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5 April, 2022

Hotel wins the day on rail trail land

ALLEGATIONS of bias have been levelled against Tablelands Regional Council as the cycling fraternity went head to head with the Tolga Hotel to convince the council not to surrender land which is part of the rail trail to accommodate additional car parking needed at the venue.

By Robyn Holmes

A cyclist uses the rail trail near the Tolga Hotel development.

Both parties were given an opportunity to address council at its recent meeting during which speakers representing the two sides made it clear they were unhappy with the way council handled the matter. 

Representing publican Tom Hedley in the matter, Matt Andrejic, from Freshwater Planning, was blunt in his assessment of the council report even though the officer’s recommendation was in favour of the land being surrendered. 

“I am extremely disappointed in what I think is a one-sided report and while the report’s recommendation does support the sub-lease (being surrendered), the body of the report does not support the recommendation made,” he told council. 

He claimed a number of drawings and plans that demonstrated the whole project more accurately and provided to Town Planning officers were not included and alleged that Mr Hedley had been advised that if he provided facilities for the bike riders, it “may appease the submitters”. 

Speaking on behalf of the cyclists who were present, Gayle Sticher was critical of council’s processes, saying riders had not been made aware that the rail trail was in any sort of jeopardy until 17 January. 

“It was disappointing to find out the issue had been in play for some time before the community was made aware of it,” she said. 

“When we asked officers, we were told ‘there’s no problem, don’t worry about it’.“ 

Ms Sticher claimed officers and the applicant had been in discussions since mid-2021 about the issue and that “discussions and negotiations were concluded by the time the community found out”. 

She said surrendering part of the rail trail would mean the loss of the trail head – a place where cyclists gather before and after the ride. 

“This will have an impact upon riders because there will not be enough room – we would have around 200-250 cyclists in this area before and after a ride. We had a grassed area with a scenic outlook and bike racks – none of this will be provided with a 41-space car park,” Ms Sticher said. 

She implored the council to reject the application and conduct “proper community consultation”. 

Later in the meeting, council’s chief executive officer Gary Rinehart defended officers and rejected the criticism by both parties involved. 

“I have absolute confidence everyone here has done their job without bias or prejudice of any description,” he said. 

During the discussion of the item later in the meeting, three councillors including Mayor Rod Marti, said they felt they were “underdone” on the issue and could not make a decision with the information before them. 

“I have a problem in trying to determine how much land the pub needs to be operational. If we’re going to surrender land, it should be done in a precise and measured way and I feel we haven’t explored whether it’s the minimal amount of land they need,” he said. 

“We shouldn’t be giving them a centimetre more than what they need and my personal view is that we don’t need to be surrendering that much land. 

“We need to be careful that we don’t de-value the rail trail given it’s an important asset into the future.” 

But Deputy Mayor Cr Kevin Cardew pushed for a decision to be made, saying the council should not make the developer wait any longer, given the process to date had taken 18 months. 

“I see it as straightforward – the planning scheme says they (the hotel) need the parking – the use of the rail trail is still there for cyclists in its entirety. I admit it’s been messy but we should make a decision today because we can’t make the developer wait another month,” he said. 

Cr Peter Hodge also moved to reassure other councillors that the decision was the right one and cyclists would still have complete use of the rail trail. 

“I understand the concerns of the cycling people, but, as a councillor, I have to look past my nose and consider the benefit for the whole community, not a specific group.I am happy to support it because the rail trail will be extended to the west and is still going to be 15-16m wide,” he said. 

Council voted 4-3 to surrender the sub-lease of the land to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, with the conditions that the developer provide evidence of community consultation, evidence of an agreement by the DTMR to grant tenure of the land to the developer, and council granting a planning approval for a Material Change of Use, giving the applicant an effective development permit. 

Crs Rod Marti, Bernie Wilce and Dave Bilney recorded their vote against the recommendation. 

After the meeting, Mayor Marti issued a statement that read: “The redevelopment of the Tolga Pub is going to be a shot in the arm for Tolga and the Tablelands. It’s already one of our most popular watering holes and its significant expansion out the back will take pressure of the busy street. 

“I fully appreciate the concerns of bike enthusiasts and others concerned at the incursion into the rail trail, however the rail trail will remain highly functional and there are other locations along the trail where the riding corridor is even narrower.”

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