A perceived council backflip on the Molonglo Rail Trail has taken aback its committee members.
At a Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council meeting on Wednesday, November 22, councillors voted against sending a letter to landholders along the disused rail line on behalf of the committee.
QPRC will take no further action to support the rail trail project, as Mayor Tim Overall used his casting vote.
The room was split 5-5 as the issue came under discussion. Cr Trevor Hicks removed himself from the room having declared an interest in the item as his property abuts the rail line.
The letter was to be the first stages in beginning a consultation process with landholders to explore the feasibility of the trail.
Privacy concerns means the Molonglo Rail Trail Committee does not have access to the postal addresses of all the landholders along the line.
A covering letter indicating that QPRC did not endorse the project was to have been included.
“It came as a complete surprise to the rail trail committee,” said Molonglo Rail Trail Committee president Bill Taylor.
“It also came as a surprise, I think, to council staff.”
The move surprised many as it came after the release of the QPRC Tourism Plan in April.
The plan had emphasised cycling and rail trails as a key economic opportunity for the region.
Despite not having voted, Cr Hicks made it clear he supported the decision made in his absence.
Cr Hicks said he did not believe the proposed feasibility study by private company TRC Tourism would be independent, but that the group was out to get a trail at all costs.
“You give them an inch, they take a mile,” Cr Hicks said. “They’ve already proven they can’t be trusted.
“They don’t want to send me another letter. They did that two and a half years ago. They want to slip under the door with council support.”
Mr Taylor emphasised the independence of TRC Tourism, saying a “neutral” party was critical when talking to landholders as part of the feasibility study.
Mr Taylor believed the council’s decision was “political” and signaled the committee needed to better engage and inform the council regarding the project.
Councillors Brian Brown, Peter Harrison, Peter Marshall, Radmila Noveska and Kenrick Winchester all voted against the motion, put forward by Cr Trudy Taylor.
Several indicated after the vote that they were unhappy with the lack of warning with which the issue had been brought to council.
“This was something done, to all intents and purposes, without notices,” Cr Marshall said.
He saw no problem with the council assisting the Molonglo Rail Trail Committee in their communication with landholders, even if the council itself did not endorse the trail.
Mr Taylor said the real loss was to Captains Flat, as well as those who might have enjoyed the rail trail ride.
“The little village of Captains Flat is has fallen on hard times,” Mr Taylor said.
“The pub is the only thing that’s left open there, so [the rail trail] gives the village terrific economic opportunities.
“The Molonglo River Valley is really beautiful, there’s lots of things to see there, and it’s a terrific ride, so we would like to share that with other people in the community.”
In summary, he said he believed the committee would “get there … we’ve just got a bit of hard work to do now to get it to a majority of councillors.”
A rescission motion has been lodged, and the matter will be on the agenda again on December 13.