Archive:  Equine

Last Updated  17/3/17

 

VCAT decision at Carlsruhe

 

Outcome of Macedon Ranges 8 March Special Council Meeting For Rescission Motions 

(17/3/17 - C)  Cr. Jukes' rescission motion, to reverse Council's decision to withdraw support for Council's expired equine strategy, was defeated 8-1.  Cr. Mees' rescission motion to reverse approval of a 2 lot subdivision and 2 dwellings in Woodend, was carried   Council Performance file  Red Alerts

There was a large gallery at the 8th March Special Council Meeting, which was called to deal with two rescission motions arising from the 22 February ordinary council meeting.  Many in the gallery represented equine interests supporting Cr. Jukes' rescission motion.   Mayor Jennifer Anderson began the meeting with a clear explanation of the purpose of the meeting, agenda items, what the results might mean, local law protocols, and expectations for gallery behaviour. 

 

Cr. Mees' rescission motion (seconded Cr. Radnedge) was carried 5-3, reversing previous approval of a permit application for 2 dwellings and a 2 lot subdivision at 129 High Street, Woodend.   Mayor Anderson declared a conflict and left the chamber while the motion was considered (Cr. Bill West temporarily took the chair).  In support of her rescission motion, Cr. Mees cited the quality of the development outcome and impacts on heritage and character within a heritage precinct, adding the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee's report's emphasis upon protecting heritage values created a need to stop and think about heritage and character in the Shire.  She added that the applicant has indicated a willingness to work with council to resolve remaining issues.  Cr. Jukes opposed the rescission motion, seeming to think it meant a more 'mock heritage' outcome was sought.  He said although the development was approved on 22 February it was still open to being brought back to council for changes.  Cr. Mees then closed debate saying the rescission wasn't about wanting 'mock heritage' but new development being sympathetic to the heritage precinct and character, and the rescission motion allowed remaining issues to be resolved, before approval.  

 

Next up, Cr. Jukes' moved his rescission motion to overturn the 22nd February motion to withdraw the Equine Strategy and Equine Centre as strategic and funding priorities.  For a long moment it looked like he might not get a seconder until Cr. West did the honours to allow discussion.  Defending his rescission motion, Cr. Jukes argued the original motion was bad for council, and lacked consultation and transparency.  He spoke of costs, how important the 5 year [equine] plan was, and added that work on protection of Macedon Ranges will bring in equine.  He referred to claims that 'mainly horsey people' were involved in consultation on the equine program, then said many community facilities, including pools, had been driven by clubs associated with those activities.  He said the 22nd February decision totally lacked transparency, because no-one knows where it comes from.  He added that to remove a 5 year plan (i.e. the 2012-2016 Equine Strategy) from the planning scheme was not heard of before, then closed by announcing an Olympic champion was present at the meeting in support of the rescission motion.

 

Crs. Twait and then Gayfer spoke against the rescission motion, between them raising points including that there appeared to be some mis-understanding of Council's 22 February motion - it didn't mean undoing what had already been done;  equine's recreational and economic contribution was and would continue to be recognised, particularly leisure activities which seemed to have been missing out and warranted being fully addressed in the Shire's Leisure Strategy;  acknowledging work done but concerns with the equine feasibility study; and noting careful consideration is needed of all aspects of Council functions, particularly after the Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee's report.  In closing Cr. Twaits reminded the gallery Council is presently inviting community comments and feedback for the Council Plan.

 

The vote was taken and Cr. Jukes' rescission motion was defeated 8-1.  The 22 February motion stands.

 

MRRA Says:

 

Well done to the eight councillors who voted to remove the expired 2012-2016 Equine Strategy from Council's strategic and budgeting priorities, a move that reflected the views of the majority of Macedon Ranges Shire residents who definitely didn't want the equine centre, or ratepayers footing the bills, or Council's continued single-minded focus on it. 

 

 In simple terms, the equine centre mainly benefited a relatively small group of interests and businesses within the Shire - and interests external to the Shire - while the option chosen by the previous council failed to provide promised facilities for local recreational riders.  This council's decision re-aligns council's focus from 'equine' to 'equity', and puts 'equine' in a Shire-wide context:  while horses are an important activity and interest, they are neither the only nor the most important activity or interest in the Shire.  The decision will now see MRSC's request for $40 million funding for the equine centre through the 2016 Loddon Mallee Prospectus withdrawn, opening up new and more opportunities for funding applications for projects benefitting the broader Macedon Ranges' community.  

 

Cr. Jukes' arguments for supporting his rescission motion deservedly fell flat, and little wonder.  

 

No-one knew where the original (22nd February) motion came from... 

 

Seriously?  Firstly, even the tremulous Equine Centre Feasibility Study recognised an equine centre as a significant financial risk, with potential to harm existing Shire businesses. 

 

Many might also say there were some wee clues in last year's Community Satisfaction Survey where the community caned Council for what it was doing, or when the community voted for dramatic change with 7 new councillors out of 9 last October, or just out there in the community where, over the past few years, residents were saying they didn't want the equine centre almost as often as they said they hated the Council pushing it - and that was pretty much all the time.  Broad community opposition was unmistakeable and un-missable, to those who looked and listened.

 

No consultation...  

 

Could this be the same Cr. Jukes who dismissed community calls for consultation on the 2015 Kyneton Development Plan for a 341 lot subdivision?  Who thought one meeting run by the developer, and consultation about five years earlier on a different development plan, was sufficient consultation?  Who said 'the community had been consulted and those who want to know, know about it'? 

 

Not transparent...  Removing a strategy from the planning scheme without consultation hadn't been done before...  

 

Not a smart move going here.  Lack of transparency?  Let's talk about how the Equine Strategy got into the Macedon Ranges planning scheme in the first place.  The draft Equine Strategy was exhibited over Christmas 2011 with submissions closing mid-January 2012, timing that automatically rings alarm bells.  By the 28 March 2012 council meeting, the Strategy was up for adoption as agenda item PE7 but was moved up the agenda and adopted in a hefty 'en bloc' motion (no debate) at the start of the meeting.  Just as well, really, because after that, up bobbed a motion at item PE4 for council to send Amendment C84 to a planning panel.  Amendment C84 was said to be a policy-neutral reformatting of, but surreptitiously rewrote, the Macedon Ranges planning scheme.   And guess what?  Even though adopted only a few minutes before, the Equine Strategy was already in Amendment C84, both as a reference document and in policy saying implement it. 

 

Subsequently, the planning panel to which Amendment C84 was sent said 'no' to the Equine Strategy.  It hadn't been exhibited with - and wasn't part of - Amendment C84, so take it out.  But the council of the day disagreed and made no such change, saying exhibition of the draft Equine Strategy (over Christmas, before its adoption by council) was sufficient consultation to justify putting it in the planning scheme - and saying 'implement it'. 

 

The C84 planning panel again said 'no', and that "the implications of responding to 'planning constraints' identified in the [equine strategy] could be significant.  It is not appropriate to indicate in the MSS that this un-exhibited document will be implemented in the planning scheme."    Although the Equine Strategy ended up being included in the planning scheme as a reference document, the main policy that said 'implement it' was removed.  Undaunted, the previous council implemented the Equine Strategy anyway, using it amongst other things to launch the equine centre, and as a primary justification for Amendment C110 - the rural living carve-up along the Shire's southern boundary and at Romsey and Kyneton.  Implementation on steroids!

 

And you could only call the claim, that strategies hadn't before been removed this way from the planning scheme, a walk on the very wild side!  The previous council turned this practice into an art form throughout the many iterations of Amendment C84 - adding and deleting dozens of strategies and reports from the planning scheme with, or without, consultation or exhibition.  This feast of arbitrary changes made it almost impossible to understand what was in, what wasn't, and why.  The council of the day also declined to implement a C84 planning panel recommendation that would have assisted transparency and accountability with these documents.

 

The surprise is that, even though he voted for it, Cr. Jukes seems to have overlooked all of this.

 

That just leaves us to mention that some equine interests are blaming MRRA for the new council's decision (oops, heavy overtones of 'shooting the messenger' there!), and also that ex-councillors Letchford and Hackett were at the rescission motion meeting.  Ex-councillor Letchford also attended the 22 February meeting, aligning himself at both meetings with equine interests.   What can we say but amen... rather them than us. 

 

 

NEW  22nd February 2017 Council Meeting:  Welcome To The World Of Changing Council Priorities

(6/3/17 - C)  Cr. Jukes lodges rescission motion against Council withdrawing formal support for the Equine Strategy - Special Council Meeting Wednesday 8 March, Gisborne, 6.00pm.  Councillor Performance File   Red Alerts

 

The Council meeting on February 22 was something to behold - with some surprising alternative motions, this new Council is doing things differently (and better).

Councillor Jukes (the only councillor who voted against the motion to delete the Equine Strategy, Equine Centre and associated funding and priorities for same, has lodged a rescission motion to overturn the 22 February Council decision. 

 

A Special Council meeting will be held on Wednesday March 8 at 6.00PM at the Gisborne Administration Office, and is open to the public.

 

MRRA Says:

 

This 'difference' is what the community voted for last October, and it's beginning to be reflected in some significant Council decisions.  At last, more thought, questioning, research, consistency, accountability, transparency, higher standards, strategic thinking, compliance with the planning scheme, and a much better grasp of wider community perspectives and priorities.

 

The day after the Council meeting (and the 8-1 vote on the Equine Strategy), the Bendigo Advertiser somehow ran the headline "Macedon Ranges Shire councillors divided over equine centre".  Divided??  8-1??  Wait.  Cr Jukes was well-quoted in the story... OK, that works in making sense of why anyone would say "councillors divided".

 

 

 

CURRENT Recent VCAT 'Red Dot' Decision About Existing Use Rights At Carlsruhe Reveals More Than Just Another Mistake At Council

(15/9/16 - C)  You will want to see this: Macedon Ranges Council employee found to not be a credible or reliable witness  Council/Councillor Performance file   Red Alerts

 

The VCAT decision deliberates the validity of an existing use right for a property at Carlsruhe, formerly known as West Rock Farm, now Hedge Farm.  Specifically, whether a permit and consents granted in 1996 to previous owner Athol Guy remain valid or whether the uses allowed by the permit ceased for 2 or more years, causing the permit to expire.  In 1996, under the Kyneton planning scheme, the land was in the Rural General Farming zone B, and the uses allowed by the original permit were not prohibited.

 

Much of the VCAT decision is occupied with a technical interpretation of planning law and planning scheme provisions specific to this case.  VCAT's findings are of sufficiently high interest and precedent to legal and planning circles, they are made a VCAT 'red dot decision', which means people throughout the State, and beyond, will read it.  The decision can be accessed at Seers v MRSC VCAT 16 August 2016

 

However, VCAT's legal interpretation isn't the only matter of outstanding interest.  For Macedon Ranges Shire residents, so too are the 'players' for Council, and their relationship/s with and within Macedon Ranges Shire Council.

 

Immediate past owners of the (West Rock Farm) property were Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey.  

During their ownership of the property, Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey were also business partners in West Rock Farm, who continued the uses allowed by the original permit.  However they became insolvent c2007 and their companies (Equus Promotions Pty Ltd and West Rock Property Pty Ltd) were deregistered. 

 

Two years later the farm was sold at a mortgagees’ auction, as a going concern (i.e. with the permit still in play), to the existing owners.  Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey were unsuccessful bidders for the property. 

 

In the years since that sale, Macedon Ranges Council has taken a position that the original 1996 permit had expired, apparently based on advice from Leanne Davey and Colleen Lethbridge that  the uses allowed by the permit had ceased for more than 2 years during their ownership of the property. 

 

Helen Gibson (Vice-President of VCAT) found, amongst other things, that MRSC employee Leanne Davey was not a credible or reliable witness (Assessment of Evidence, paragraph 26 and onwards, page 10 of 27).

 

"27 In terms of whether use of the land ceased during the period February 2007 to September 2009, I prefer the evidence of the Seers that the use did not cease for the following reasons.

28 I did not find Ms Davey to be a credible or reliable witness.  I found her responses to questions to be vague, self-serving and, at times evasive. 

 

29 In addition, my attention was drawn to the fact that during the lunch break on day 1 of the hearing, whilst still on oath and under cross examination and despite my specific direction to her not to speak to any council officer or solicitor, which would mean having a solitary lunch, Ms Davey nevertheless had lunch with a council officer who was attending the hearing.  Whilst Ms Davey said she did not understand my direction and only spoke about general things, I nevertheless consider that her disregard of my explicit direction lessens her credibility and the weight to be placed on her evidence."

 

Ms. Gibson also determined that based on evidence before her, and on the balance of probability, the uses allowed by the original permit had not ceased, as claimed, and the permit remains valid. 

 

 

MRRA Says:

 

By implication, this VCAT finding invites the question of whether the previous owners continued trading while insolvent, a matter raised in the VCAT evidence of the current owners.

 

As for the rest, we can't help thinking some aspects of this decision reflect problems besetting this Shire, and will sound familiar to many residents. 

 

Discussion in the decision makes reference to claims of Council withholding information and documents, and being biased against the current owners because of personal relationships involving Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey - respectively, the mother, and employee, of Council's Economic Development Manager, Kylie Lethbridge.

 

Insights gained from the decision aren't confined to character, performances and relationships at Council. 

 

Both Colleen Lethbridge and Leanne Davey have undeniable interests in equine-related activities.  Colleen Lethbridge’s blog also confirms her "daughter [Kylie] is mad about horses”.  (1 April 2015 entry).  http://handctv.com.au/colleen-lethbridge/ 

 

The elephant in the room now is, has the intricacy and strength of these relationships and interests influenced Council's extravagant promotion of and priorities for equine-related policies and funding?  Questions would also include whether sufficient 'arm's length' professional objectivity has underpinned Council decisions and direction; and has there been/will there be any personal or commercial benefit to those involved in these relationships if the Equine Centre and other equine-related activities, such as the commercial equine precinct proposed near Kyneton racecourse, go ahead? 

 

The personal relationship between Ms Kylie Lethbridge and former mayor and current councillor/West Ward candidate Roger Jukes adds another layer of complexity to the situation.  Neither are known to have made public declarations of any conflicts in their workplaces in regard to their own, or other, close relationships.

 

 

$14 Million Debt, Rates' Capping,  A Deteriorating Financial Situation, A Potentially Bursting Housing Bubble - And Now, Targeted Consultation and A White Elephant Equine Centre

(23/6/15 - C)  Lucky us - Macedon Ranges just about has it all.  Feeling better off?  Didn't think so, and the latest Community Satisfaction Survey results confirm this Council needs to get back to what the community expects it to do... 

Only three Councillors put the community first at the 27 May council meeting.  Six supported much narrower interests.  Here's an overview from MRRA reps' notes of how the debate went about Council supporting the not-needed Equine Centre financial juggernaut.

 

In response to Cr. Anderson's questions, Macedon Ranges' economic development officer Kylie Lethbridge confirmed half the people who responded to Council's online survey were from outside the Shire (using postcode as the basis for assumptions).  95.6% were in favour.  Estimated costs to Council for the Equine Centre so far are around $100,000, with another $100,000 - $150,000 cost to pursue the project.  

 

Cr. Piper moved and Cr. Anderson seconded an amended motion, replacing officer recommendations for actions with recommendations for reports to be made back to Council before further spending - i.e. full financial costings of proceeding with the equine centre, including estimated officer time, any in-kind support, council costs to undertake a full risk assessment and subsequent further studies or business cases required. 

Cr. Piper's motion also included that Council acknowledge that a full risk analysis including (but not limited to) risks such as environmental, situational, strategic, operational, financial and commercial, is required to assess council's risk appetite and whether a business case is viable.  A further change in Cr. Piper's motion was that officers provide the above reports without spending any more Council money on the items/actions listed in the officer's recommendation.  

 

Cr. Piper said she was not against equine but concerned as a councilllor about best practice - there is no risk analysis about Council's risk.  The dollar spend isn't itemised.  The Centre is not an essential service of council.  Ratepayers are $14 million in debt.  She wants to see in a report what liability this project is going to be on Council in future.  Even though the Feasilibity Study says proposed arrangements are minimal risk to Council - Council has $14 million debt, and rate capping.  She wants to know what is 'minimal risk', and couldn't support the equine centre without any details.

Cr. Jukes - against.  The business case covers details.  It's not a small project - State if not National significance.  Jobs, additional support from State, tourism. Facility has a $9.9 million per annum economic impact.  As for targeted consultation - it was well advertised and a lot of positive feedback.  91% thought it was a good way to go (forward-looking in Australia).  Business - have done forecasts to cater for such a facility.  Go back to State government, work with, get funding for.  Environment issues - need a site, not determined yet, general area only identified.  Those he spoke to, plenty of them out there willing to back it up.

Cr. Hackett - against.  Public consultation resulted in 989 respondents to Council's survey.  36 didn't like it, 95.4% loved it.  Re cost - equine activities are one of the highest spending - should not be neglected. $9 million annual economic impact, 300 jobs.  Have to now put business plan.  Have done the consultation.

Cr. Letchford - against.  Said something about roads, rates and rubbish, and the Intergenerational Report, and if Council applied risk strategy to pools, we wouldn't have any.  Advocating for 97% , if didn't move it forward would be advocating for 3%.  This is creating wealth - have to be innovative and bring something forward.   

 

Cr. Anderson -  very high risk.  The equine centre project isn't about horses or emotion.  For council, it's about risk. There are too many risks.  Not supported by the planning scheme or Amendment C84 (both say protect this area from development).  Potential to lose other grants if State funds this.  There are a lot financial assumptions, must have other things.  Potentially taking money away from existing needs.  Consultation was biased, 50% of respondents were from outside the Shire.  Council advertised the Feasibility Study through REIN and Facebook to other horse-focussed sites, targeted the equine industry.  In the end it's a centre without exclusive community use.  Building cost is massive, not sustainable, consultation is compromised, if someone out there wants it go for it, but don't commit ratepayers to it.

 

Cr. Mowatt  Not against it in principle, but where is due diligence?  Enough is enough - this and Council's debt level - do risk assessment first then do business case and then to State government.

 

Cr. McLaughlin - Risk assessment - still need to do business case first before risk assessment.  Will bring $9.9 million into local community, fantastic economic development opportunity.

 

Cr. Hackett - community consultation was thorough, ads in paper, not biased.  $98,000 investment already, it's spot on, capitalise on the investment.  Cr. Anderson: officer confirmed Council targeted horse industry Facebook sites and REIN. 

Cr. Anderson - Have already given a thorough list of risks.  Prefer risk analysis first - would hope that risk and budget implications would be at the top of the agenda, don't want huge risk, meet standards - that's our job.

Cr. Piper:  The debate isn't about risk or costs, it's about making decisions - 101 decision making. 

 

Cr. Piper's amended motion was put and lost.  Cr. Anderson requested a division: For - Crs. Anderson, Mowatt, Piper.  Against -  Crs. Connor, Hackett, Jukes, Letchford, Ellis and McLaughlin. 

Cr. McLaughlin then moved the officer's recommendation, with amendments.   Cr. Anderson then moved (Cr. Piper seconded) a further amendment - that council requests the State government to provide all financial and other support and undertake the development of a full business case for the equine centre in the Macedon Ranges  incorporating a community access model.  Cr. Anderson said she wanted this put in because of concerns about the $38,000 already spent, how much more in costs?  All ratepayers are affected. 

Cr. Connor then moved, (Cr. Letchford seconded) a procedural motion, that Cr. Anderson's amendment be put (i.e. immediately).  It was so put, and lost.  Cr. Letchford requested a division:  For -  Crs Anderson, Mowatt, Piper.  Against - Crs Connor, Letchford, Ellis, Hackett, McLaughlin, Jukes. 

The meeting then returned to Cr. McLaughlin's amended motion.  Cr. Letchford spoke to the motion and noted that the $38,000 Council has spent was only about $1 per ratepayer - gosh, you would think it would break the bank, and that less than 10 objections were received on environmental grounds.  This is business moving forward, Council's ahead of the game.  Stakeholders in the south of the Shire - haven't heard objections.  Hume etc are looking for value adding.

 

Cr. McLaughlin finished by saying it was a great and important issue, do it step by step.  Risk - budget and debt are not the result of one single decision. 

The motion before Council (i.e. Cr. McLaughlin's motion with amendments, seconded by Cr. Letchford)) was then put and carried.  Cr. Anderson requested a division:  For -  Crs Connor, Letchford, Ellis, Hackett, McLaughlin, Jukes.  Against - Crs Anderson, Mowatt, Piper.

MRRA Says:

And now you have a fair idea of why the good ship "Macedon Ranges" is sinking.  Only 3 of our 9 councillors consistently tried to do their job and put ratepayers' interests first.  The rest? 

There was a whiff of bullying when some of the chaps challenged Cr. Anderson saying she couldn't move an amendment, but the governance officer said she could.

As for the statistics of how many love this proposal, by the time the debate finished, it had started to sound like Pick A Number.   On reflection, it reminded us of Council's budget in many ways...

The officer's report said 789 surveys were received, 741 people (95.2%) supported the pony equine centre, and 718 were involved in equine activities within the Macedon Ranges (Council had previously said 80% of respondents were "general residents" but apparently not).  Interestingly, of the 12,810 people Council claims received Facebook notifications about the Feasibility Study (hmmm... don't recall MRRA getting one), only 622 (some 4.9%) clicked on posts to find out more.  Council didn't say how many of the thousands notified, or how many of the hundreds clicking on posts, lived in Macedon Ranges.

The overall impression is that some of our councillors seem to see themselves as high flyers - you know, the types that get their thrills playing the stock market.   Maybe that's why the huge risks around this dud equine centre seems so sexy, that and the fact that Council is playing it with someone else's money.  Council would of course prefer to play with the State government's money, but we are hoping the State government is much, much smarter than Council seems to think it is. 

 

While roads, rates and rubbish apparently aren't nearly as sexy as the pony venture, if more of our Councillors focussed on what a Council and Councillors are supposed to do, maybe Council wouldn't be looking down the barrel of Community Satisfaction Ratings like these: 

only 52% community approval for Council's performance on consultation and engagement, and on community decisions;

only 51% approval for sealed roads;

only 50% approval for town planning policy and 48% for planning permits; 

Rock-bottom was - you probably guessed already - maintenance of roads only 47% and roadside slashing only 46%. 

 

That won't change while we have 6 of 9 Councillors prioritising economic empire-building instead of responsible governance, or while Council pours more and more of our budget into big pet projects like this useless, expensive, over-the-top equine centre while cutting back on what counts.  

 

By the way, none of the councillors declared a conflict of interest in voting on this proposal.

 

Cr. Letchford's Response to MRRA's Equine Centre Submission

(13/4/15 - C)  No obvious connection in the Councillor's harangue to Local Government Act's Section 76BA (c) requirement for councillors to "treat all persons with respect and have due regard to the opinions, beliefs, rights and responsibilities of... other persons"

MRRA put in a submission to Council on the Equine Centre Feasibility Study, and copied it to all Councillors and MLA for Macedon, Mary-Anne Thomas. 

 

MRRA received polite acknowledgements of receipt of the submission from Crs. Mowatt, Piper and Anderson (these last two also confirmed they value community consultation and participation). 

 

In contrast, we also received this response from Cr. John Letchford.  It's not the first or only time the Councillor has vented on MRRA (we hear others in the community have been similarly treated for voicing an opinion, particularly one that doesn't correspond with the Councillor's position).  This type of harassment and bullying behaviour against members of the community - be it by email or in chamber - falls well outside the State rules governing Councillor behaviour.

 

While his Councillor colleagues gave no indication of where they stood on this issue, Councillor Letchford's comments and defence of this proposal strongly suggest he has already made up his mind on this issue - he surely can't intend to claim he brings an 'open mind' to the matter when it comes before Council, can he?  Councillors are required to bring an open mind to decisions, otherwise they can be said to be conflicted, and can't vote.  After what he has said, will Councillor Letchford do the right thing - forfeit his vote on this matter and leave the chamber, as would be appropriate? 

 

Council Rolls Out Its Next Economic Development Disaster - A Monster Equine-And-Everything-Else Centre - For Sham Consultation

(22/3/15 - C)   Macedon Ranges Council goes totally off with the pixies with an eye-wateringly over-the-top 'Equine' Centre that makes Council's Hanging Rock over-development and Rural Living Zone feeding-frenzy pale.  Even Council's $95,000 Equine Centre Feasibility Study says financial risk is "significant".  You have until April 2 to say 'NO THANKS' to this excessive and expensive fool's paradise.

 

Download (pdf) this complete report with Tables attached

 

Macedon Ranges Council's 'Equine' Centre proposal is, like Council's Rural Living carve-up of the Shire's southern boundary, a by-product of Council's dysfunctional Equine Strategy (which the Amendment C84 Planning Panel said should not be implemented in the planning scheme).   Not off to a good start then, and it's downhill from there.

 

Council's $95,000 Macedon Ranges Equine Centre Draft Feasibility Study ($35,000 cost to ratepayers) is a 63-page document which confirms Macedon Ranges Shire Council suffers delusions of grandeur when it comes to economic development.  The Study's purpose seems to be convincing State government to pick up the hefty financial costs and responsibility for this 'Everything' Centre, but unexplained and inexcusable discrepancies produce a confusing and falsely rosy picture of the project, and an impression of financials being manipulated to produce manufactured outcomes.  Below are key points, issues and concerns with the Study (page numbers are those in the Study). 

 

The 'Equine' Centre Proposal

 

The Feasibility Study [the Study] considered 4 strategic ways forward (page 17) i.e. #1 Do Nothing;   #2 Expansion at (2a) Werribee Park National Equine Centre or (2b) Tatura Park Equine Centre;   #3 Expansion of a different facility; and #4 Development at a greenfields [new] site.  These scenarios (pages 16/17, Tables 6/7), are rated high, medium or low against five criteria, and are then given an overall rating.   The ratings aren't easy to understand.  For example, although costs aren't identified, Table 7 'rates' scenarios on capital cost, and here the 'do nothing' scenario is rated 'high' and the 'greenfields' scenario 'low'.  It's confusing because Table 6 at capital cost defines 'high' as "complete rebuild of existing facility/greenfields at new site", and 'low' as "relatively low cost upgrade".

 

In the end, Table 7 gives the greenfields scenario a 'high' overall rating, and all other scenarios a 'low' overall rating even though these have high, medium and low-medium ratings in the various individual categories.  The Study then recommends greenfields development, in Macedon Ranges Shire, citing "support from the Council and has political good will" as one reason for selecting it.   As Council support is a no-brainer, the claimed "political goodwill" presumably means goodwill from State government.

 

The Study then puts forward four new (greenfields) Equine Centre project options with differing facilities and costs (pages 20 - 22).   

 

Option 2 ($31.2 million cost at page 27) is the Study's recommended option, even though it doesn't include a covered, subsidised community arena, the current lack of which is identified as a key problem to be solved by this 'Equine' Centre project (page 11).   With Option 2, the local Macedon Ranges community will pay commercial rates and have no priority access to the Centre.  

 

Note:  A community facility is NOT included or costed in Option 2 but a community arena (no seating) is misleadingly included on Option 2 site design diagrams at pages 46/47 - if you haven't read the fine print at page 44 you could easily be deceived into thinking a community arena does come with Option 2.

 

Council's 'Equine' Centre proposal is the biggest (by far) in Australia.  For example, Werribee Park National Equine Centre is located on 30 acres of land, with some potential for another 40 acres' expansion (footnote, page 13) but the Study says a Macedon Ranges 'Equine' Centre requires a minimum of 300 acres, ideally 400 acres.  

 

The 'equine' in Equine Centre is only a minor part of this proposal.  This is commercial development on the scale of a new town.

 

The Study says Option 2's key features and activities (pages 20-22, 23, 43/44, 46/47 and Appendix B) include core * and non-core * equine activities, plus non-equine music events/concerts, trade fairs, exhibitions and displays, other animal shows, non-equine sporting events, and conventions.  * Core equine activities relate to disciplines governed by the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale (pages 4 & 42) e.g. Olympics.); non-core equine activities include western pleasure, camp draft cutting, reining, quarterhorse/stockhorse other breeds championships, carriage driving (Table 8, page 18)

 

Also in the mix are horse and cattle sales, agistment, gala balls, camping, retail outlets, accommodation (potentially group, dormitory and apartment accommodation), cafes/restaurants, corporate hospitality, business (commercial) offices/suites, conferences/meetings and western equine events.

 

So when Macedon Ranges Shire Council says this an Equine Centre, it is not being honest.  This is an 'Everything' Centre.

 

In fact,  at Appendix page A-2, the Study assumes (for financial analysis) that 419,000 people per annum would visit the 'Equine' Centre for non-equestrian purposes (i.e. one 14-day horse sale, 10 cattle shows and 10 cattle sales, 10 other livestock shows, 12 music events/concerts, 30 gala balls, 12 shows and displays, and 30 conferences and other), while at page 30 the Study estimates between 39,690 and 42,750 participants and spectators will attend equine events.  

 

Why so much non-equine activity at an 'Equine' Centre?  The Study says an Equine Centre alone isn't financially viable: "Most of the [other Australian] larger facilities struggle to break even or turn a profit."  (page 6) [emphasis added].    Note:  Most other larger Australian facilities are owned/managed by State or local government (Table 5 page 7, and page 35) but "Werribee Park National Equine Centre is a private organisation, jointly owned by Equestrian Victoria and Polo Victoria which are both represented on the Board.  WPNEC leases the Werribee site from Parks Victoria and is self-funded." (page 35)

 

Risks

 

The Feasibility Study confirms:

The Study also identifies other key risks including traffic congestion and crowding, safety issues and loss of amenity (including light and noise) for residents, some spending being diverted from existing Macedon Ranges' businesses (e.g. retail, accommodation and other services), and environmental impacts/pollution/emissions (page 16). 

 

At pages 38 - 40, the Study says a site/location in Macedon Ranges Shire has not been identified.  The potential inability to find a suitable 300 to 400 acre site i.e. flat land, contiguous, well-drained and no significant environmental constraints, is considered another major risk, as a suitable site is critical to the project and may be difficult to achieve.  

 

Facilities, Capital Costs and Financial Analysis

 

Facilities provided with each option influence capital costs, and capital costs strongly influence financial analysis outcomes.  This Study, however, contains mis-matches between facilities included in each option, facilities included in capital costs, and facilities included in the financial analysis.   The extent of variation makes it difficult to understand what's proposed, what the real capital costs are, and how options would really perform economically.  Dig deeper and it becomes clearer that what's presented in the Study doesn't make sense or add up, and isn't reliable enough to be used as the basis for decisions.   MRRA has produced a series of comparison tables to help  better understand what is happening in the Study, and these are referenced in the following text.

 

The Study identifies 4 (greenfields) project options, and their functions and facilities, at pages 20-22, as follows; capital costs are those used in the financial analysis at pages 27/28. 

The Study doesn't explain why minimalist Option 1 costs only $1M less than the all-frills Option 4, or why almost-minimalist Option 3 costs $10 million less than minimalist Option 1, or why the almost-all-frills recommended Option 2 is $9M less than all-frills Option 4, and $8M less than minimalist Option 1. 

 

Table 1  (Comparison of Facilities - All Options) consolidates initial information about facilities, activities and capital costs for all options.

 

If you haven't read the Study, you may think the capital costs it contains are the full costs for this project, but they aren't - the 'Equine' Centre comes in two stages: Phase 1 and Phase 2.   The Study's financial analysis - and capital costs - relate to Phase 1 facilities, not the complete project.  Additionally, although $5.3M for site works is included in capital costs for all options, this amount doesn't include costs for upgrading/extending infrastructure and services (e.g. transport, water, sewerage etc ), external to the site itself.  Likewise, land purchase also isn't in costs, and although at page 35 the Study notes "there may be potential for a site to leased from a local landowner",  leasing expenses aren't costed either.

 

The Study expands on Phase 1 and Phase 2 facilities for recommended Option 2 at pages 42/43, and in site design diagrams at pages 46/47 (these only show the most intensely used parts of the proposal, not all of it).  Each successive description of Option 2 expands or adds facilities.

 

Table 2  (Recommended Option 2 - Discrepancies in Included Facilities) shows the variations between facilities the Study attributes to Option 2.  Notable differences occur between the Study's descriptions of both Phase 1, and Phase 2, facilities;  these both also differ from Option 2 facilities initially identified at pages 20-22.

 

The Study (at page 42) says Option 2's Phase 1 facilities include “all facilities that have been included within the financial analysis of this report.”    Yet the Study's descriptions of Option 2's Phase 1 facilities don't match facilities (venues) used for Option 2's revenue generation in the Study's financial analysis, and neither of those are a match for facilities in Option 2's capital costs at Appendix A -3. 

 

Table 3 (Itemised Capital Costs - All Options) shows the Study's itemised capital costs at pages A-2 and A-3 for all 4 project options.  Concerns with these capital costs include: 

The Study does not give guidance on these discrepancies, or capital costs assigned for each option, or why Accommodation capital costs are missing from Option 3, or why Option 2 has two different capital costs.   What the itemised capital costs do reveal is that various options appear over- or under-costed, and that capital costs include only 'bare bones' facilities rather than those identified for each option which, if costed would raise capital costs, which in turn would impact the financial analysis outcomes.

 

Table 4 (All Options: Comparison of Facilities and Itemised Capital Costs) compares facilities for all options at pages 20-22 with facilities included in capital costs at A-3.

 

Table 5 (Recommended Option 2: Phase 1 Facilities Not Included In Capital Costs) compares Option 2's facilities against Option 2's costed facilities, and confirms not all Phase 1 facilities identified for Option 2 are included capital costs - or, consequently, the financial analysis. 

 

Transparent and credible costings are critical, because capital cost (and percentages of it) have a fundamental role in estimating the viability and economic performance of each option.  Get the capital cost wrong, and all the rest is wrong.  For example:

The difference between Option 2's two total capital costs (i.e. $31.2M and $37.2M) is $5,915,500, which is the exact capital cost assigned to all options at pages A-2 and A-3 for an "administration and 100-seat meeting centre".  This cost is included in Option 2 at A-3, but apparently deleted from Option 2's total capital costs for the financial analysis.

 

With these types of discrepancies, and not all facilities and costs included, it is difficult to see how the Study's total capital costs - or consequently the Study's financial analysis - could be considered full, transparent or reliable.

 

Additional concerns with the financial analysis include:

 

Options are credited with revenue from facilities that are not included in capital costs

There are discrepancies between facilities the options are said to include, those included in capital costs, and those used as venues generating revenue in the financial analysis.   Examples include:

Table 6 (Option 2 - Included facilities v costed facilities v income generating facilities) highlights Option 2 anomalies.

It also isn't explained why, at Table 16 (page 26), Option 1 has the highest venue hire fees in five of nine categories (and Option 2 the highest in 3 others), when presumably all options have the same venues.

 

Community demand assumptions: 

Appendix page A-1 lists Pony and Riding Clubs in Macedon Ranges Shire that have been used to estimate community demand in the financial analysis.  This list incorrectly includes Findon Pony Club (at Mernda http://www.findon.ponyclubvic.org.au/), and Oaklands Hunt Club (at Greenvale http://oaklandshunt.com.au/agistment/) when neither are located within the Shire.   Oaklands (fox and hounds) Hunt Club is also a much bigger enterprise than a local Pony or Adult Riding Club.  Their inclusion in Macedon Ranges' community demand would inflate the 'Equine' Centre's economic performance.

 

Events revenue sources

The Study says the financial analysis sources its events revenue for a Macedon Ranges 'Equine' Centre by adopting 67 equine events from Werribee Park National Equine Centre's annual calendar (page 25).  That is, the Study assumes 67 equine events currently held at Werribee Park NEC transfer to Macedon Ranges.  The Study doesn't explore the fragility of this sweeping assumption i.e. what happens if these Werribee Park events don't transfer to Macedon Ranges, or what happens to Werribee Park NEC if they do.    The Study states  (page 23), "Further discussions are expected to take place [with Werribee Park] to gauge the level of support from Equestrian Victoria for this proposal."   At face value, this could be interpreted as lack of support from Werribee Park NEC for a Macedon Ranges Equine Centre.  

 

In addition to these 67 events, the Study also adds another 14 events (page 25)  for Options 2 and 4 because "the design configuration of these project options e.g. multiple undercover arenas lends itself to additional events".   However, while Option 4 includes two (2) covered arenas in its capital costs, Option 2 only includes one (1).   Attendance figures shown suggest these additional events alone would attract some 57,000 total spectators/participants.  Yet at page 30, the Study shows estimated maximums of 42,750 and 42,410 participants/spectators for Options 2 and 4 respectively, for all equine events (and these are only 2,000-3,000 more than estimates for Options 1 and 3).

 

Bases for Economic and Employment Impacts

At page 32, the Study discusses Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] initial and flow-on effect multipliers for the construction industry, and states economic and employment impacts of construction are based on capital costs/investment.   However, marrying the discussed ABS multipliers with project option capital costs (or even building costs) doesn't produce the economic and employment economic impacts shown at Tables 26 and 28.  The basis used to generate these figures requires further clarification.  

 

A basis is not provided for economic and employment impacts of the "National Equine Centre" operations (shown in Tables 27 and 29, pages 33 & 34).

 

Incomplete Economic Data

The Study admits several times that data relevant to the financial analysis is deficient / unavailable / the result of discussions / needed.   For example, estimated visitor expenditure at the 'Equine' Centre (page 31) is based on tourism spend for the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges areas.  

 

At page 48, the $95,000 Study recommends, should Council support moving the 'Equine' Centre proposal forward, further (expensive) actions be undertaken including preparing a full business case, more detailed concept design and costings, a comprehensive risk assessment, and a more detailed financial and economic assessment.  

 

Governance (Ownership and Management) of the Equine Centre

Governance - or who would own / run the Centre - is discussed from page 35, where  the Study says, "the most realistic ownership option..., given the upfront capital cost, is the Victorian government..."   

 

The Study then addresses management, saying (page 35, bottom) that for this assessment it assumes "Macedon Ranges Shire Council will not own or manage the facility".   However, one of the five governance options (Option 4, page 36) is that the Centre be managed as "a Council owned business enterprise" , although this is insightfully rated a poor (low) outcome for users at Risk (page 37).  It would of course also be an extremely poor outcome for Macedon Ranges Shire's ratepayers.

 

Although the Study's preferred management option at page 36 is Option 3, i.e. making the facility a State owned public entity, the Study, at page 48, concludes"ideally it would be a state government business or not-for-profit entity with Macedon Ranges Shire Council represented on the Board."    Which suggests Macedon Ranges Shire Council would have a management role.

 

Location

 

Even though Council's 'survey' (see Consultation, below) asks participants what they think of the Centre's proposed location, the Study itself emphasises a preferred site or location has not been identified.

 

However, Macedon Ranges Shire Council has apparently already made a decision and has publicly announced that the 'Equine' Centre will be located in the "south-east of the Shire" Leader, Feasibility Study strengthens case for $40 million Equine Centre In Macedon Ranges, 3/3/15.

 

The "south-east of the Shire" puts the Centre in an area without water, sewerage and other services, and would make the notorious Melbourne-Lancefield Road the primary road access.  Extension of these services to an 'Equine' Centre near Clarkefield or further east would be very expensive and this substantial expense is not included in capital costs (the Study seems to see this as the responsibility of servicing authorities).   Or perhaps State government or Council assistance will be expected to cover these costs. 

 

Extension of services to or east of Clarkefield would also have the effect of at last turning Clarkefield into the "urban node" some have long dreamed of.  Two birds, one stone. 

 

Planning

 

The Study, at page 39, addresses planning issues and notes, "The identified site will need to satisfy planning issues around development, environmental and zoning, and will need to be consistent with Council's long-term land use planning framework."   Oops. 

 

The current Macedon Ranges planning scheme says (at Clause 21.03) "The Shire’s objective is to protect the quality of existing living environments and retaining a rural corridor between the edge of the metropolitan area and the Shire.  Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 – Macedon Ranges and Surrounds, approved by the Victorian Government in 1975, identified the ‘rural open’ areas around Mount Macedon as ‘breathing spaces’ and important view lines that should not be developed."   

 

Amendment C84, which is awaiting Ministerial approval, is more explicit at Clause 21.05-2 Significant Environments and Landscapes, where Objective 2 is, "To maintain and enhance the open character of the plains area of the south east of the Shire" by "Discourage[ing] urban development within the non-urban buffer to the south east of the Shire between Mount Macedon and metropolitan Melbourne."    Which is precisely where Council has apparently decided this 'Equine' Centre will go, in a landscape which is "critical in the contemporary character of Australia"  (Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study Volume 2, Environmental History, pages 2 and 3).  

 

It would be no surprise to many Shire residents if Macedon Ranges Council ignores its own planning scheme, along with environmental and social impacts.  Council has repeatedly demonstrated it has no qualms doing so in its obsessive pursuit of economic development.  In this case however, it is asking the State government (or other parties) to follow suit.  The State government, on the other hand, has pledged to legislate to protect Macedon Ranges.  This gross commercial 'Everything' Centre, and potential consequential and concurrent urbanisation of Clarkefield, is a palpable example of the type of damaging development from which Macedon Ranges needs to be protected.

 

Consultation

 

The Study claims 'stakeholder' support from the Australian, Victorian and local equine industry.  Appendix B  lists 21 separate "stakeholders" who were interviewed for the Study.  Of these, two were Departmental representatives, and two others Macedon Ranges Council representatives; three were from Kyneton Pony/Riding Clubs; and six were equine interests in Macedon Ranges Shire.  Seven were broader Victorian interests, and another, New South Wales.

 

After years of consulting selected 'stakeholders', and spending Council funds on this project, Macedon Ranges Shire Council has finally asked ratepayers if they want an 'Equine' Centre.  Predictably, Council falls over again on consultation:  two meetings with Council and consultant (Woodend & Romsey only), and a 'survey' where if you don't give your name, you can't participate.   Note:  MRRA found any name will do.  If you do give your name you have to trust Council to behave appropriately with the information you provide, which could be a big ask. 

 

 

Council's survey asks ratepayers if they support an 'Equine' Centre, and what they think of the project's size and scale, and location.  The problems with this are, Council hasn't revealed this is much, much more than an 'Equine' Centre;  it's nigh on impossible, from the Study, to get a meaningful picture of the size or scale of any option;  and if you missed Council's press release you wouldn't know where this thing is to be located.  

 

Council has further muddied the waters by announcing the 'Equine' Centre is a $40 million project (which is the Study's capital cost for Option 4, not recommended Option 2), which in turns suggests Council has already (informally) decided where it is going with this project.  Sham consultation - again.

 

What You Can Do

 

Click here for the Draft Final Report Equine Centre Feasibility Study, and click https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/equinecentresurvey for the survey.

 

Or go to Council's website http://www.mrsc.vic.gov.au/Business_Economy/Industries_Strategies/Macedon_Ranges_Equine_Centre_Feasibility_Study

  for both (adopted version of Feasibility Study).   You can also tell Council what you think on Facebook, by email or in writing.   Comments close Thursday APRIL 2, 2015.

 

MRRA strongly recommends you make your views clear in the survey (make sure you keep a copy of what you say);  you ask Council to provide a "Please explain" about the Study's short-comings; and you also send your views and comments  to Dan Andrews, Premier of Victoria daniel.andrews@parliament.vic.gov.au , and Mary-Anne Thomas, MLA for Macedon Mary-Anne.Thomas@parliament.vic.gov.au .

 

MRRA Says:

 

You could be forgiven for wondering if the Dodgy Brothers had a hand in this one.  Another day, another rubbish process, another whiff of deals, and another ratbag economic development idea.  Where does Council pluck them from?   And putting it in a landscape that is significant on a national level?   Yep, Council nails it again.

 

The...Feasibility...Study.  Aaaghhh!   You would think $95,000 would be enough to buy something worthwhile, but this one seems to have a fatal case of its collar and cuffs not matching.   Even though the Study prudently contains a hefty disclaimer distancing itself from information provided by Council, that doesn't explain or excuse how it ever got this far - someone signed off on it.   Let us know if you can think of a reason why the Study shouldn't  be condemned as unusable and a total waste of $35,000 of ratepayers' money mrra.sec999@gmail.com because we can't think of any.  

 

Would you make a $40 million decision based on this Study?   Didn't think so.  You can bet Council will though, following its time-honoured tradition of not letting the facts (i.e. the financials and planning don't work) or responsible governance get in the way of promoting pet projects and individual interests.  Which will then condemn ratepayers to wasting even more money getting the information that should have been in this verrry expensive Study in the first place. 

 

An even bigger nightmare, of course, is what it would cost ratepayers if this white elephant ever became reality.   You can see it now - Council would feel obliged (wrings hands) to help prop up this money-pit with our rates and resources.  It's predictable because pretty much anything this Council goes for is either solids to start with or rapidly morphs into something moist and malodorous, and because this Council could never admit what a dog of an idea it was in the first place.     

 

Council already says it is hard up.   Residents are always being told Council hasn't got the money for something or another (um, think maintaining Hanging Rock), or your problem doesn't get fixed because Council can't afford it.   The $35,000 that Council, without asking us, put into this Study could have been used for the benefit of the broader community - and while we are on costs to ratepayers, let's have a complete, detailed accounting from Council of everything this dud project has cost us - in money and officer time - since its inception.

 

Uh-oh, here's another problem - rates are being capped from next year.  Will that stem Council's profligate spending on its deranged economic development agenda?   Mmm... nup.   Contemplate community services totally disappearing instead.

 

Council aspires to national and international standing??  Bwahahahaha!!!  Can't even get the local stuff right, and let's never forget that the last time this Council had national and international standing it was for all the wrong reasons:  the gross Hanging Rock no-consultation over-development proposal.   As for this Council being on the board of anything - it can't even run a simple Committee of Management for Hanging Rock properly.  Nnnnoooooooo!

 

So where does all of this leave us?   A monster, unviable, commercial development; potential for Clarkefield to be transformed into an 'urban node'; a Feasibility Study whose financials appear to be the 'after' version; and a Council in la-la land.   And if Council, as expected, formally decides to throw more good money after bad by moving the 'Everything' Centre forward, that's when this project will go from being smelly to being outright rank - that's "rank" as in Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission. 

 

If not before, roll on 2016 when we can get a new Council, and 2017 when we can get a new CEO.     PS  don't forget to have your say on that survey, in any way you want!