Sign to help SAVE Macedon Equine Strategy!

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WHY YOU SHOULD SIGN THE PETITION

Please support the ‘SAVE ME” Campaign to ensure that equine enthusiasts, small business and recreational users have the same rights as other community groups in the Macedon Ranges.

In 2012 the Macedon Ranges Equine Strategy was developed with broad community consultation; recognising the importance of the industry and the recreational participants in the shire.  During this study, it was found that the equine industry in the Macedon Ranges actually contributes $140 million annually to the area’s economy and that additional facilities would increase that income and supply much needed jobs. 

REIN (Ranges Equine Industry Network) was formed to work with Council to deliver key actions in the strategy.  This included an investigation into the options for a world class equine centre in the shire.  With funding assistance from the State Government, international consultants, AECOM, were commissioned to undertake an independent Feasibility Study that would supply more in depth information and recommendations.

This process also included broad community consultation which resulted in over 800 surveys received with 95% supporting the project (91% were Macedon Ranges’ residents and rate-payers).  As a result, $25k was allocated by the previous Council towards the development of a business case and the State Government were also going to contribute.

The petition we are asking you to sign is to accompany a complaint to the MR Council and relevant authorities on the current Councillors unprecedented decision to scrap the Macedon Ranges Equine Strategy and proposed Equine Centre (after 5 years of Council and community work); and withdraw the allocated $25,000 to develop a business case that would enable us to seek corporate funding to develop the centre.

We are already seeing the current Council’s “blockade” on anything equine, including refusing permits for indoor arenas and making the Woodend Pony Club go to community consultation, when it was not required, to build an indoor arena funded by donation which all riding clubs in the Ranges could use.

The complaints going to various authorities are based on three key elements:-  

1.    Withdrawing Promised Allocation

The community were promised $25,000 to develop a business case for the proposed equine centre, if they also raised funding of $15,000.  The community actually raised $16,000 in a very short time, which was held in Council’s system and  is now having to be refunded.  To arbitrarily withdraw the allocated money (with NO community consultation) is basically breach of contract.

Current Councillors did not perform their fact finding sufficiently to fully appreciate the benefits of the equine centre project in question. They appeared not to fully comprehend the strength of the project, nor the breadth of support within the community and made statements at their last Council meeting which were ill-founded and not factual, including accusations of “fixing” figures in the Feasibility Study.

When the previous Council consulted with the community on the results of the feasibility study, Over 800 surveys were received with 95% supporting the project (91% were Macedon Ranges’ residents and rate-payers).  As a result, $25k was allocated towards the development of a business case.

With so many rate-payers and residents in favour of the equine centre project, we are requesting that the Victorian Ombudsman become involved and invoke the Ombudsman Act to investigate our complaint, requesting that the Equine Strategy is returned as a working document, and, that the $25k is assigned back to its original cost centre in the 2016/2017 budget, so the business case for the Equine Centre can be developed. 

2.    Removing all Equine Strategy Planning recommendations & actions from Local, State and Federal Policy

The current Council also proposed that all strategic planning recommendations and actions derived from the Equine Strategy be removed from overall policies. This is an unreasonable and costly action. Removing a strategy and references to such an important industry sector from all policies, including the recent Macedon Ranges Planning Protection Advisory Committee report by the State Government, is unheard of.   

The equine industry is a major economic contributor and employer in the shire, providing $140 million annually, which is why the Equine Strategy was developed in the first place. Without a strategy, there would be no guidance to assist with the assessment of such planning applications which will impact significantly on future business development and equine investment in the shire. 

The above action would require Council Officers to develop a new amendment for submission and approval, thereby wasting time and money that could be spent on other benefits to residents.

 

3.    Lack of Transparency

Councillors have been non-transparent and non-consultative in their decision making process regarding the withdrawal of the Equine Strategy and funding for the Equine Centre Business Case.  The current Macedon Ranges Shire Councillors did not attempt to seek feedback from REIN (Ranges Equine Industry Network), before raising a Notice of Motion to scrap the project and remove the funding.  

REIN and other community members, including small business owners who would benefit from increased facilities, have made an enormous contribution in both time, work and expertise.  This long-running voluntary support and the resulting community donations were not taken into consideration before Councillors made their decision to abort the whole equine strategy, against the clearly demonstrated wishes of those they claim to represent!

The original Notice of Motion by Cr Henry Bleek to scrap the Equine Strategy and centre project was accepted into the agenda for the 22 February meeting and made public on Council’s website only 5 days before the meeting.  The motion was not distributed (or discussed) with members of the community – particularly the REIN group who had worked on the project for 5 years - at all. The “Special Meeting” of 8th March, was deliberately called with short notice, so that the community had little time for a call to action.

Unlike the REIN group and previous Councils, this current Council has undertaken NO formal community consultation in making these decisions.  They stated during the public meetings, that their knowledge of what the community wants, is quote “based on verbal information received during their campaigning period.”  At the special meeting of 8th March, Councillors could not provide any evidence or facts (hard or soft copy) from any other sources, as to why they voted to rescind the Equine Strategy and centre after 5 years of rate payer involvement and monetary contribution, nor the State Government funding provided.

The current Macedon Ranges Shire Council contravenes the Local Government Act that relates to Councillors needing to be open in terms of transparency, honesty, and showing total professionalism in their decision making process.

 4.       Summary

The Macedon Ranges has a high population of equine participants  and significant industry involvement. There are agistment centres, breeding centres,  racing clubs, saddleries, feed stores, vets, farriers, dentists, therapists, masseurs, grooms, specialist builders, fencers, sand and soil suppliers, horse transporters, stable builders and professional riders, trainers and coaches – all relying strongly on the local horse industry. 

The industry brings an estimated $140m to the shire’s economy each year, which is why the Macedon Ranges Equine Strategy was developed in 2012.  To investigate the possibility of an equine centre was an outcome from that strategy, which resulted in a feasibility study undertaken by international consultants, AECOM.

The equine centre isn’t just for horse lovers. It would add valuable community accessible meeting rooms, education and training facilities, a venue for dog shows, goats, alpacas, cattle – the reach is potentially enormous and would ensure a viable centre returning to the shire income, jobs and growth that will assist to underpin the local economy. 

While the current Council members may have stood for the right reasons, the good of the shire, in this matter however, the majority of member’s opinion appears to be that no equine industry development should happen in the area at all.  Given that the proposed centre is an environmentally friendly development and recreational business that only provides good outcomes for the area, we believe this Council does not have the economic good of the general community or the future of our children at the top of their agenda.

Victoria has an aging “national” horse centre at Werribee, which is currently under investigation as to the viability of its future and it is a state-wide complaint that we do not have a venue that can accommodate all the big competitions, or large pony club and association events.  The Macedon Ranges has a very strong chance at being the home of a new equine centre, as we have already put years of work into the project.  If we don’t continue with the “business case”, there IS a Shire or a Council in Victoria that will build an equestrian centre and our people will still be looking for jobs.   

We believe the majority of the new Council are not acting in the best interests of the general community, when the Equine Strategy and Centre project has been developed to not only benefit the equine industry, but also the tourism industry, farmers and small businesses, many of whom are struggling to find enough work to support themselves.  

NOT completing the business case shows a poor understanding of the area and a marked lack of good business sense. The plan from the beginning has always been to attract corporate funding to the project, yet potential investors will not commit without viewing a proper due diligence (the business case).  In excess of $100k has already been spent to develop a feasibility study, along with 5yrs of community and Council involvement and fund raising of $16,000.  Dropping it now removes the opportunity to explore and create a business case for the development of an equine centre in the shire.



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