Mountain Journal has previously reported on the proposal to build a new road from Mt Buller to the Mt Stirling ring road. This has been pitched as being a safety issue, to allow a route for people to escape from Mt Buller in the case of a fire blocking the main road.

But given that this road would also travel through a (longer) section of dense forest, it is quite unlikely that the road would serve this purpose. The money needed to build the road would be better spent on upgrading fire fighting infrastructure around the Buller village.

The issue refuses to go away. Charles Street provides some history behind this proposal and an update on the current state of play.

Mt Stirling. Let’s get it Right

Charles Street

It is February 1997, and I am pouring champagne for our valiant band of Stirling campaigners. The decision of Kennett’s environment minister in 1994, to make Mount Stirling into a downhill ski resort, has been overturned.

Those who love Mount Stirling as a natural wilderness have won a sweet victory !

But not for long.

By 2003, it was obvious that Mount Stirling was not financially viable as a standalone alpine resort, and government decided to merge it with Mount Buller in 2004. From that point forward the patrons of Mount Buller would be paying for Mount Stirling’s losses, which had averaged about $200,000 per annum from 1998 to 2003.

The chagrin of some Mount Buller businesses and developers has been palpable and understandable. Why should Buller pay for Stirling’s losses when Buller businesses and guests derive no benefit from that shotgun marriage ?

What are Stirling’s recent losses ? We are not allowed to know.

Essentially, the solutions fall into three categories;

  1. Live together…without wedded bliss…and accept the situation.

  2. Divorce e.g. make Stirling a national park

  3. Make Stirling pay its way.

Option 1 – Has been unacceptable to Mount Buller business interests.

Option 2 – Has been ruled out by government, even though the State Services Authority saw the obvious and recommended in 2008 that Buller and Stirling be divorced, with Stirling placed under the management of Parks Victoria. Response from government ? No.

Option 3 – Here we go again.

In the early 2000’s there had been much chatter about the construction of “wilderness lodges” on Stirling, as a way of increasing income. But there were big problems. The land zoning of Mount Stirling (PPRZ or Public Park and Recreation Zone), and the Planning Scheme do not allow the building of accommodation on Mount Stirling. Ski lift infrastructure on Mount Stirling is prohibited by law.

Since the early 2000s there have also been plenty of soothing verbal assurances “Oh, we like Mount Stirling the way it is….” But, if the zoning and Planning Scheme barriers could be overcome, there could be lodges and hotels on Stirling which could feed the ski lifts on Mount Buller. One lodge becomes two, then three, then,…a Village !

Buller’s accommodation and Stirling’s financial problems solved…in one fell swoop !

However, the Dormitory Suburb concept will only work if there is a short high quality transport link between Buller and Stirling. A new Link Road of about 2.5 km, across the steep north face of Corn Hill, from Howqua Gap to the Corn Hill Road, would do the job nicely.

Speculation ? Certainly.

The proposed road is the line in red at the top of the image.
The proposed road is the line in red at the top of the image.

Fact. There has been a Link Road proposal, as described above, in the approval pipeline since 2008. It is still being hotly defended.

But there are many technical issues regarding the proposed Link Road, not the least of which is that it requires the removal of hectares of subalpine forest of high and very high conservation significance. The road would also bisect the habitats of several threatened species.

There is also a risk that a landslide on Corn Hill could dump the Link Road into the headwaters of the Delatite River. Anyone interested ?

This is at the Buller end of the proposed road.
This is at the Buller end of the proposed road.

Fact. There is already a Link Road connecting the same two points. This Link Road is the Corn Hill Road which is about twice the length of the road that the ARMB wants.

There have been many opportunities to scotch the rumours.

Two key documents would make the Buller Stirling Management Board’s intentions clear;

  1. A current complete Mount Stirling Resort Master Plan, approved by government.

  2. A Business Case for the proposed Link Road, prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Treasury and Finance.

Where are they ?

Although Mount Buller has had a Resort Master Plan in force since 2010, we have been unable to find the equivalent document for Mount Stirling. The nearest we can find is a Draft (2010) Stirling Resort Master Plan (presumably never finished), and a Strategic Management Plan (2013) which says on page 11 that the Stirling Resort Plan is yet to be completed.

Mt Stirling
Mt Stirling

The year is now 2015, and the current Management Board is at the end of its three year term. We have a Master Plan for one end of the Link Road (Buller) but not the other (Stirling). Where is the Mount Stirling Resort Master Plan ? Time’s up.

The Business Case for the Link Road was last updated in May 2011. Numerous attempts to obtain a copy under FOI have revealed only that it is Top Secret. Strange. A well written business case does not need to contain confidential information, indeed, it should be a stimulus to competitive tendering.

Claims that the Link Road is needed for “emergency access” and “a new nordic ski trail” are lacking credibility.

The Buller Stirling Link Road would be a public road, on public land, paid for (at least in part) by public money, commissioned and administered by a public authority, for use by the public. It follows that the public has a right to know.

IMGP3459The Link Road is certainly a “road to nowhere”, unless the ARMB intends to turn Stirling into “somewhere”.

It is also time to face up to the reality that Mount Stirling does not have the economic model of an Alpine Resort. It has the economic model of a national park. Stirling should be managed accordingly. The State Services Authority got it right. That said, Parks Victoria needs a spectacular increase in its operating budget for current operations, and for the addition of the Mount Stirling Annex to the Alpine National Park.

The more we try, indeed probe for answers, the more secretive and defensive have been the responses. The drawbridge is up.

The way it looks is “build the road, then write the Plan, then change the zoning”. Somebody prove that proposition wrong. Please.

After a Planning Panels Victoria hearing, the fate of the Link Road is now with the Minister for Planning. There is more at stake than a road.

Let’s not get hung up about it. The Mount Buller Mount Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board needs to publish the key documents without delay. If not, government has a responsibility to stop the rot.

More information

If you love Mount Stirling as a natural wilderness, see “Stirling Alpine Link” at http://vnpa.org.au/page/nature-conservation/protecting-special-places/stirling-alpine-link

Contribute to the debate through “Friends of Mount Stirling” on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StirlingFriends/

About the Author

Charles Street is a keen bushwalker, photographer, and cross country skier. He is a member of the Victorian National Parks Association Conservation and Campaigns Committee. Charles was a member of the Mount Buller Mount Stirling Alpine Resort Management Board from 2004 to 2006.

Stirling campaigners

The campaign to save Mount Stirling from the chainsaw, the bulldozer and the concrete mixer is proudly supported by the Victorian National Parks Association, The Mount Stirling Development Taskforce, Practical Ecology, and Environmental Justice Australia.

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