UNLIKE the previous two Greater Bendigo council elections, this poll lacks a single big issue that gains the public’s attention.
In 2004, the controversial plan to run the tram around Lake Weeroona energised anti-council sentiment and saw councillors lose their wards.
In 2008, the cost overruns and poor management of the redevelopment of Hargreaves Mall was the issue that had voters angry.
In that election, five councillors lost their seats.
This time around, whether by good management or good fortune, there is not one issue that is attracting rancour.
There are issues that are grabbing the odd headline, such as the rates cap, the gaol theatre plan and an independent review, but none of those seem to be causing the voters to go into the cupboard and grab their baseball bats.
The issue that has attracted the most interest during this council’s four-year term is how to manage the city’s ever-growing transport problems.
Since day one, this council has had to deal with bus chaos created when the State Government redirected every CBD bus down Mitchell Street.
Only in the past month has council accepted a plan that could ease that pressure.
Council is facing a giant task if it thinks education is the answer to increase the amount of people who use the city’s bus network.In June, the Weekly revealed a government survey that highlighted half of the people who travel on buses did not have a car or can’t afford to run one.
In other words, only half of those who use the city’s buses made a decision to leave their car at home.
That means the buses are not an alternative to driving for almost half of the city’s public transport users.
The other alarming revelation is that hardly anyone uses the buses to get to and from work.
Mid-way through its term, council faced a report from VicRoads about the city’s car needs for the next few decades.
It recommended a semi-ring road, from Kangaroo Flat to the eastern end of the CBD.
The problem was it cut a swathe through Quarry Hill, causing the only real public campaign of the past four years.Council listened to the red-ribboned protestors and rejected the idea, deciding to order a report into an integrated transport strategy,
with all its untested ideas and theories.
The future of transport – both public and private – is the closest to a barbecue-stopper issue the region and this council has had.
The online Bendigo Weekly election survey highlighted this.
More than 52 per cent of respondents ranked council’s performance in the area of traffic management as either poor or very poor.
Only 2.8 per cent ranked it as very good.
More than 42 per cent of respondents ranked a ring road as a great idea for Bendigo. Almost 20 per cent claimed it was useful and only 12 per cent said it was a waste of money.
Despite this, only one candidate in this month’s election has put forward a plausible plan to address the city’s traffic.
Others have identified it as an important task, George Flack has suggested a massive cross-like flyover that will never attract funding, and existing councillors have spoken about the work they have done on the current plans.
Whipstick Ward candidate James Williams wants to link the smaller towns in the council by rail, but only one candidate has put forward an alternative policy to ease the pressure within Bendigo.
Lockwood Ward candidate Karen Corr, and engineer husband Chris, have put forward an idea based on rail.It proposes building five new platforms along the existing train line, including at Golden Square and Long Gully, to operate small trains, or glorified trams, as a light rail network.
Ms Corr also wants to look at a plan to significantly expand the Talking Tram route.
That plan would see a new loop constructed from the Bendigo railway station, down Mitchell Street through to the rear of Rosalind Park, rejoining the tram line at High Street near the Tramways Depot.
“The route could include up to nine new tram stops taking in some of Bendigo’s most iconic tourist attractions with stops servicing Hargreaves Mall, the Bendigo Art Gallery and Capital Theatre, the recently approved Bendigo Gaol Theatre and Dai Gum San and would provide more options for tourists to explore the city,” she said.
“There are many exciting transport opportunities for our city.
“The trick will be to develop an integrated transport plan in partnership with key organisations to ensure the services and infrastructure are in place, complemented by a comprehensive engagement strategy to encourage the uptake of these services.”
Next week, the Weekly will look at another area of need for the city’s transport network.