Thursday, October 19, 2017

Letter to the Editor

Editor February 2, 2017

LEADERSHIP NEEDED TO REVITALISE CBD

Chamber Vice President responds to press article

Dear Editor,

Years of debate about how Shepparton’s CBD and Mall could be revitalised continues with what appears to be little direction from our city leaders. Although reluctantly, it does appear that it has become more front of mind in recent months.

In reference to a recent article in the News, (12/1/17)headed “Define problems before fix – Shepparton CBD and Maude St Mall issues need to be clarified before a solution can be found.” In the article, Greater Shepparton City Councillor, Cr Chris Hazelman suggested “A forum could provide an opportunity to get all the players together” to determine where there was common ground, if any, and explore areas of difference. He pushed the need to look at Shepparton - specific solutions, incorporating impacts specific to the city.”

I ask where has Cr Hazelman been these last 20 or so years as a former Mayor and current Councillor of our city?

As part of a Letter to the Editor from Cr Hazelman in 2012 prior to the council election in the same year, Cr Hazelman acknowledged that retail was doing it tough all around Australia and suggested to, I quote “form a community reference group of experts with strong connections to the CBD and experience in retail to provide advice and develop a community plan to revitalise the CBD.”

I ask the question, what has been done five long years of suffering since?

What became of the reference group suggested by Cr Hazelman in 2012?

Everyone knows the city has major problems in our CBD and Mall.

Everyone knows significant parts of the CBD are dying, that we have a failed Mall (just ask 95 percent of the businesses and property owners), poorly planned traffic flow and parking around the CBD, (just ask the ratepayers)…all of which desperately needs fixing. Most of the CBD has been ignored for decades with very little strategic planning.

It has been almost two decades – 18 years in fact – since a group of Mall traders approached council with their concerns that the Mall wasn’t functioning properly. It was then that the council requested a formal approach with an agenda which went something like the following:

A formal committee representing traders and landowners of the Mall be formed. This was done.

A petition was then carried out which showed 92% of tenants and 96% of property owners were in favour of traffic and parking in the Mall.

Council then suggested that a contribution to capital costs would greatly assist, so landowners and businesses then raised the $200,000 asked of them.

Council was still not satisfied, saying a public forum was required.

A public forum was held and traffic and parking in the Mall was overwhelmingly supported at the forum.

The council of the day of which Cr Hazelman was Mayor, rejected the proposal and went on to spend several $100,000s on mall improvements, including a raised lawn area for picnics and a large centrepiece.

Cr Hazelman at the time was of the opinion that landowners and tenants were divided on the proposal. However by far the majority of traders and property owners of the day were in favour of opening the Mall to slow moving traffic and parking, and 18 years later they still are in favour of opening the Mall to slow moving traffic and parking.

Another story in the Press dated May 5, 1998 quoted businessman and property owner, Andrew Fairley, speaking on behalf of the Maude Street Mall traders, who said the Mall was not meeting the expectations of any of the three stakeholders: retailers, council or community. He said the Mall was failing retailers. Mr Fairley at the time urged the council to listen to what the traders had to say, because they made the Mall work, and urged the council to act quickly on the Mall’s future. Businessman, the late Norm McArthur, was reported as saying that Malls were being pulled up in cities in Australia and all over the world. He said the city needed multi-deck parking close to shops.

The Chamber of Commerce has on several occasions presented to Council several surveys on the Mall, which have shown traders and property owners overwhelmingly in favour of opening the Mall.

The Chamber is looking for a long term strategy which encompasses Wyndham, and High Streets and the Maude Street Mall with improved traffic flow and parking.

It is encouraging that, as part of the recent CBD revitalisation debate, Council is considering touring other regional cities and towns to view first hand their successes in CBD planning.

I am also encouraged that this critical issue appears to be at long last at the forefront of Council discussions and hopefully therefore solutions to our ailing CBD.

A combined strategy of first class long term planning for the CBD, Mall, traffic flows and improvements in parking will bring back a revitalisation of our CBD. The Maude Street Mall has long outlived its original useful intention and purpose.

Greater Shepparton City Council has the resources to make a huge difference to the success of our CBD and hopefully it can help clarify the issues and help solve them.

 Yours sincerely,
Carl Hainsworth, vice president of Shepparton Chamber of Commerce & Industry.