The residents of Ballarat need to get-off their fat backsides and join-in the fight to save the Ballarat Railway station.

Monday 29th May, 2017, marked the 100th birthday of the assassinated President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He said: : ‘Change is the law of life; and those who look only to the past or present, are certain to miss the future.’ The future is what this fight is about – and make no mistake, it is a fight which the people of Ballarat cannot afford to lose. The Ballarat railway station dates back to 1862. The dramatic proposal being foisted onto the people of this regional city by a city-centric and determined government, the Regional Development Victoria Grampians committee, and VicTrack, is the first major alternation to the precinct in 155-years. This change is not about the next 10, 20, or even fifty-years. It about the next 150years – when all of us alive today will have long since fallen off the mortal coil; even our living descendants will have forgotten who we were. Do you remember any of your relatives from 155-years past?

I am not pretending to be Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin, or Jørn Utzon, but, after 50-years of working in the theatre, and I have worked with some fine designers, I have learned to smell a bad design from the back row of the upper circle in the Princess Theatre; and, as sure as eggs are eggs, the proposed design, in its present incarnation, is a stinker! I suspect those making the decisions for the drastic and half-baked changes to the environs of this glorious building, would not know a finial from a drainpipe?

Ballarat needs to proceed with caution. Let us not forget the horrendous changes to the public transport system which the State Government and Public Transport Victoria have inflicted upon this city, with disastrous outcomes. I would urge all voters to maintain their rage until the next election, and let their frustrations be known at the ballot box. The existing plan for the railway precinct is equally ruinous. It must be stopped in its present form.

I am not a town planner, an anthropologist, or indeed a visionary of any kind, but of one thing I am certain. In 150-years, the density of the populace between Ballarat and Melbourne will be seamless. The land which now lies empty will be populated. Ballarat will have a whole new raison d’etre. It will have grown beyond our recognition to become a satellite city of Melbourne, and the major regional centre. The railway station will be an even more important hub than at present. Come 2167, those burdened with the task of preparing the region for the next 150-years, will not thank us for any thoughtless mistakes made at this significant juncture. The proposal to dispose of the Crown Land adjacent to the railways station is sheer madness, and must be stopped. The spurious claim that this land is ‘surplus to requirement’ is a nonsense; an insult to the intelligence of the Ballarat residents, and ratepayers. Land is never surplus to requirement, under any circumstances. Once it has gone, land acquisition and resumptions is a costly and unpopular process.

Too much of this development would seem to be piecemeal. It was mooted the on-site hotel would be five-star. I have lived and worked in many regional cities around the world. None, to the best of my knowledge, has a five star hotel. The best you can expect is 3-star. Craig’s is a fine establishment. One of the best of its kind; an excellent example of a superior 3-star hotel. I can only assume, the person responsible for the preposterous claim has never stayed in an international 5-star hotel. The carpark, according to the official press release, was to be a multi-storied facility. Closer examination of the detail revealed it was two-levels. Two is not multi. Two is a couple. That has since be altered to three levels. In 50-years that will be laughably inadequate. Hotel occupancy in Ballarat is running, presently, at about 56%. Using that as a indicator, Ballarat does not want, or need, more accommodation. The proposal to build serviced apartments adjacent to the railway station does not make good sense. As a rule of thumb, visitors stay in serviced apartments for the additional facilities, including the cooking of meals. A supermarket needs to be within walking distance. At present, the nearest is Bridge Mall; not to mention the trains starting at 5am.

The proposed conference centre has shrunk in size, and now bears little resemblance to the original plan. The solution to the situation is simple. Refurbish the Civic Hall, move the Ballarat City Council to those premises, and convert the downstairs space in the glorious Town Hall. The upstairs area could be converted into a marriage hall and reception area. As an example of how it might function, those responsible should visit Meletos, at Coldstream in the Yarra Valley. They have a purpose built marriage reception centre, including a chapel, and they host 250weddings a year. It is financially viable. The number two platform at the station has been refurbished at the cost of $1.2-million, and is now languishing. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a more appropriate location for the Ballarat Tourist Information Centre. The suggested shopping precinct is, too, pointless. Ballarat does not need a couple of tawdry souvenir shops with little passing trade.

I implore every concerned resident of Ballarat to become involved in this protest. This city is the genesis of modern democracy in this country. Those who manned the battlements at the Eureka Stockade will stir, uneasily. in their graves if this ill-conceived proposal were allowed to be implemented without civil opposition. You have a responsibility. Do not fail your city. Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.Contact: rolandroc@bigpond.com