Junction Place project slowed by sacking

WODONGA’S Junction Place redevelopment faces delays after the Victorian government yesterday sacked the Places Victoria board.

The former railway land was one of the urban development authority’s biggest projects outside Melbourne.

Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy said in early 2012, the state wanted to make Junction Place the “greatest urban renewal opportunity in regional Australia” with the authority managing the sale of five lots of land stretching from High Street to Watson Street.

Two years later, the only private investment is the hugely successful Broadgauge restaurant in the old railway station building.

The government’s sacking of the board shocked member for Benambra Bill Tilley and Wodonga mayor Rod Wangman.

“It is certainly of concern,” Cr Wangman said.

“We would hope any board members who are across our project stay in place long enough for any transfer of information.”

The re-alignment of Elgin Boulevard and the extension of Church Street is still in progress and an optimistic completion deadline of late March has been missed.

“The council will stand side by side with the state government in making sure this land realises the investment potential it has,” Cr Wangman said.

“We have people seeking investment opportunities and we want to get on with the job.”

Sluggish investor take-up of Junction Place’s 10 hectares is evident on two fronts.

Places Victoria had a preferred bidder for an entertainment and retail precinct, but no sale followed.

And the largest site — between Watson, Smythe and South streets — was put on the market a year ago, but a six-week call for proposals drew a blank.

Mr Tilley said he did not think for a moment the project had stalled.

“I’ve been guaranteed Wodonga is one of four priority projects and could be as high as No. 2,” he said.

The government has replaced the authority’s board with two senior public servants.

The cabinet is believed to have decided last week to remove the non-government members of the board, including controversial chairman, Ken Fehily.

Premier Denis Napthine said Places Victoria had experienced “some difficulties”.

“This is about making sure Places Victoria is focused and reorganised to make sure it acts in the best interests of taxpayers,” he said.

The Baillieu government created the authority in 2011 to take over the work of Victoria’s former urban renewal authority VicUrban.

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