THE Ararat Rural City Council's grand plan for the development of Gordon Street Oval as a sporting complex received a high powered backer last Thursday with Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan offering his support to help get the ball rolling.
At its current state Council is unable to move ahead into stage one of its proposal which would see an $80,000 renovation of the existing clubrooms, due to the 5.3ha site being owned by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Ararat Rural City CEO Andrew Evans said Council had been in contact with the Department, however the price that it was willing to sell the crown land for was excessive.
"We have been looking after it for 20 years, it's got recycled water from the sewerage plant, so we water it, we mow it," he said.
"Education wants $300,000 for it and we think $300,000 of ratepayers money on an asset that we have been maintaining for 20 years is a bit rich."
During his trip to Ararat last week, Mr Ryan visited Gordon Street Oval with The Nationals candidate for Ripon Scott Turner and Member for Western Victoria David O'Brien, along with Mr Evans and Ararat mayor Paul Hooper.
The Deputy Premier and Leader of The Nationals was brought up to speed on the issue that Council faces in its proposal to redevelop the sporting ground, which includes resurfacing, fencing, drainage and the construction of two artificial hockey fields in future stages.
Mr Ryan said the first problem was to solve the ownership issue.
"I think it is obviously an important facility from a community perspective and I know David O'Brien has been working to achieve a resolution on some of the uncertainties around this," he said.
"The first and foremost problem is the question of ownership, that is compounded by the fact that the property is owned at the moment by the Education Department.
"If it is to go out of the Education Department there is process that has to happen with land which is excess to the needs of the agency which owns it.
"What I have invited the mayor to do is write to me...with an outline of what has happened so far plus how Council would see the future use of this."
Mr Ryan said he would follow up the enquiry with the Education Department and see if the proposed figure of $300,000 can be negotiated down.
"I'll have a chat to those concerned and see where it takes us," he said.
"First things first, I want the opportunity to have that conversation, but I appreciate that this has been going on for a period of time.
"I can either fix it or I can't and I will be able to tell the Council that within about the next six weeks."
Ararat Rural City's three stage plan to have the Gordon Street site redeveloped into a multi-use sporting complex would cost approximately $1.54 million.
Cr Hooper said Council has already allocated some reserve funds towards the first stage of the project - renovating the existing building - and is keen to put more plans in place, but he understands the transfer process is there for a reason.
"It is there to stop developers getting hold of a state based asset in terms of land and not paying anything for it," he said.
"This is different in our view simply because this is a community asset that is used by the community. It is zoned for community use and we have been maintaining it for 20 years, so we don't see this as a commercial transaction per se.
"David O'Brien has been working with us on this, we will do everything we possibility can because we believe the community needs this second facility and it needs it to be brought up to speed."