Just sayin’…

September 3rd, 2023Just sayin’…

Had some interesting chats with Hepburn Shire Council CEO Bradley Thomas and Mayor Brian Hood last week.

By Donna Kelly

Aggressive behaviour towards Hepburn Shire Council staff is on the increase and reaching unprecedented levels

Had some interesting chats with Hepburn Shire Council CEO Bradley Thomas and Mayor Brian Hood last week.
The council put out a media release which says aggressive behaviour towards Hepburn Shire Council staff is on the increase and reaching unprecedented levels.
Mr Thomas said in the release that recent incidents had highlighted the lack of respect shown by some people towards council staff.
“Staff are regularly feeling intimidated after being approached in the street or in other public places, like the supermarket, and verbally abused, sometimes shouted or sworn at. We acknowledge that we don’t always get things right and sometimes mistakes are made, but that does not excuse poor behaviour towards staff.”
Later Mr Thomas said over the phone that it was a phenomenon that was happening in many council areas – mostly country. He thinks that with the end (sort of) of Covid, and the sky-rocketing cost of living, that people have had enough and feel they have the right to have their say.
Cr Hood said council staff, and councillors, were entitled to have a safe workplace. “Verbal abuse and threatening behaviour is simply not acceptable, and that includes cowardly online abuse. Council will do everything within its powers to protect its staff and councillors. We will not tolerate aggressive, abusive or threatening behaviour.”
Cr Hood said he was not a psychologist but, in his latest mayoral report to council, also called out the irresponsible behaviour of some media which “emboldens some elements of the community and fans the flames of dissent”.
Now, when I read that I was a bit annoyed. But after talking to Cr Hood I think it is more about mainstream media and not local media.
Also, The Local is very much a professional outfit, accredited as a newspaper through the Victorian Country Press Association and the federal Country Press Association. We employ qualified, professional journalists to write our stories and they are done with the utmost consideration. Yes, now and again, we might have a bit of a rant about council, but I think it is pretty much merited. The Rex, handing over aged care, the drooping Bleakley Street units, terrible satisfaction survey results.
But, that is no reason for anyone to harass or intimidate council staff or councillors, who are only doing their job, and probably for a pretty limited salary. Complain sure, but always remain respectful. And do it in the right way.
Sadly, keyboard warriors abound, saying things online they would never say to anyone’s face, and many people don’t realise just how small our rate base is. We are lucky to get roads, rates and rubbish done. And I know we still pay rates while the roads remain rubbish but most of them belong to the state government and not the council.

When we started The Local, Kyle asked if we should open an office in Daylesford. No, I said, no way. When I worked at The Advocate, in the Coles carpark office, people would line up to pop in and rage away for 30 minutes. One woman spent her time telling me I was a piece of shit – and then left saying “I feel better now”. I did feel like shit after that. I have been emailed: “Do you want to die?”. True story.
So next time you need to vent your spleen about a council issue, make a reasoned call, send an email or maybe decide if it’s just you having a bad day.
People might think I am mellowing in my old age but I just think we all should be treated respectfully. Who knows what’s going on in the background? Just sayin’…

Council to ‘advocate strongly’ for alternative VNI West route as ‘concerns’ remain

June 4th, 2023Council to ‘advocate strongly’ for alternative VNI West route as ‘concerns’ remain

The Hepburn Shire Council will continue to 'advocate strongly' for an alternative to the route currently preferred for the Victoria New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) project, mayor Cr Brian Hood says.

The Hepburn Shire Council will continue to ‘advocate strongly’ for an alternative to the route currently preferred for the Victoria New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) project, mayor Cr Brian Hood says.

This comes after details of the preferred option for the Victoria New South Wales Interconnector West (VNI West) project were outlined by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and Transgrid just over a week ago.

Hepburn Shire Council issued a media release stating that it was pleased the terminal station is no longer proposed for Mount Prospect but still has serious concerns about the increase in size of transmission line towers and the abject lack of genuine consideration for undergrounding lines. 

“The community and Council have campaigned strongly against the location of the terminal station in our Shire, consequently we are very pleased to see it is no longer the preferred option,” said Mayor of Hepburn Shire, Cr Brian Hood. 

“At the same time, we feel for the communities who are now facing the unwelcome prospect of a terminal station and towers in their region. We sincerely hope AEMO and Transgrid will engage more closely with the community as the projects continue,” he said. 

Cr Hood said the biggest concerns for Hepburn Shire Council now are the significant towers and easements planned as part of the proposed Western Renewables Link (WRL) corridor, which forms part of VNI West. 

“This is a beautiful part of the world. There is strong visitation and economic activity through tourism and it is also some of the best agricultural land in Victoria. It is incredibly disappointing that undergrounding transmission lines has not been genuinely considered in either project given these towers will be up to 80 metres high and easements up to 100 metres wide,” said Cr Hood. 

“Farmers will face the unwelcome prospect of massive easements around transmission infrastructure on their property, thereby restricting agricultural activities in this incredibly productive land,” he said. 

“Given these challenges we question the rationale of maintaining the currently proposed alignment of WRL through Hepburn Shire now that the terminal station will be relocated. On that basis we will be continuing to advocate strongly for a change to the proposed route.” 

A Ministerial Order has been implemented to progress the preferred option, which connects VNI West from Dinawan Energy Hub in NSW, via a new terminal station near Kerang directly to the WRL at a new terminal station near Bulgana in Northern Grampians Shire (rather than at Mount Prospect in Hepburn Shire). 

“While Council is highly supportive of renewable energy there has been a missed opportunity for genuine consideration for placing powerlines underground in some of the more sensitive areas. The refusal to consider that option represents inappropriately short-term thinking,” said Cr Hood. 

“We encourage the community to continue to make their voices heard throughout this process, including the upcoming Environmental Impact Assessment process,” he said. 

Those seeking further information may visit https://participate.hepburn.vic.gov.au/VNI-West

Interconnector West update

March 5th, 2023Interconnector West update

An additional consultation report into the Victoria to New South Wales Interconnector West project has been released in recent days by the Australian Energy Market Operator and Transgrid.

An additional consultation report into the Victoria to New South Wales Interconnector West project has been released in recent days by the Australian Energy Market Operator and Transgrid.

The report, a summary document and information on how to provide feedback are available at www.aemo.com.au/initiatives/major-programs/vni-west … with feedback due by April 5.

The terminal station proposed for Mount Prospect is no longer the preferred option.

However, commenting on the report, Hepburn Shire Mayor Cr Brian Hood said the largely unchanged power line route and significantly larger towers recommended in the report were of major concern.

Cr Brian Hood

“The report recommends an increase in the overhead power lines from 220kV (kilovolt) to 500kV through our shire,” Cr Hood said.

“This would require significantly larger towers, which will have an even greater impact on our important landscapes, farming and the community.”

We bought the Rex: a Bromley-Comelli coup

January 18th, 2023We bought the Rex: a Bromley-Comelli coup

CHRISTMAS '22 came a few days early for two of Daylesford's best known families who discovered they'd just become the proud new owners of The Rex.

CHRISTMAS ’22 came a few days early for two of Daylesford’s best known families who discovered they’d just become the proud new owners of The Rex.

Following a unanimous councillor decision at Hepburn Shire Council’s December 20 meeting, Eddy and Malinka Comelli and David and Yuge Bromley were delighted to discover their $3.75 million bid to purchase The Rex had been successful – from among the six EOIs formally submitted.
David Bromley said a clinching factor in their decision to submit their joint EOI together with the Comellis was a mutual love of the town and a wish to see The Rex become a vibrant contributor to showcasing its main street.
“Our mutual love of the town, our belief that the main street is one of the figureheads that you get to see when you come to town.
“We’re really keen to see it come alive and stop the blockage in the street and, ideally, to become the complete opposite – a resounding symbol for how stunning the street is. We all have a similar feeling about it. Between us we think we’ve got what it takes.”
Both the Comelli and Bromley families live in Daylesford, have strong connections in the community and say they’re now keen to make the most of The Rex’s considerable potential. They would not be drawn on whether the cinema will stay – or not – at this stage.
“We want to make it a really culturally rich hub, whether it’s retail, hospitality, art, entertainment. It’s going to be a real combination,” Yuge Bromley said.
“I think being part of the community, we are the consumers of those things ourselves so we feel like we do have a heartbeat connected with it.
“With both of our families local to the Daylesford community, the honour of purchasing and developing this iconic building into a thriving destination spot for both locals and visitors alike was our key driver,” Yuge said.
“We will take time to regroup and plan but our intention is to tap into our combined passions, connections and resources to transform the building into an evolving dining, retail and entertainment destination with a diversity of culture, food, art, music and entertainment.
“We have some initial plans regarding the arcade and atrium, making it a place where visitors local and from afar can frequent time and time again.”
Malinka Comelli said “honouring” the heritage-protected building was part of their plans for the future.
“Let’s see what we can do with it. It’s like a blank canvas but we’re going to honour the building for what it is,” she said.
And the new owners are also not closed to creative ideas and input from the community either, Eddy Comelli says.
“I’m excited to work with someone as creative as the Bromleys. I think we can turn this into something,” Eddy said. “We’ll give it our best shot.”
The price paid for the building – that’s sited next door to the Bromley&Co Daylesford gallery – was just above the reserve price of $3.7 million set in accordance with an independent property valuation and the Local Government Act 2020.
Hepburn Shire mayor Cr Brian Hood said the sale proceeds would be used to repay the loan linked to the council’s 2016 purchase of the site with remaining funds allocated to a financial reserve for future expenditure on staff accommodation and community facilities.
We bought The Rex – Bromley/Comelli coup
“We have begun our planning, and we will progress our investigation into options for staff accommodation and community facilities throughout 2023. This will include community consultation,” Cr Hood said.
He also acknowledged the challenging history of the building since the council bought it in 2016.
The council’s original purchase of The Rex building and other matters relating to the Hepburn at The Hub project remain under investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate.
Cr Hood was keen to point out that the council had cooperated fully with the investigation and called for the release of the inspectorate report.
“We’ve repeatedly asked for it to be released and we would welcome the release of the report as soon as possible,” he said.
He also emphasised that the decision to endorse the Comelli-Bromley bid was unanimous among councillors and followed careful consideration of each of the EOIs against multiple criteria, of which price was just one factor.
Cr Hood said the sale of the landmark building enabled the council and community to “move on to the next chapter of what’s been a long and problematic saga”.
“The saga has brought damage to council’s reputation and one thing I want to stress is that there is a huge difference between the 2016 councillors and management team and the current council and management team.
“It should never have been bought by council. This was a legacy issue, an inherited problem that we’ve had to fix.This is a decent outcome out of a very tricky and problematic situation.”
As to what the future now holds in store for The Rex, Cr Hood admits he personally would like to see the cinema within the building retained but says that decision rests with the new owners.
“It would be lovely to see that retained. I suspect most, if not all, of the councillors would be keen to see the cinema survive and thrive. It would be a shame to lose it but that’s now up to the new owners.”
Mr Bromley says the path ahead for The Rex will not be rushed.
“I think we’ll give ourselves a good three to four months if not longer to really make sure that we get it right,” he said.
“We’re going to be getting a lot of advice and really making sure that this time it is a big success. We’re open to the challenges.
“We’ll be making a lot of commercial decisions about its wellbeing. We’ll have to weigh up everything with a common-sense approach.”

Words & image: Eve Lamb

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