Rail Trail users pack The Butcher’s Cafe at Wooroolin on a recent Saturday … the SBRTUA would like to see Proston and Hivesville businesses enjoy similar benefits from their own Rail Trail (Photo: SBRTUA)

South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association secretary Jason Wyeth
May 10, 2021

Farmers who want to sub-lease rail corridor land between Murgon and Proston should pay for it, according to the South Burnett Rail Trail Users Association (SBRTUA).

SBRTUA secretary Jason Wyeth said he was unimpressed with a proposal recently put to the SBRC by Gympie solicitor Gavin Hansen that farmers “sub-sub-lease” rail corridor land from the South Burnett Regional Council.

In an address to Council’s April meeting, Mr Hansen said he was acting for a group of farmers who wanted Council to give them sub-leases because they believed a proposed rail trail between Hivesville and Proston would increase their biosecurity risks.

Mr Wyeth was one of three people who addressed the Council earlier in March to urge the SBRC to build the trail.

“Mr Hansen said he represented a group of farmers who have land along the Murgon-Proston rail corridor and if that’s correct, the majority don’t need his services,” Mr Wyeth said.

“Any rail trail between Murgon and Hivesville was ruled out in a $40,000 study the Council commissioned in late 2019.

“That section was regarded as unviable because it had many missing bridges and was flanked by a large number of farms using pivot irrigation and aerial spraying, particularly around Byee.

“However, the same study identified the 14km route between Hivesville and Proston was economically viable.”

“It estimated that trail would cost about $2 million to build and about $20,000 a year to maintain, but projected it could bring almost $800,000 a year into the region.

Mr Wyeth said the Council study was so positive about the project that late last year the SBRC wanted to submit it to the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund, which would have meant it could be built at no cost to either ratepayers or local farmers.

However, it changed its mind when half a dozen farmers who attended a public meeting at Hivesville on January 12 said they did not like the idea.

Mr Wyeth said he believed the biosecurity issue raised by some farmers at that meeting – and by Mr Hansen in his address – was less a risk than it was made out to be.

“Biosecurity is a very real issue every farmer in Australia faces. Most biosecurity risks in Australia are endemic and we agree it should be taken seriously,” he said.

“However, any risks a rail trail might have can be sensibly managed to minimise it.

“That’s exactly the procedure SBRC and Somerset Council have already put into practice on the South Burnett and Brisbane Valley Rail Trails, and neither of them have experienced any biosecurity issues since the first trail was built more than 11 years ago.

“Right now there are 100 active rail trails all around Australia. Many of these are rural trails, and none of them have biosecurity issues any higher than the risks farmers face if a road runs past their property.

“In fact, the case studies and risk management plans I’ve read, including the Feasibility Study commissioned for the Proston-Hivesville Rail Trail, state that a properly managed rail trail can alleviate many issues around biosecurity, fire risks and illegal activity.”

Mr Wyeth said the offer to sub-lease should only be accepted by Council if the lost revenue the region would suffer by not building the trail was compensated by any sub-lease holders.

This was because any 17-year lease issued over rail corridor land would effectively kill the project for a generation.

“There’s no reason Council should give a sub-lease to a farmer for free,” Mr Wyeth said.

“Other businesses who sub-lease railway land already pay the Council fees to do that, and farmers should do the same. What that cost would be would have to be determined by the Council.

“But if the South Burnett community is going to lose a lot of money by this project not proceeding, it’s only fair that leaseholders who prevented it going ahead contribute an amount of revenue to Council so they can spread that benefit back into the community.”

Mr Wyeth said at the end of the day, Council would need to make a decision on whether to proceed with the rail trail project or not, and whichever way it decided some group would be unhappy.

He said the SBRTUA accepted that.

However, Mr Wyeth said he had seen the positive impact of the South Burnett Rail Trail on the May Day weekend when he took a group of cyclists from Murgon to Goomeri.

“The Goomeri Bakery was overflowing. There were a dozen cyclists in and around the bakery and across the road at the park, there were tourists everywhere.

“By contrast, two cyclists pedalled from Wondai to Proston the same day where they found the pub wasn’t doing meals, the tearooms were shut and the only place to grab a bite was the hot box in the local supermarket. Proston on a Saturday afternoon was a ghost town.

“So we urge the SBRC, before it considers issuing sub-leases, to use them to recover the revenues our region will lose by doing this.

“Please think about the income that the South Burnett stands to forfeit before proceeding, and please consider the great physical and social benefits a development like this would bring to residents in the Proston-Hivesville area as well.”

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[Disclosure: Dafyd Martindale is president of the SBRTUA]

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