Parking issues emerge with Aspire Precinct, which was approved in a narrow councillor vote

DIVIDED: Councillors were split on the application to build an interfaith centre in Bendigo CBD. Picture: DARREN HOWE
DIVIDED: Councillors were split on the application to build an interfaith centre in Bendigo CBD. Picture: DARREN HOWE

The fate of a multi-million dollar interfaith precinct in Bendigo proved perhaps the most divisive topic seen in the council chambers this year, with councillors approving the project in a tight vote that was ultimately swayed by the deputy mayor’s deciding vote.

At the crux of the division was the issue of parking, in a precinct already under significant parking stress.

Councillor George Flack said he did not think the developer of the Aspire Precinct, near Sacred Heart Cathedral, had explored the option of creating an underground car park – potentially catering for 300 spaces – despite previous public references to it being a possibility.

Instead, the current application references 14 parking spaces, but councillor Julie Hoskin made mention of that space requirement being waived if the applicant contributed a financial sum to the City of Greater Bendigo.

Cr Julie Hoskin questioned the short-term value this contribution would have on the parking issue within the precinct.

In opposing the application, Cr Andrea Metcalf said the application had been delayed from the November meeting so councillors could adequately consult with objectors over their parking concerns.

Cr Metcalf said 15 planning applications in the area had car parking requirements waived over the past five years which had a cumulative effect on car parking, and thus businesses in the area.

“Parking issues should not be used as a guise to stop developments in our community,” Cr Wrigglesworth said.

“The empty, almost desolate land below the Sacred Heart Cathedral gives a sense of incompleteness.”

Cr Fyffe said: “Religion has played very significant part in the development of our community, ever since the Gold Rush days. The precinct will help tell our stories to the world.” 

Deputy mayor Jennifer Alden had the deciding vote on the proposal, as mayor Margaret O’Rourke was not present in the chamber due to her declared conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, councillors voted to formally appoint Craig Niemann as chief executive officer for the next five years.

The provisional decision was announced earlier this month, with council going through a four-month recruitment process – at a cost of $50,000 – in which Mr Niemann was required to re-apply for the CEO position he has held for 10 years.

All councillors voted in favour of the reappointment, apart from Cr Julie Hoskin, who abstained from voting.

The first stages of an ambitious plan to redevelop an industrial gem – the Bendigo Gasworks – were put in motion on Wednesday evening at the council meeting.

The site, decommissioned in 1973 and sullied by recent vandalism, is being considered as a future multi-purpose events centre.

Initial plans would see some of the site’s original features – like the gasholders, broiler room and purifiers –restored, and a function centre, cafe, kitchen and educational facility built on the site.

The major challenge for the project is contaminated land, which was recognised by a number of councillors when speaking of the site.

Councillor Andrea Metcalf said the site was identified as being in very poor condition, but she could also see the potential in it, while councillor Matt Emond said the Gasworks was a space of service and invention.

“We’ve seen what happened at the old jail (restored into Ulumbarra Theatre), so you can only imagine what opportunities lie ahead,” Cr Emond said.

Councillors endorsed the environment strategy action plan, which details ways in which the council can reach its target of zero waste and zero emissions.

They also voted to rename the Bendigo Aquatic Centre the Faith Leech Aquatic Centre to recognise the achievements of the Olympic swimmer.