There has been a long planning process around how the alpine village of Dinner Plain should be developed. Most businesses struggle with the extremely seasonal nature of the tourist trade, and residents can struggle because the small number of permanents makes it difficult to sustain basic services like the supermarket through out the year.

Winter is already short, and with climate change making snow fall more erratic, the key responses from Hotham resort management and at Dinner Plain has been to invest in snow making infrastructure and expand ‘green season’ offerings for tourists. In the case of both DP and Hotham, this includes the road riding scene (including the Seven Peaks challenge), mountain bike riding, and an expanded network of walking tracks (and greater emphasis on promoting hiking).

There has also long been discussion about expanding other business activities in the DP village. One that has been floating around for several years is the suggestion that DP develop an ‘elite high altitude’ training centre to attract groups like football clubs. The proposal for a new centre is one thing. With the right planning, it could be done within the footprint of the existing village.

What is more controversial is the proposal for an attached ‘MCG’ size football oval.

The proposed location is on the south eastern side of the village, slightly below the current ski run and toboggan run below the alpine school (just east of the ‘industrial zone’ at the bottom of the ski run). This is mildly sloping terrain, currently covered in open snow gum woodland. Any construction of an oval will require significant earth works and clearing of a substantial area of native vegetation. The people who are promoting the concept of the oval have not yet identified where the required ‘offsets’ will be. Under state laws, the developers would need to find, and protect, an equivalent area of the same class of vegetation to allow them to destroy the area where the oval is planned. The large majority of this class of vegetation is on public land, and so cannot be bought for offsetting, so this could provide some difficulties for the proponents.

The idea of a ‘High Country Oval’ is put forward in the document called A Proposal from the Dinner Plain Community to establish the Dinner Plain Elite Training Facility (2013). This is available in the composite planning documents for DP which are available here. This proposal makes it clear that the oval will be very expensive and have a footprint well beyond a simple oval:

The proposal is estimated to cost $1,150,00 including an oval, buildings for storage, coaching and taping and massage, as well as equipment for maintaining and marking the oval. Operating costs as considered separate to this figure”.

An obvious benefit of the oval would be for local businesses who provide accommodation and catering. Training by large groups could be scheduled outside winter and peak periods like Easter and new years and hence help ‘even out’ over all visitation and make businesses more viable throughout the year. It is difficult to imagine that a simple training centre would add to the overall population of the village by more than a few people, so is unlikely to help build a base for year round basic services like the supermarket.

Leaving aside the question of who would risk investing $1.5 million in a potentially non viable commercial venture, there is the significant issue of the environmental impact of clearing several hectares of snow gum woodland within the existing DP village. Given the scope of the vision, it doesn’t seem possible to build the training centre without the oval. One alternative option would be to focus more on runners and other athletes rather than football clubs, which could mean an outdoor training area with a smaller footprint could be built and use of the existing track network around the village. Because of the limited available land in the DP village, it is never going to have a large permanent population. Businesses which are most likely to survive will be on a small to medium scale. Building an ‘MCG’ size oval and large training centre potentially locks the community into a white elephant that can’t pay its way, and hence reinforce the current pattern whereby there is only limited business activity throughout the non-peak tourist period. In a very real sense, ‘small is beautiful’ is an adage which makes sense for anyone wanting to build the overall sustainability of business activity in the village.