By Luke Voogt
State government’s “authoritarian” takeover of the controversial Green Spine to prevent council removing a bike lane has enraged MPs, traders and councillors.
Shadow road safety minister Brad Battin today slammed the takeover of the Malop St project.
“This is just the latest example of the Andrews Labor Government riding roughshod over a democratically-elected council,” Mr Battin said.
“The arrogance of Daniel Andrews and his Labor mates is on show with this authoritarian move.
“Instead of issuing threats and ultimatums, the Andrews Labor Government should be working collaboratively with council to achieve a mutually-agreed outcome.”
On February 24 council voted 6-5 to spend $2 million to remove the bike lane on the north side of the Green Spine.
The decision came after state government and council together spent $8 million to complete stage one of the project in 2018.
State-appointed administrators approved the project in 2017 after replacing Geelong’s sacked council in 2016.
But today state government took control of Mercer, Malop and Garden streets declaring the Green Spine a ‘designated road project’ under Victorian legislation.
Roads Minister Jaala Pulford wrote to council directing them not to remove the bike lane and gave councillors seven days to respond.
Follow government MP Lisa Neville described “ripping up” the Green Spine as “a backwards step” and a waste of $2 million.
“I won’t stand by and watch a reckless council take a wrecking ball to our beautiful Green Spine,” the Bellarine MP said.
But central Geelong trader Sebastian Loader described state government as out of touch.
“I appreciate from afar it may look like a waste of money but it’s actually undoing the wrongs that have been done,” he said.
“[Council’s latest plans would] undo some of the ignorance and ideology that was given precedence over the pragmatic [realities].”
Councillors such Eddy Kontelj had worked closely with central Geelong traders before proposing the changes, Mr Loader said.
“These changes are really in reaction to the people that are affected the most.”
But Mr Loader said the Green Spine debate was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the coronavirus crisis, which had closed his business “indefinitely”.
Meanwhile federal senator Sarah Henderson demanded state government fix the “botched” Green Spine.
The “planning failure” prevented buses travelling east along Malop Street from turning right into Moorabool Street, she said.
Federal government had contributed $20.85 million towards state government’s Revitalising Central Geelong Action Plan, Ms Henderson said.
She demanded state government withdraw its recent threats to freeze funding for central Geelong and resolve the Green Spine’s planning issues before constructing further stages.
“Our government will not agree to any expenditure which risks wasting taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher described the state government takeover as “very disappointing”.
But she hoped state government would move quickly with the next stage of the project, which was awaiting the release of funding, she said.
Better bus routes and services could help reduce traffic congestion on Malop St that the Green Spine had caused, Cr Asher said.
But state government “indecision” on the location of Geelong’s bus interchange was “crippling” the city, she said.
“Council has been asking the state government for decisions around location of the bus interchange for as long as I can remember.”
Most retailers, key stakeholders and public transport user groups wanted the interchange moved from Moorabool Street, she said.
“These are issues of ongoing frustration for council, where we are not the decision-maker.”