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Community & Business

28 November, 2023

Green light for business expansion into rail trail

APPLAUSE turned to disappointment for a large contingent of Atherton Rail Trail supporters after Tablelands Regional Council voted last week to allow Tolga Industrial Estate businesses to expand into the corridor.

By Robyn Holmes

A large contingent of rail trail users turned up to plead with council not to allow businesses to expand into the rail trail corridor.
A large contingent of rail trail users turned up to plead with council not to allow businesses to expand into the rail trail corridor.

Before the meeting, SAO group member Kathy Kilpatrick gave a deputation on behalf of all rail trail users in a last ditch attempt to sway councillors to leave the corridor as it is and was loudly applauded at the end of her speech.

“We have one chance to save our rail corridor as once this group of councillors votes against our community asset, our rail trail will be diminished and will never be the green space it could be,” she said.

“As members of this vibrant and beautiful area and members of our strong community, one must wonder why the wants of a few ratepayers takes priority over the whole of our ratepayers in this shire.”

Ms Kilpatrick told the council the rail trail should be “cherished”, outlining all the economic, social and health benefits of the trail, and said reasons such as but her words did not shift Crs David Clifton, Peter Hodge, Kevin Cardew and Bernie Wilce who eventually voted for the expansion plan which would allow businesses to expand up to 15m into the corridor.

During the debate, Crs Wilce and Clifton were damning of those who sent “threatening” and insulting emails full of “innuendos” trying to “intimidate” them into voting in favour of leaving the rail trail alone.

Both councillors spoke of their commitment to their job which sometimes meant making hard decisions and people should not attack them personally for doing what they were elected to do.

“Some of the letters and emails were appalling in their content and I can say I will not be hanging my head in shame after today’s decision as one woman suggested I should,” Cr Clifton said.

“There is nothing sacrosanct about the Rail Trail.  Its former use was industrial/transport and now its future usage is emerging.

“It is not a ‘one or the other’ situation and I support the principle that a community asset can be used by differing sections of the community without adversely affecting each other’s use.”

Cr Wilce said he was disappointed in the whole process.

“I am disappointed in the number of insults, innuendos, suggestions, the condemnation that myself and fellow councillors have been getting should this proposal get up today,” he said.

“We have to make a decision, and I’ve been told that should I support the expansion into the rail trail that I am experiencing my one and only term as a councillor – well, so be it.

“I am not intimidated by that, I’m not concerned by that - I am here to make a decision for all of the community, not just a select few.”

Cr Wilce applauded the dedication and passion of rail trail users but he stressed that allowing the expansion of the businesses did not mean the rail trail would be closed or lost, saying there was ample room for the trail to operate effectively.

Cr Kevin Cardew agreed, saying that allowing businesses to expand would mean more economic benefits for the area, more jobs, and the ability to address long-standing stormwater issues at the estate and, at the same time, the trail would still be able to operate.

“I want to be very clear – it’s not my intention or that of this council to take away or reduce the ability of recreational users using and enjoying this section of rail trail.

“There is more than enough room to accommodate everyone – the way I see it everyone is a winner.”

Cr Peter Hodge agreed, saying the corridor was 30m wide and if everyone collaborated, the area could be a “great space for everyone”.

But Mayor Rod Marti and Cr Dave Bilney argued strongly against allowing any expansion of businesses into the rail trail.

“It is my view that the wider community who will be affected by this decision has not been consulted sufficiently to capture the broader appetite for what is being proposed,” Cr Bilney said.

While acknowledging the role the businesses played in the local economy, Cr Bilney said the region had yet to see the true economic potential of the rail trail.

Mayor Marti reiterated his stance that “slicing and dicing” the rail trail was not in the community’s interest.

“It is in no way reflective of a strategic or progressive way forward for this community or this council.

“The idea that these landholders, these business owners have a greater claim or given right to take over public land, for me, is very challenging.

“What gives this council the right to facilitate and underwrite that transfer? The scenario we are in now has council using ratepayers’ money to process and facilitate the closed and private transfer, and ultimate freeholding of public land.

“This is not something I will ever support, I urge every one of you to consider the community first and foremost ahead of a few private business owners.”

The proposal to allow the expansion of businesses up to 15m into the rail trail corridor was passed 4-2.

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