Fiery council meeting

TWO Latrobe City West Ward councillors were delivered an impassioned warning “never to shop in Moe again” at Monday night’s explosive final council meeting for the year.

At just the second meeting of the new council, a packed chamber, comprising mostly Moe community members, was present to speak on a notice of motion moved by Councillor Peter Gibbons to undertake a full review of the Moe Railway Revitalisation Project – Moe Activity Centre Plan.

Several people stormed out of council chambers after a foreshadowed motion was carried to “identify realistic funding opportunities” for each component and design, as well as to review all previously received written public submissions made to council on the matter including petitions, despite opposition from three councillors.

Cr Gibbons moved the motion to bring back the project to council for a full review and that no further works be commenced, external funding sought and/or council funding allocated until a review was completed.

“The motion aims to review timelines of the whole thing to come out in a reasonable amount of time; it is prudent and right of council to have a review,” Cr Gibbons said in clarifying his actions.

“This is not about bringing an end to the project as a whole; Latrobe City Council is fully committed to completing the project and the resolution does not change decisions.”

Cr Gibbons was supported by councillors Sharon Gibson, Michael Rossiter and Christine Sindt.

Two councillors, Mayor Sandy Kam and Cr Dale Harriman, had declared a direct and indirect interest in the matter and had left chambers.

“Cr Gibbons has done us a huge service putting forward a motion for a full review; if council had the opportunity to do a full review over a short period of time, this could be the most wonderful project,” Cr Sindt said of the project, which was projected to cost $28 million.

Following comments directed at her, Cr Gibson said parts of the project needed tweaking, and it would be prudent to sort out problems first.

“My commitment to Moe has never been different,” Cr Gibson said.

Citing the example of the Mid Valley Shopping Complex, Cr Gibson said she did not wish for similar problems in Moe.

In expressing his disagreement with the motion, Cr Graeme Middlemiss said the project could potentially “run off the rails”.

“What message are we sending to potential (investors)?” he questioned.

Calling it a show of “poor governance”, Cr Kellie O’Callaghan said a delay was not in the best interest of Latrobe City and questioned the parameters of the review.

“Any review should be robust and based on good practice; we did not get to see this before (Monday night’s) meeting,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

“This has been made up on the run; this project has now been made vulnerable and this decision will follow us around.”

Verbal abuse was leveled at some councillors following the motion being carried, and it is understood police reports have been made by persons fearing for their safety and wellbeing.

Twenty community stakeholders spoke in opposition of the motion on Monday night, expressing their disappointment at the possible spanner in the works for a project they said had been a major drawcard for investment in the town.

Former politician and Latrobe City councillor Brendan Jenkins said he was concerned the MRRP – MACP was again before council.

“We have had consultation for the best part of six years, with surveys, workshops and public meetings; 80 to 90 per cent of people support the proposal for an integrated activity centre,” Mr Jenkins said.

Moe Traders Association president Christine Waterhouse said the town had been looking forward to the project.

“If this project is held back further, I don’t know where we will go,” Mrs Waterhouse said.

Several other business figures spoke of how the MRRP – MACP had served as an investment drawcard to the area, and how businesses had injected money into the town because of the belief the central business district would be redeveloped.

With a “significant investment in Moe, not made lightly”, Ian Sowerby urged councillors to vote against the “ill-conceived motion” and said if the motion succeeded, businesses would also review its investments in the town.

In the foreshadowed motion which was carried four votes to three, it was put council would also review the project design involving transportation links, with a report to be back to a future council meeting no later than the second meeting in March.