First published with The Courier – http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/4458885/is-the-urban-explosion-in-bacchus-marsh-a-disaster-in-the-making/
A game of infrastructure catch-up for Moorabool Shire Council
John Spain has lived in Bacchus Marsh for 37 years. Inevitably, he has seen growth and change over time.
In recent years he has noticed infrastructure lagging behind the region’s growth. This lack of infrastructure for an expanding town is a glaring reality for Bacchus Marsh residents.
The Moorabool Shire Council is battling the need to invest in services to address short term rapid population growth while at the same time proactively working to develop an urban growth framework; all in what council describes a “difficult economic time”.
Councilors say Moorabool Shire simply doesn’t have the budget to do both react to and prepare for growth successfully and simultaneously.
So where does the priority lie for Bacchus Marsh?
Playing catch-up with much needed infrastructure now?
Or working to stay ahead of the game in light of population forecasts by developing a coherent and divisive growth plan for the future?
It’s a complex discussion for this growth corridor, but one thing is for sure – the problem is not going away any time soon.
Urban expansion hits Bacchus Marsh
Bacchus Marsh resident Moira Berry moved to the area in 1998 with her 15-year-old daughter. Coming from metro Melbourne, she was looking for a quieter, rural lifestyle, but somewhere close enough to experience the city.
“Bacchus Marsh, for me, was the perfect location,” Moira says.
It is a similar appeal that draws people to the region today, coupled with convenient location and appealing house prices.
The population of Moorabool Shire is estimated to increase by 65 per cent by 2041 – from 32,311 currently, to 54, 418.
Almost half of the shire currently live in Bacchus Marsh.
The majority of growth will come from new estates in Maddingley which are forecast to increase by over 200 per cent.
Moira has seen the development from her front balcony in Darley.
“When I first moved here it was just paddocks,” she says.
“Now there are houses all around.”
Bacchus Marsh has been ranked in the top three of regional Australia’s housing markets likely to be suited for family living.
The median house price for a four bedroom home in Bacchus Marsh is $430,000, well below the Melbourne average.
It is 45 minutes in the car to Melbourne, and roughly the same time to both Geelong and Ballarat.
All factors have contributed to rapid population growth in the area. But problems arise when investment in infrastructure can’t keep up.
Councillor Tonia Dudzik says infrastructure is definitely not keeping up in Bacchus Marsh.
“We need investment in roads, sports facilities, health care, jobs, and education,” she says.
“We definitely have not kept up with the urban explosion.”
Moorabool Shire Council plays catch up
Moorabool Shire Council say they are working to respond to the immediate need for infrastructure. But they are also focusing on establishing a plan for the growth period to come.
Councillor Jarrod Bingham says the Moorabool Shire Council are working on a Urban Growth Framework. The project is currently undergoing community consultation.
“This framework will help us to retain the identity of Bacchus Marsh, manage growth, be respectful of the landscape and the environmental character, and preserve existing amenities,” Cr Bingham says.
He says the creation of a sturdy plan for urban expansion will help the council identify areas for investment and provide a stronger platform to apply for government funding.
“We have two options as council. We can react to growth or we can take the lead,” he says.
“This Urban Growth Framework is about leading the charge into the future, to take charge of what Bacchus Marsh is about.”
Consultation with the community for the plan began two years ago, and will continue this year. Cr Bingham says the Urban Growth Framework is estimated to be in place by the beginning of 2018.
He says Bacchus Marsh is lagging behind in infrastructure because council did not have a plan in place in the past.
“When you talk about the growth that has already happened and the infrastructure we already need, we are reacting to that, because there hasn’t been a plan in the past,” he says.
“Now we want to be proactive and put this plan in place.
“We need to have a plan. Hopefully we won’t see a repeat of this reactive game in the future.”
Cr Birmingham explains the council is struggling to react to much needed infrastructure in the short term, while developing a solid plan for growth in the long term with a limited budget.
According to the 2016-2017 Council Budget Report, Moorabool Shire Council receives significantly less state and federal government funding than other municipalities.
Cr Bingham says it is important to have an urban growth plan in place to ensure a stronger platform for funding opportunities from the government.
“A plan would help when we go to the government for funds,” he says.
“The government wants to see a council with a vision and a council with a goal to shape the future of their district.”
Cr Bingham says unfortunately, creating a plan requires patience.
“Definitely there is a fair bit of infrastructure that needs to be put in place. If we did have that funding and eventually caught up, we can start preparing for future growth,” he says.
“Nothing happens overnight. I know we would all like it to.
“When we have this plan in place, the community is going to see bigger benefit from it.
“In the meantime we are going to be doing exactly what we have been doing – reacting to what is needed and playing catch up.”
Works detailed in the Moorabool Shire Council 2016-2017 Budget
- $6.155 million for road rehabilitation
- $1.408 million for plant replacement
- $0.850 million on bridges, drains and recreation/ leisure assets
- $0.478 million on footpaths and cycle-ways
- $0.221 million on buildings
Major Moorabool Shire Council projects in Bacchus Marsh
- Hallets Way/ O’Leary Way Project – a bridge over Werribee River, connection to Werribee Vale Road – $10 million, $2.18 million federal government contribution.
- Bacchus Marsh Racecourse Reserve – waiting on decision on grant applications – sports ovals, soccer pitches, BMX facilities.
You can read the full council budget report here: https://www.moorabool.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/Budget-2016-2017.pdf
According to Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s office, over the past three years, Moorabool Shire Council’s government grants – from both State and Commonwealth governments – have grown from $13.588 million in 2014-14 to $16.957 million in 2015-16.
Roads and traffic becoming an increasing problem for Bacchus Marsh
Bacchus Marsh resident Moira Berry describes the traffic problems in the area as “chronic”.
“I used to be able to get across the other side of town in 10 minutes,” she says.
“Now I have to allow 30 minutes. It’s ridiculous.”
Councillor Paul Tatchell says the road infrastructure in Bacchus Marsh was never designed for 18,000 people.
“Bacchus Marsh has a massive traffic issue because it’s a central hub,” he says.
“There is not even a truck bypass. All the trucks coming from Geelong drive through a single lane area of the main street, past a school and through a roundabout.”
Minister for Roads Luke Donnellan says the state government has invested $10 million in the Bacchus Marsh Traffic Improvements project.
The upgrade will see new pedestrian and cycling paths and new access to the Western Freeway.
This project will support the current and continued growth of Bacchus Marsh by improving traffic flow and road safety between Bacchus Marsh and the Western Freeway.
“We’ve listened to the local residents in Bacchus Marsh and that’s why we’re working to deliver this upgrade,” he says.
“Not only will this work improve reliability for drivers travelling on the Western Freeway, but it will also boost connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists in and around Bacchus Marsh.”
Resident Moira Berry says the Hallets Way extension should take away some of the traffic.
“But there is no proof to say it is going to take the trucks on that journey. It will certainly take cars away, but I can’t foresee a lot trucks changing their route from the main street, she says.
Resident John Spain says he is excited to see the work completed on O’Leary Way.
“It will make it easy to get to the other side of town and to the other side of the freeway from my home in Maddingley,” he says.
Employment opportunities a rising concern
About 40 per cent of Bacchus Marsh residents travel to Melbourne to work.
John Spain did it for all his working life.
But Councillor Paul Tatchell sees this as a problem.
“People who don’t work in their regions don’t shop in their regions,” he says.
“We need to get more people working in the area to boost the economy.”
A spokesperson for Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s office says they have recently launched the Victorian Planning Authority.
“We work closely with local councils to plan for growth in regional and urban areas on long-term plans to keep pace with Victoria’s growing population.
“The authority will play a key role managing Victoria’s population growth by planning for more housing and business choices in growing precincts across the state – including Bacchus Marsh.”
Agriculture, wool, beef production, mineral, stone and water extraction have been tradition economic drivers in the region. Residential growth, construction, retail and service industries and light manufacturing are emerging factors of growth.
Cr Jarrod Bingham says council want more residents to work within the shire.
He says Moorabool Shire Council are proposing Parwan as a potential site for an industrial precinct. The idea is to be discussed during community consultation.
“The economy would be boosted in the area if more people worked in the area,” Cr Bingham says.
New sporting facilities for a growing community
Noel Stanley is the President of the Bacchus Marsh Scorpions Soccer Club.
He says he and the club have reached a level of extreme frustration.
There is no designated soccer pitch in Bacchus Marsh. The soccer club has been running in the town for 10 years.
“We have never had a soccer pitch,” Noel says.
“We have pieces of grass with a concrete block in the middle of it they call a soccer pitch.
“It’s really bad. We have umpires coming down from Melbourne who are appalled with the state of the ground.
“It makes it really hard with children playing and it does cause a lot of injuries.
“We have grown from three or four teams five years ago to this year expecting 300 to 350 members.”
A soccer pitch is on the cards for Bacchus Marsh as part of a new sporting facility proposed for Racecourse Reserve.
“The Racecourse Reserve proposal has been talked about for years,” Noel says.
“We are extremely frustrated. We just want to see something happen and not talk about it forever.”
Minister for Sport John Eren says the Andrews Labor Government is supporting grassroots sporting clubs across the state to ensure they have the facilities they deserve – and Bacchus Marsh is no exception.
“We’re getting on with upgrading soccer facilities at Masons Lane Reserve, funding for the next stage of the Bacchus Marsh Racecourse Reserve and improving tracks for local athletes,” he says.
Soccer club president Noel Stanley says he is sick of waiting for a soccer pitch and wants to see action now.
“It would be such a pleasure to have a piece of grass that was irrigated and didn’t have concrete in the middle. It’s not much to ask when you have over 300 members,” he says.
Funding for upgrades at Bacchus Marsh Hospital
The 42 beds at Bacchus Marsh and Melton Regional hospital have seen an increased number of patients over recent years.
A $10.6 million state government investment in Djerriwarrh Health Services was announced last year.
Andrew Freeman, Djerriwarrh Health Services CEO, says the investment will help the hospital meet immediate and future care needs of the diverse and growing population.
“This capital investment is an example of how the health service is changing and adapting to meet the needs of the local Bacchus Marsh and Melton communities,” he says.
The funding will increase the number of maternity beds, upgrade delivery suites, two new operating theatres, and the refurbishment of two old theatres.
Minister for Health Jill Hennessy says record funding has been provided for Djerriwarrh Health Services over the past two years.
”Our investment will ensure Djerriwarrh Health Services has, and will continue to have, the capacity to grow to meet demand,” she says.
“We’re also developing a growth plan for health services in the West as part of our statewide design, service and infrastructure plan which will make sure we have the right resources, services and infrastructure in place to best meet the healthcare needs of our growing community in the West.”
Looking forward for Bacchus Marsh
Community consultations on the Bacchus Marsh District Urban Growth Framework encourage discussion on future residential and employment growth for Bacchus Marsh.
Councillor Tonia Dudzik says the framework is for planned growth while maintaining a country lifestyle.
“People want to live in a community focused environment,” she says.
“We want to retain the country feel and the beauty we have.”
Resident Moira Berry is passionate about ensuring Bacchus Marsh remains a great town.
“I want to keep it rural, to ensure it doesn’t turn into a metropolitan town,” she says.
“I hope and want to see for the future that we have more control over growth.”
For details on the community consultations, visit the council website: https://www.moorabool.vic.gov.au/residents/building-and-planning/strategic- planning/moorabool-2041#urbangrowthstrategy