Resort at the Rock

Macedon Ranges Shire Council is planning to develop a resort at Hanging Rock. Photo: Bruce Hedge

Macedon Ranges Shire Council is planning to develop a resort at Hanging Rock. Photo: Bruce Hedge

Accommodation development at Hanging Rock was endorsed by Macedon Ranges Council in a vote so close it was passed on the casting vote of the mayor.

Cr Jennifer Anderson, whose alternate motion was lost, has already called for the decision to be rescinded.

The passed motion stated private investment was needed to ensure a sustainable income for the Hanging Rock Reserve and the East Paddock.

The motion responded to the Hanging Rock Investment and Development Plan, which council undertook to investigate the challenges and opportunities for the Hanging Rock site.

It was prompted by Hanging Rock's growing inability to financially support itself, with maintenance and operating costs of the reserve increasing beyond revenue.

In the 4-4 vote passed on Wednesday night, council supported the tourism investment identified in the master plan, including a day spa, accommodation apartments, event and stage space, and a nature-focused adventure area. The idea is to focus development in the East Paddock to financially support conservation in the Rock Reserve. However the reserve forms part of the plan, housing the nature adventure area and yoga areas, for example.

Council agreed to work with the state government to seek a private investor to act on the master plan, with the details to be assessed through the planning process.

The motion, moved by Cr John Letchford, included a plan to communicate with stakeholders and the community.

Cr Anderson earlier moved a motion to consult with the community before making the decision.

The motion, which was lost on the a 3-5 vote, requested all the options outlined in the plan be made public and available for submissions.

The five options range from 'The Do Nothing Approach' to the 'Integrated Reserve' (the option council currently supports).

"Hanging Rock is a very special place, a special place to the people who live in the Macedon Ranges, a special place to people who visit it," Cr Anderson said.

"We've actually been given a whole lot more information than what the public has been able to see.

"They need to know more about what we're thinking of doing."

Cr Anderson stressed the need to protect significant and sensitive environmental areas.

"Without looking at all these options we're potentially going down a pathway with negative impacts we have not considered."

The lost motion requested community information sessions and a full officer report on the feedback received.

"It's a high risk for us to pick one option and not consult with our community," Cr Anderson said.

"We have a very intelligent, forward-thinking community that cares a lot about the environment."

The motion also requested the shire's independent tourism operators (accommodation, restaurants, conference centres, etc.) be formally notified of the plan.

Cr Anderson said those operators could suffer as a result of development at Hanging Rock, with visitors potentially not exploring beyond Hanging Rock. The plan identifies space for a restaurant, conference centre, retreat facilities along with accommodation.

Another element of the motion directed officers to provide economic data on income and expenditure at the Rock.

"We have to look at the economics of it. Look at what other ways we can get income. Why are we losing money?," Cr Anderson asked.

Cr Letchford said the option before council would financially support efforts for weed management, pest control and road infrastructure.

"Do we put the rates up by one per cent ... or do we find a source of sustainable income?"

He opposed the consultation proposed by Cr Anderson.

"How many committees and groups do we have to go through?

"It is good governance to make decisions. It is a case of making sure we make decisions in a timely manner."

A special council meeting will be held next Wednesday night, when a motion to rescind council's decision will be voted on. The public meeting will be at the Gisborne council chamber, 7pm.

* From our sister paper, the Macedon Ranges Guardian, out tomorrow.