Wednesday evening, 12 April 2023 Macedon Ranges Councillors unanimously rejected the developer's plans for Amess Road, Riddells Creek.
'Go back to the drawing board,' they said. '1300 lots of 400 square metres doesn't fit with the character of the town. And it's not what the residents want.'
Shire staff had recommended that the Planning Scheme Amendment process begin, but Councillors thought no. Nice call Councillors, and kudos for being prepared to stick your collective neck out and say 'no, it's not what Riddells wants', when you know the developer will very likely ask the Minister's office to ignore you and start the Planning Scheme Amendment process anyway.
But it got me thinking - we pour all this energy into fighting off what we don't want, but what do we want? What kind of town do we want?
Growth is baked into the design for this town. The C100 amendments of 2016 led to the infill development we see as we drive around town, and it put two urban growth areas north and south of the town. Those are not going away.
In the town's petition to Council, we pitched for an average lot size of 800 square metres. That's not quite so cheek-by-jowl, but it would still mean around 2,500 people moving in down there on the north end of Riddell. Then there's South Riddell, the Daffodil Farm.
What kind of town do we want? From a Landcare point of view, I want a town that walks. Why so? When you walk in Riddell you feel the good earth underneath you, and a generous world around you. You hear the birds calling, see the weather coming in, and feel the first flurry of rain as you hurry home, or well prepared with your rain gear, head on with your walk!
You slip the chains of modernity and become an animal that roams freely.
Care for land begins right there, in that feeling. You're part of the natural world. There's healing in that, freely offered. And what else would you do, on a Sunday afternoon when the kids are starting to wear you thin, or after a morning at the desk, than to push through the door out into the open air and step out for a walk? In our urbanising, virtualising lives, the lucky residents of Riddell can walk our way back to sanity.
So, a town that walks. But I'd also like Riddells Creek, in 20 years, to be a town that talks. At the Post Office. Out on the street. On Facebook. And every now and then, gathered as the people of the town, to hear what each other thinks, and sort out what the town wants.
At present, we only talk as a town at those wretched consultations, where some poor soul from government has set the agenda and the parameters, where the answers have to fit on a sticky note, nothing more complex, where the conversations we start in on get cut short for lack of time, where the staff or their hired specialist go away and make their own sense of what we said and meant, and feed it back to us using the language of whatever plan they have been contracted to write.
Tick! The community has been consulted.
If we let that be the driver of our collective opinion, then we deserve the unimaginative, business-as-usual deal we will get. We need to talk as a town.
We can set up a time and place. We can listen respectfully, and get curious as to how other people think, and how they got to their point of view. We can disagree, strongly, without slamming the other person or storming off in a huff. We can find the common ground. We can find what we agree on, and get moving on what we want.
It's not like we're short on things to talk about.
Like, if the Amess Road development needs $8m or so of council infrastructure spending, when is that money going to be spent, where is it coming from, and how will that fit with spending in the rest of the town? And what is the plan and timeline for expenditure on sporting facilities and car parking in the centre of town and footpaths for all that walking, and the dozen other things we pay rates for?
Or what are the ways that junction of Station Street/Kilmore Road/Sutherlands Road could be handled? What's the timeline to decide on a design and build it? Who in the Shire is talking to VicRoads? Where is Riddells Creek on the list of regional road priorities?
Or one of my one - how do we bring new residents into the friendliness that we have here in Riddell, a town where you if go into the Post Office on a regular basis, as I do, the person behind the counter comments on the number of boxes of wine that seem to be coming your way. A town where you see your neighbour's kid working in the bakery, and say hi, how's it going? A connected town, a friendly town.
With 2000 people, you can manage that. How do you do it when you're 8000? That country town vibe - how do we give that a life, and not let it die on the altar of someone else's fast buck or the too easy Netflix evening?
What kind of town do we want? If we talk about that and get own ideas clear, we will have half a chance of not getting caught in avoiding the undertow of urban colonisation.
It’s the 21st century. We are an hour’s drive away from a city of 5 million people. What does a country town on the edge of a big city even look like?
We’ll have to invent something that works for us. If we leave it to the developers or wait for the Shire, we will get suburbs. If we get talking, we don’t know quite where we’ll end up, but maybe in a better place, and a place of our own making.
To come to ‘What Riddell Wants' discussions starting15 June, talk to Lisa at Riddells Creek Neighbourhood House, email@example.com