A VicRoads Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge project information campaign scheduled during the voting period of the Moira Shire Council bridge plebiscite has been described as “an unlikely coincidence” by CEO Mark Henderson.
Readers of last week’s Yarrawonga Chronicle were presented with a VicRoads bridge project update via advertisements and the insertion of a four page ‘Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge Newsletter’.
The campaign provided details of the project so far, reasons behind the Victorian and NSW government choice of the grey route over the green route, revealed plans to have the referral for an Environment Effects Statement (EES) completed by October and scheduled two community information sessions.
It is the most significant presence from VicRoads in the newspaper regarding the project since the bridge route decision was announced in November, 2015.
The information campaign also happens to fall in the middle of voting on Moira Shire Council’s Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge Route Plebiscite, with voting packs due to be mailed out starting last week.
VicRoads’ only comment on the council plebiscite since it was announced has been to say that the vote “aims to inform council’s position on the new bridge alignment” while “VicRoads is continuing with the planning study for the new bridge”.
Moira Shire Council voted unanimously to conduct the bridge plebiscite in February when an officer’s report, approved by CEO Mark Henderson stated, “whilst numerous reports over many years have assessed various route options at no stage during the gestation of this project has the Yarrawonga community had a structured way to express an objective view”.
The report acknowledged the extensive consultation conducted by VicRoads but went on to say “the community engagement work undertaken by VicRoads has been selective and leaves it open to bias by those that chose to participate and those that assessed the results”.
The Moira Shire Council Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge Plebiscite is non-binding, on council or any other group, but instead has been scheduled, according to council, “to provide a robust, independent and democratic process to confirm the Yarrawonga residents’ preferred future alignment for a new bridge”.
With the plebiscite process underway, Moira Shire Council CEO Mark Henderson confirmed council was unaware of the planned bridge project campaign and community information sessions launched last week by VicRoads.
When asked about the timing of the VicRoads campaign, in connection with the plebiscite, Mr Henderson said “it seems an unlikely coincidence”.
Asked if council was concerned the VicRoads campaign would be detrimental to the plebiscite vote or confuse voters Mr Henderson said “Yarrawonga residents know their town and the plebiscite asks a very simple question on a preferred bridge alignment”.
“In conjunction with the VEC we’ve outlined what we believe is neutral and factual information about the alignments in the voting packs.
“There will be a range of groups trying to influence voters, that’s democracy at work. We have confidence the community can make an informed decision.”
VicRoads Regional Director North Eastern Nicki Kyriakou did not respond specifically to questions related to the timing of the roads authority campaign in connection with the Moira Shire Council plebiscite.
“VicRoads has reached a significant milestone in the planning process for the Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge project,” Ms Kyriakou said.
“The project team has begun preparing documents for the Environmental Effects Statement (EES) referral in October which will determine the requirements for the planning approval process moving forward.
“We’re currently in phase three of the planning study for the grey route connection B and the two information sessions are a timely opportunity for us to share the progress we’ve made.”
VicRoads said the EES referral milestone was the “key driver” for the latest information release and “VicRoads engaged with residents on suitable times and locations and planned the sessions months ago with the community in mind”.
With respect to how Moira Shire Council might act on the result of the plebiscite vote, particularly if the VicRoads EES referral has been completed prior to the result being known, Mr Henderson said “we won’t speculate on the plebiscite results but the Andrews Government has given a commitment to listen to regional communities”.
“We hope the Yarrawonga community takes the opportunity to send a very clear message to key decision makers.”