By Jess Baker
Following eight weeks of community consultation, Southern Downs councillors have decided a $47 million Botanical Gardens in Stanthorpe is not a priority.
The 38 acre “nature-based” facility was presented to Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) in an ordinary meeting on 14 October 2020 as an opportunity that would provide economic, educational and health benefits to the region for “generations to come”.
According to an elaborate 37-page community-driven masterplan, the Gardens would include Anzac memorial gardens, Indigenous story gardens, playgrounds, picnic shelters, a fitness station and a basketball court.
Councillors were divided at the October meeting, ultimately deciding to undertake community consultation on the masterplan for a period of eight weeks over December 2020 and January 2021.
Findings demonstrate the community generally considers the project to be low priority, especially when compared to other town priorities like failing underground infrastructure and water sustainability.
Some major concerns with the masterplan highlighted in public consultation include the potential for high operational costs, flooding and increased predators in the area, while positives of the masterplan include its “visionary” goals and “well developed” steps toward achieving them.
Based on the “comprehensive feedback” received from the public, Council officers developed a list of recommendations for councillors to consider once SDRC is in “a position to progress the botanical gardens based on project prioritisation”.
One suggestion was that Council consider alternate projects to develop bush walking trails around natural areas within Stanthorpe, such as Mount Marlay and Sentimental Rocks.
Councillor Cameron Gow said he would be disappointed to see the Botanical Gardens masterplan “sit there in limbo” indefinitely.
“We’ve done all this work, what are we going to get out of it as a council and as a community?” he asked his fellow councillors.
Mayor Vic Pennisi said there are elements of the masterplan that may be used in some way, shape or form in the future.
“What this (report) is saying to me is that the Botanical Gardens is not a priority and there may be something that replaces it down the track,” said Mayor Pennisi.
“The other thing too… is financially we just can’t afford to do it.”
Councillor Stephen Tancred echoed Mayor Pennisi’s sentiments and said that as much as he would love to see the masterplan approved, funded and built someday, now is not the time.
“We’re not kicking it out the door… we’ll look at it again, and when the opportunity comes, I’d like to move the motion,” said Cr Tancred.
All councillors voted that SDRC consider other higher priority infrastructure projects prior to proceeding further with the Stanthorpe Botanical Gardens.