MORWELL was on the agenda at Latrobe City Council’s first monthly meeting of the year on Monday, February 6.

Council opted to move the meeting to Morwell’s Kernot Hall, perhaps taking advantage of the precinct’s recent renovations, and investment in the Morwell central business district (CBD) was the council’s first issue to discuss.

All councillors were in attendance except for Tracie Lund and Melissa Ferguson.

To begin the meeting, Cr Ferguson was approved a leave of absence for the rest of the month. The South Ward councillor has taken a step away from her duties since the passing of her mother.

As always, the public participation portion of the meeting started official proceedings, this time with a question regarding council’s efforts to attract new business, particularly in the Morwell CBD.

In response, the Latrobe City Council Chief Executive, Steven Piasente, said that the business development and investment attraction team was working hard to attract investment.

Mr Piasente went on to say that officers are working with numerous businesses to establish a presence in the Morwell CBD.

Currently, eight organisations are in discussion with council to buy or lease land in the region, with a potential for 800 new jobs.

Council is working with the new Latrobe City business chamber to assist existing businesses while also offering concierge services.

Mr Piasente said that the Morwell CBD vacancy rate had reduced slightly to 16.1 per cent – a drop of 3.7 per cent in recent times.

“Obviously this work will take some time to come to fruition, but I know the team are working diligently on that task and will continue to focus on attracting new businesses and is expected to see some results throughout this calendar year and beyond,” Mr Piasente said.


Saying no to the servo

LATROBE City Council refused a planning permit proposal to develop land for a service station on 182-186 Princes Street, Traralgon.

The refusal of the planning permit was based on council officer recommendations as the land has residential zoning, and a petrol station would not fit with the preferred land use in council policy.

Local developer Jim Lamb, alongside British Petroleum (BP), submitted the application, suggesting the site was ideal for development, given Traralgon’s demands with its rising population and the site’s perfect accessibility and visibility.

Citing VicRoads measurements in his speech to council, Mr Lamb said Princes Road was not a quiet street, with 25,000 cars driving by a day.

In opposition, a local resident, Teresa Gerad, who would share a fence line with the proposed service station, said she was concerned about the possible health implications living so close to a service station may cause.

Councillors deliberated about the undesirable position of a service station so close to residential housing.

Cr Graeme Middlemiss said the service station would be “inappropriate and, as the officers spell out, does not meet the guidelines”.

The majority of the council refused the planning permit while Cr Dan Clancey backed the proposal.

The council’s main issue was the service station’s proposed 24-hour operation.

With the refusal, it is believed the developer will head to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), aiming for a better resolution.


Moe Chinese Garden canned

COUNCIL unanimously agreed to vote for Cr Sharon Gibson’s proposed alternative motion to reinvest the Moe Chinese Garden funds into a garden for the Moe community.

Council took the board officer’s recommendation and scrapped the idea of building a Chinese garden in Moe.

The proposed garden was a way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Latrobe City and Taizhou.

Make Moe Glow organisation led the charge to sway council into reconsidering its 2019 $60,000 commitment to the Chinese garden, requesting an Australian garden be a better fit and more cost-effective for the area.

This request was also made during the time of federal government tensions with China’s government.

Cr Gibson called for a garden to reflect Moe’s history, recognising First Nations people and others who helped shape Moe into what it is today.

“The nature of this alt speaks to the desire of the local community to be able to have pride of place, particularly in this garden precinct,” Cr Kellie O’Callaghan said.


Rivers and catchments

COUNCIL will make funding applications to the federal government’s Urban River and Catchments Program 2023.

The $200 million federal government Urban Rivers and Catchments Program is a new grant stream that focuses on restoring urban waterways, benefiting native species, and improving community access to nature.

Two funding streams are available: the first offers grants of $150,000 to $2 million with no co-contribution element, and the second offers grants between $2 million to $10 million with a 50 per cent cash co-contribution element.

Council is looking to apply for Stream 1 funding for the Traralgon Railway Reservoir Conservation Reserve dam de-silting and the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve dam de-silting and water quality improvements.

They will also seek to gain a Stream 2 grant for the Downs Reserve Waterway re-naturalisation.

The application will be submitted and council will soon be notified of the outcome from the federal government.


Commonwealth Games funding

COUNCIL endorsed a funding submission to the state government’s council support package for $5 million.

These consist of a myriad of Stage 1 projects valued at $4.105 million and Stage 2 projects valued at $895,000.

These projects include $480,000 for tourism infrastructure accessibility improvements and $550,000 for playing surface works on the Maryvale Reserve pitch.

Cr Middlemiss said he believes this application will be approved, as the state government is looking to honour the commitment it made to the hub cities after the 2026 regional Commonwealth Games were cancelled.

“We have provided a list of what projects we feel in our community would match those expectations, and I’m hopeful that we might end up with just about everything we would have received with the Commonwealth Games being funded with this process,” he said.


Approving modern farming

WITH some confusing language, council voted through an alternative motion that allows a family to apply for a second dwelling on farm zone land that was initially planned with no further dwellings on the property.

The Ford family has farmed on Francis Road in Glengarry for years. With 93 hectares of farm for their prime Angus, the Fords say they are proud to contribute to the agriculture industry.

The landowners of the property had previously agreed to Section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, which restricts the potential of additional dwellings on the site to protect agricultural land.

Adam Ford made use of public speaker time to plead his case.

In his speech, he urged council to understand the transformation contemporary farming has undergone with family share arrangements and his need to live on site.

“Since acquiring the additional land, things have changed for my parents, and the requirement for us to be living on the farmland has become increasingly evident,” he said.

The Fords aim to implement the family succession plan and preserve the business and its contribution to the Gippsland beef industry.

“We believe a second dwelling will future-proof this plan,” he said.

“We are passionate about our beef production business and wish to be able to continue to contribute to the agriculture within Latrobe City.”

Council will provide support to the variation of the agreement and potentially allow a subdivision to occur and go through the planning process.

Council noted these sorts of planning applications are becoming quite frequent, reflecting a change in how farming occurs in the modern day. Council debated handling each of these unique applications on a case-by-case basis.

With council convinced that the Fords aim is to future-proof the farm and preserve its success, they will see the official planning permit at a later date once it has been submitted.


Tourism events

THREE exciting new sporting events will come to town, as council unanimously endorsed the Tourism and Major Events Advisory Committee recommendations (TAMEAC).

A sum of $15,000 will be allocated for the Australian Esports League Latrobe Cup (dates yet to be confirmed);

$12,000 will be used for the AFL Diversity Championships for both female and male competitions in July and September of this year, respectively, and;

The 2025 Table Tennis Australia Championships from July 5 to 13 will be held at the GRISS with a funding allocation of $10,000.

Cr Dale Harriman said the exposure the Esports competition alone will bring to Latrobe City was invaluable as the sport continues to grow.

He also said this was a unique opportunity to attract a new untapped market of competition to the region.


Quarterly budget and reports

COUNCIL was also presented with the budget report for the quarter ending December 31, 2023. The financial performance ratio indicates that council remains within the industry’s expected ranges.

The report’s main findings were:

The ‘Comprehensive Income Statement’ report forecasts a surplus result for the full financial year of $19.7m, which is a favourable variance of $11m to the original budget;

The ‘Balance Sheet’ shows that council maintains a strong liquidity position;

The ‘Statement of Cash Flows’ shows that council has $99.8m in cash and financial assets (i.e. investments). The level is higher than normal because of previous financial years including capital works, reserves funds and government grants advanced earlier than expected, and;

The ‘Statement of Capital Works’ shows a forecast expenditure of $73.7m compared to the budget of $43.8m. The increase is mainly due to funds carried forward from 2022/23 and additional government funding received for various programs, including roads programs, regional car parks fund, and local roads and community infrastructure program.

Council encouraged people invested in the council’s expenditure to read the budget to see where their rates go.

Council also noted the report on contract variations from October 2023 until the end of the year. Despite the carried motion, Cr Gibson voted against the report and asked that council review their practice on awarding contracts given some “large variations” and increases in contracts of that time period.

Council also received the audit and risk committee meeting minutes from September 21 and November 23, 2023.