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Ballina councillors are considering the potential of linking up with the forthcoming rail trail network with new bicycle routes, but not using the old rail route which closed in 1943.
Speaking for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail, Pat Grier AM told councillors at their last meeting that work was under way with $35m in the can, and a strong business case that rail trails brought ‘quality tourism’ wherever they were built, with $2.70 anticipated to be returned for every dollar spent on construction.
Mr Grier said he had recently made a presention to Ballina GM Paul Hickey outlining the ‘fantastic’ benefits of connecting Ballina’s existing cycle path network with the rail trail at Bangalow, initially using quiet existing roads, such as the now bypassed section of the Pacific Highway, potentially creating a separate circuit which could be marketed in Australia and internationally.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader said the rail trail represented a great job creation opportunity for Ballina Shire. ‘For a long time now, I’ve watched this funding roll out around our neighbours and thinking, why aren’t we part of this?’
She described the rail trail connection idea as an opportunity Ballina could not afford to miss.
Sooner rather than laterCr Keith Williams also spoke in support of the idea. ‘This is this is actually a really important thing to make sure we start now,’ he said.
‘Don’t wait until the rail trail’s built, and then say all we want to connect – we need to be planning this stuff now to make sure that as the rail trail is rolled out, and gets closer to us, that we’re not forgotten.’
Cr Eoin Johnston said that although connecting to the rail trail would be expensive, and require grants, he had seen how rail trails had changed rural communities for the better in New Zealand and Victoria.
Other speakers discussed potentially connecting the cycle path networks of Lennox Head/Ballina and Byron Bay, despite such discussions between the neighbouring councils fizzling out in the past over disagreements about the route. Cr Ben Smith suggested it was actually state government policy to eventually have cycle path networks connecting up along the coast, but the will and funding had not yet eventuated.
Cr Cadwallader suggested it was a matter of forward planning, as with roads. She said that cycling was a dominant part of the culture of Europe, and something Australia could emulate. ‘I believe this is the future… [Cycling] sits within a healthy community. It’s part of our vision for our shire, our vision statement.
‘I just think this will be fantastic. We’ve got to start the planning in order to be able to get some grant money happening. But yes, I think it’s a great opportunity that we shouldn’t miss.’
Ballina councillors voted unanimously to receive a report on options and costs to link to the rail trail, and also agreed to re-commence discussions with Byron Shire Council about building a bikeway between Lennox Head and Byron Bay.
This article first appeared on www.echo.net.au
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