Environmental values will be at the heart of an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) Yarra Ranges Council is developing in an effort to help understand and manage any potential environmental risks associated with the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination.
In another milestone for this project, The Minister for Planning has determined an EES is required. While it has taken some time to get to this point, certainty around the next step is important in enabling this significant project to continue moving forward. This determination follows Council’s submission to Department Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) in late 2019 requesting advice around the need for an EES under the Environment Effects Act 1978 (Vic).
An EES is an approvals process that helps ensure major projects are designed, constructed and operated to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts. It requires detailed investigation across a wide range of environmental factors including ecological, physical and social elements.
Yarra Ranges councillor and Warburton Mountain Bike Destination Project Reference Group member Jim Child said while Council was disappointed at the time taken to reach a decision on the need for an EES, he hoped work undertaken to date would enable the EES to progress quickly.
“Council is committed to working with partnering agencies to ensure this exciting project continues to progress,” Cr Child said.
“The EES will further strengthen comprehensive work already undertaken in planning the project to ensure potential environmental impacts would be appropriately managed.”
As work commences on the EES process with DELWP, Council will concurrently finalise the draft Warburton Mountain Bike Destination Master Plan for community input and determine priorities in delivering associated infrastructure.
“Yarra Ranges is home to some of the most beautiful and unique natural landscapes in the world, and we are committed to doing everything we can to protect that,” Cr Child said.
“The mountain bike trails will wind their way through sub-alpine forest, giant Mountain Ash trees and lush fern gullies, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in these stunning surrounds while fostering a greater appreciation for our wonderful environment.
“Our aim has always been to make the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination a world class project, and the EES process will further contribute to that vision.”
Cr Child said over the past four years the project team had undertaken detailed investigations and produced technical reports, working with land managers and biodiversity experts to ensure any potential environmental risks could be appropriately managed,” he said.
“Council, with its project partners, remains committed to delivering this project and recognises its significance in supporting community outcomes, particularly in light of assisting post COVID-19 recovery efforts.
“The Upper Yarra Valley community is feeling the pain of COVID-19 restrictions in addition to the decline in our native timber industry.
“The economic stimulus and jobs this project will bring, with an estimated 100 jobs and $20 million in annual economic activity, are going to be critical to community recovery and really can’t come soon enough.”
Yarra Ranges CEO Tammi Rose said projects like the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination would also be critical to post COVID-19 recovery for tourism across the state.
“Like many parts of Victoria, the Yarra Valley Region is heavily reliant on the visitor economy, and we are committed to delivering this project as soon as possible and welcoming international and domestic visitors back to our region when it is safe to do so.”
Ms Rose said the protection of the environment had always been central to the development of the project, and the EES would help set a new benchmark for environmental stewardship for projects of this nature.
“While the EES comes at a significant cost in terms of time and money, the benefits this project will have on health and wellbeing, and the opportunities it presents to connect people with nature and create environmental advocates for the future, are priceless.”
Ms Rose said she hoped the EES and planning approvals could be completed in an expediated manner so that construction could start as soon as possible.