Local residents seized the opportunity to air issues of concern with Bega Valley Shire councillors and staff at a council roving workshop held in Merimbula on Wednesday, March 12.
Six of the nine councillors were in attendance, Mayor Bill Taylor and Crs Britten, Fitzpatrick, McBain, Allen and Greens Cr Keith Hughes. Council staff included group manager planning and environment Andrew Woodley, group manager infrastructure, waste and water Wayne Sartori, and business and technology manager Lucas Scarpin.
About 35 people attended the meeting with a significant number of those having a commercial/business interest in the town.
Among the issues raised were - the relocation of the Merimbula library to Tura Beach, the rezoning of Tura Beach land, the unused and dilapidated shire building in Main Street, and the Woodlands Lane bridge, Bald Hills.
But the item that dominated discussion was the Merimbula Townscape Analysis written by council consultants, Spiire. It drew some scathing criticism from attendees who homed in on, amongst other things, the low ranking given to the importance of car parking from an unrepresentative 163 respondents to a Spiire survey.
Merimbula’s CBD economic life is dependent on the car and any move to further restrict car parking to make the town more pedestrian friendly and green, as Spiire suggested, was clearly not in the interests of business, it was said.
Speakers at the meeting also made it known they did not want the Visitor Information Centre removed to the suggested site at the southern end of the boat ramp. Spiire considered its relocation would open up the lake vista and enhance the CBD environment.
The thought of changing loading zones, was bagged outright. It was difficult enough for business to get deliveries without further aggravating the situation.
Business woman, Christine Mather, of Pambula Beach said that the draft Options Report used selective data and was not a true reflection of the community. She suggested there been insufficient consultation. She said Merimbula didn’t need any more green space as it was surrounded by beaches, national parks and parks.
”It is my experience that tourists and locals do not go into the Merimbula CBD or any other CBD to sit in the shade and look at the view. “It is hard enough for our retailers to make a dollar in the current economy as it is. Reducing car spaces and loading zones will only place an undue burden on an already depressed local economy. By all means beautify the town, give it a facelift but do it with some economic sense.”
She suggested that pressure on car parking spaces could be reduced over summer by retail/businesses parking at Berrambool and the council providing a shuttle bus service.
Owner of the Promenade shops, Colin Meares, of Sydney, said the tenants he had spoken to supported infrastructure improvements but that must be addressed in the commercial context.
He dismissed the suggestion there was a problem with pedestrian access and flow. “The town is no longer as busy as it was 20 years ago. The numbers are down. You can’t make changes based on traffic for two to three weeks, it used to be four months – we don’t have the traffic we used to have.”
He said the consultants’ brief had a narrow focus. “This is not a park; it’s a centre of a retail precinct.” He warned if there was less vehicle access, there would be fewer pedestrians. “Visitors need to use their cars to get into centre; the drivers then become pedestrians.”
Mr Meares said the proliferation of No Parking signs had shocked him. “I ask the council to nominate those car spaces taken away and how many were replaced.” He questioned why move the Visitor Information Centre, why not a curtained structure instead, he asked. He referred to a survey which showed 75 per cent of VICs were in the centre of town. “We are a resort town.”
He said more public toilets would be “a beaut idea”. He acknowledged that the garden beds that formed part of the Promenade’s landscaping could be improved to enable easier access for the elderly.
Mr Woodley said that Spiire had contributed “to the conversation” and submissions to the Designs Options draft report he explained that council was only half way through the process.
He said council had committed $1 million to Merimbula and to Bega and $.5m to Bermagui and Eden for infrastructure improvements.
Mr Woodley said Spiire acknowledged the survey was small.
Council was considering traffic flows and car parking and was carefully considering the layout and design of car parks in Alice Street and Park Street.
In answers to questions regarding the town’s traffic flow and the need for roundabouts, Mr Sartori said that a roundabout would not fit at the Monaro/ Market Street intersection and that the proposed by pass estimated to cost $5m would improve the traffic flow in that part of town.
A roundabout will be installed at the Reid Street/Sapphire Coast Drive intersection and while a roundabout at the top of Market Street and Main Street was in council’s strategy it would have to wait until the bypass had been constructed.
A new service road off Sapphire Coast Drive at the rear of Club Sapphire would provide access to the new carpark to be built as part of the supermarket development proposed for Main Street, Mr Sartori said.
Mr Meares said that the landscape plan should not be considered inn isolation but in conjunction with a traffic plan.
Merimbula businessman Robert Wright said the biggest eyesore in Merimbula was the power poles. “Until you get rid of these any streetscaping will only be a bandaid solution.”
Mr Sartori said from an engineering point of view he would love to do it but at a cost of $6 million it was beyond councils’ budget. Mr Wright said 15 years ago when the town pushed for the wires to be put underground the cost was a million dollars. “We were told then it was out of the reach of council’s budget and today we get the same answer.”
Mr Woodley said that Spiire was talking to Essential Energy.
In summary Cr Taylor said, “Council faces a balancing act. It has to deal with the reality of what is the best result for the majority.”
The meeting was appreciative of the council’s attendance and that was expressed by some of the attendees.
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