Community & Business

16 November, 2023

Urgency for decision on estate expansion into Tolga rail trail

A DECISION on whether to allow businesses at the Tolga Industrial Estate to expand and how that will affect Atherton’s Rail Trail will have to be made soon, Tablelands Regional Council has been warned.

By Robyn Holmes

Urgency for decision on estate expansion into Tolga rail trail - feature photo

Some of the businesses approached council in 2018/19 about their desire to expand their premises but the issue was not dealt with until a proposal to plant trees along the rail trail was raised earlier this year.

Now, the council is on a deadline to make a decision about whether that can happen, how much it will cost and how to deal with any change that will have on the rail trail corridor by the end of the year.

In a draft development plan presented to council, three options have been put forward – do nothing, allow the businesses to expand up to 10m into the trail, or allow them to expand further and relocate the trail.

But the Department of Transport and Main Roads, which technically owns the rail trail corridor, has warned a decision must be made before council goes into a “caretaker period” from 29 January 2024 for the local government elections.

And it further warned that if the council did not come to a decision on the proposed expansion of businesses and the future of the trail before that time, the department would consider the matter to be closed.

The development plan broadly outlines the three options with estimated costs, but council is now awaiting feedback from the businesses at the estate before a final report and recommendation will be put to council at the end of this month.

Infrastructure Services general manager Mark Vis said the costs outlined in the draft plan presented to council were only estimates and had not been based on a final design or information from a quantity surveyor.

The “do nothing” option will still cost council upwards of $1 million to improve drainage and stormwater flows which plague the estate every wet season.

The second option allows businesses to potentially expand up to 10m into the rail trail corridor and would involve removing infrastructure under the rail trail path at a cost of just over $1 million for council and around $800,000 for businesses.

Option three involves allowing businesses to expand beyond the 10m, which would mean the relocation of the rail trail to the east in that area and reduce its width, and would cost around $2 million.

However, any expansion into the rail trail corridor is not acceptable to the council’s Rail Trail Advisory Committee who voted unanimously for the first option which would maintain the trail’s current width.

“They agreed that the rail trail is not only provided by the actual path but by the aesthetics and amenity the entirety of the rail trail reserve provides to the users, which requires sufficient width to allow the creation and maintenance of an aesthetically pleasing environment with plantings and trees, signage, benches, shelters etc,” the plan stated.

The committee also questioned the potential costs to the community to facilitate the expansion of private property into the rail trail and what precedent that might set for other community-owned spaces like the trail, council reserves and road reserves.

They were also concerned that the there was “no demonstrable community benefit” and why the businesses’ desire to expand “be prioritised over the wishes of the community at large”.

During the meeting, Mayor Rod Marti made it clear he agreed with the advisory committee.

“I am proudly on the record as being against this – it’s not in the community’s interest,” he said.

He then asked that all costs and officer time spent on the project be collated and recorded but this was rejected by other councillors who called the Mayor out, saying council did not do that in other circumstances and questioned why he would demand that in this case.

CEO Gary Rinehart confirmed that officers did not collate and record their time against projects as such and it was “not something we would want to do” going forward.

It is expected that officers will endeavour to finalise the plan, with feedback from the businesses, and make a recommendation for council to consider at its 23 November meeting


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