Original intent - former and current councils differ on why the East Paddock was purchased

Protecting the surrounds of Hanging Rock from development and further preserving its natural assets, motivated a council to purchase the East Paddock at Hanging Rock more than 20 years ago, says former councillor, Richard Hughes. 

Mr Hughes was serving on the former Shire of Newham and Woodend council (pre-amalgamation) when it agreed to purchase the site. He expressed his disappointment at Macedon Ranges Council's plans to develop a conference centre and accommodation at the East Paddock, during the Picnic at Hanging Rock event last Sunday. 

"The reason they (the Shire of Newham and Woodend) wanted to buy it was to protect the Rock, to open up a new area, so the Rock wasn't further degraded, to do certain activities like walking, playing games with your kids, just general activities you'd do at a park - not to develop," Mr Hughes says.

"Also to revegetate the East Paddock, because it had been used for grazing, to give more scope for the native fauna which were under a bit of pressure.

"And to preclude or nip in the bud any chance of development on that acreage. Everybody was worried that if some development might occur there it would be an ugly blight on the Rock. How ironic is that?"

Macedon Ranges Council interpreted a 1993 plan for the Rock to determine the intentions the former Shire of Newham and Woodend had for the East Paddock, says council tourism and economic development manager, Kylie Lethbridge.

"The council report was informed by the 1993 management plan, and sought to provide a current, realistic interpretation of the original intent of that document," Ms Lethbridge says.

"Consistent with the original management plan, the Hanging Rock Development and Investment Plan aims to take the pressure off the sensitive reserve and generate sustainable, long-term income for the Hanging Rock precinct."

Mr Hughes is proud of the 1993 management plan his council commissioned, and says this council has misinterpreted it. 

He says the management plan is a strong document because it went through community consultation - something he says the recent development plan should have had done with it.

"They've got a really good public consultation policy and they've totally ignored it and they should realise that people; residents, ratepayers, visitors, do have a large stake in Hanging Rock and particularly it's future," Mr Hughes says.

"Under any council I was involved in it would have gone out to community consultation, serious consultation, as we did with the Hanging Rock Management Plan.

"People have a really deep and abiding passion for the Rock. If council put it out there and thought, 'let's get a bit of a think tank going, the Rock needs money, what can we do?', I'm sure some ideas would pop up from the community that the council may not even think of."

Mr Hughes says he and other councillors involved in the East Paddock purchase envisaged no permanent structures for the site. 

"To my mind (this plan) will degrade the Rock and the reserve. It would be blighted by this development, it's also totally incompatible with the environment considerations that we felt needed addressing when we bought the land," he says.

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The Picnic at Hanging Rock event on Sunday attracted about 300 people, with several former councillors, current councillors and MPs also attending.

Anne Louise Lambert, who played Miranda in the movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock, spoke in favour of preserving the area, and the Friends of Hanging Rock announced her as the group's patron. 

Hanging Rock Action Group spokesperson, Luke Spielvogel, said the petition against the development will be taken to the State Parliament of Victoria this week. The Hanging Rock Action Group has also filed a nomination for the Hanging Rock Precinct to be included on the Heritage Victoria Register.

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