The region’s manufacturing industry is at a loss following the state government’s decision to reject Bendigo council’s plan to acquire land in the city’s west for an industrial park.
Bendigo Manufacturing Group chair Mark Brennan said the move by planning minister Richard Wynne to save a section of the Carter family farm in Marong was a “disappointing outcome”.
Existing, growing companies were awaiting the decision, as were prospective manufacturers – one of whom was contemplating building a $40 million plant in the region, that may have created 200 new jobs, he said.
The City of Greater Bendigo estimated the Marong Business Park could create 3500 jobs, but Mr Brennan said ongoing support for existing jobs should also be factored into the equation.
“There are companies that I know of that are on the edge that would love to expand, they’ve been hanging on and hanging on – now they're probably going make a decision about going somewhere else,” he said.
Mr Brennan said the decision had far-reaching consequences for infrastructure in the region, referencing the Bendigo Airport development and possible export opportunities that stem from it.
“There's lot of speculation about pilot training coming to Bendigo - that will come and that will change the landscape,” he said.
“Companies will go ‘wow, lets go and look at setting up our factories there’. All these other things being put in place are being hamstrung by this (business park) decision.”
WATCH: Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke discussing the Marong Business Park decision
Despite being involved in the Bendigo Manufacturing Group for three years, Mr Brennan said it was abundantly clear a large business park had been a priority for 16 years.
“After 16 years quite frankly I’m not sure what the other alternatives are,” he said, suggesting the decision might be appropriate for the Carter family but not for economic development in the region.
Other regional centres with business parks like Ballarat, Geelong and Wodonga, would benefit from the state government’s move and it weakened Bendigo’s appeal, he said
Bendigo Manufacturing Group supports 2619 jobs across the following businesses:
- Thales Australia
- Hofmann Engineering
- Allstone Quarries
- Bendigo Truss Plant
- Bendigo Railway Workshops
- Australian Turntable Company
- Keech Australia
- Ceramic Oxide Fabricators
- Hazeldene's Chicken Farms Pty Ltd.
- Eagle Foods
- MSD Animal Health
- Motherson Elastomers
- Moira Macs Poultry and Fine Food
- Bendigo Pottery
- Southern Shorthaul Railroad
- Australian Industry Group
Meanwhile, councillor Julie Hoskin congratulated the Carter family in a social media post.
The post read: “Well done Max, Pauline and your family. Your win sets a precedent that will assist to protect anyone else in the future who may find themselves facing a similar legal challenge. Although I didn't support the compulsory acquisition of your land, as a councillor I apologise unreservedly for the trauma you've been through and I congratulate your resilience and strength throughout your ordeal to keep your valuable, productive farmland and heritage.”
Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke discussed the decision at length on Wednesday, but declined to detail how much the council had spent on their 16-year pursuit of the land in Marong.
“It's not millions of dollars as people have been speculating, it has been 16 years but it’s also been part of the staffs’ natural work that they do,” she said.
Cr O’Rourke reiterated the risk to jobs that stemmed from the decision.
“There is a real risk to jobs - there's no doubt about that. This is about council being an enabler. The region is growing and we need those jobs,” she said.
“We hope that they (existing manufacturers) will continue to commit to Bendigo. The Bendigo Manufacturing group has told us there’s been $40 million in lost business opportunities over past two to five years.”
Eight other sites were considered during the search for suitable land, and Cr O’Rourke suggested the council may have to revisit some of them.
“We need to go back and see if any of those are on the table,” she said.
Compulsory acquisition was not the council’s favoured option, said Cr O’Rourke, who did not rule out it happening in the future.
“We didn't want it to go to public acquisition - we would have preferred a mediated conversation. It's very likely that (public acquisition) could happen - part of our reasoning for the land in Marong is that it was one owner - the other sites we looked at are multiple owners,” she said.
“Other councils have done it and have done it successfully.
“There’s 10 years of industrial land left in the city but it’s all scattered around residential areas - so it (business park) has always been a plan.
“A lot of people might not have wanted it (Marong Business Park) to go ahead because of the family involved but in terms of the strategic picture of Greater Bendigo we do need an industrial area for the growth of the city.”
Loddon shire rues ‘lost opportunity’
Neighbouring Loddon Shire weighed into the decision, saying it had implications for the prosperity in other municipalities.
“The fabric of Loddon Shire centres around agriculture and farming-based activities, so the desire for continuation of the farming enterprise is understood. However we do need to focus on the greater good. This not just a matter for today, it is the future of the Bendigo region that we are talking about and the opportunities for future generations in our communities,” mayor Cheryl McKinnon said.
Cr McKinnon said the proposed industrial park was considered a major driver for economic and residential growth for Loddon Shire, and would improve a number of small towns located in close proximity to Marong like Bridgewater, Inglewood, Serpentine and Newbridge.
“It is also disappointing the opportunities that new commercial undertakings in the business park, which would have value-added to Loddon’s agricultural outputs, are now not going to be realised,” she said.
The shire’s chief executive officer Phil Pinyon described the situation as an “opportunity lost”.
“Melbourne is under continual growth pressure and the solution of encouraging decentralisation to address this problem has been given support from a wide range of interests,” he said.
“Unfortunately this decentralisation opportunity now appears to have been thwarted.”