,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Cr Dave Bilney said his position had been clear from the outset and had not changed. 

“I hold a strong view that there is no community benefit whatsoever to continue on with the expansion into community-benefit lands,” he said.

“I do agree about exposing the true potential of the rail trail and we will work towards this but I see the costs of this continue to spiral – it needs to cease and we can all move on.”

Cr Lang said she thought it was a “waste of community money having to relocate infrastructure unnecessarily” and it “had to stop”.

Cr Con Spanos said he thought “new” councillors were possibly not in the position to make a decision, and did not have the full views of both the estate businesses or the supporters of the rail trail.

“There is an opportunity to let this play out, as Kev said,” he said.

“I like to be fair with the business at the estate and the people who are interested in the rail trail and I think I need more time. It’s been dragging on for over five years now - a few more weeks? What will that do?”

But despite this, he ended up voting with the majority for the Mayor’s motion, with Cr Cardew the only councillor who voted against it.


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