tractor – Michmutters

Tasmanian rural council’s $8.2m plan for agricultural town’s main street met with tractor protest

Historic charm and farming roots have coexisted in the northern Tasmanian town of Longford for decades, but a plan for the main street to be redeveloped and beautified has angered some within the community — culminating in tractors being driven into town in protest.

The works on a 600 meter stretch of Wellington Street, would see new garden beds and street furniture installed, and safety improvements for motorists and pedestrians.

Local veterinarian Michael Morris was one of a number of concerned community members who took to the street to protest against the project, which is expected to cost $8.2 million, paid for by the local council with around $2 million coming from the federal government.

He said the development is threatening Longford’s agricultural identity.

“I find it strange that a town like this, whose heart blood is the agricultural community, that you are going to put through an application like this that is essentially going to alienate the rural heartland,” he said.

“This is a strong rural community. This road is used by a heap of farm users, a lot of machinery, a lot of trucks. This development is going to make it extraordinarily difficult for that machinery and those trucks to navigate.”

Michael Morris looks at the camera.
Michael Morris is concerned the Longford main street plan will “alienate the rural heartland.”(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

Rob Bayles said he’d like the Northern Midlands Council to reconsider the design, and joined other farmers in a tractor conveyed down the main street.

Rob Bayles looks at the camera.
Rob Bayles drove his tractor into town as part of the protest.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

“There is probably no other town in Tasmania that has more agricultural produce traveling down the main street from one end to the other, and here we are wanting to make the street narrower,” he said.

“Longford is an agricultural town and it needs to be open for traffic to get through it.”

Cyclists not happy either

The council received a number of representations from the public against the project, identifying 21 issues of concern.

According to the Council’s Heritage Advisor David Denman, the proposed design would not change the character of the town.

“The proposed roadworks and streetscape works are sympathetic with the existing historic streetscape elements and will therefore make a positive contribution to the overall street and townscape aesthetic,” he said.

Concept images of the re-design of Wellington Street shows planterboxes and trees beside the road.
Local Mayor Mary Knowles said the street width would not be affected and would not impact on heavy vehicles and cyclists.(Supplied: Northern Midlands Council/Lange Design)

Mr Morris, who is also a keen cyclist, said he had concerns about what the works meant for those riding through town.

“We have got a strong cycling community here in Longford and the reality is this development is going to narrow the effective roadway for us,” he said.

“At the moment, we’ve got room to cycle along between the park cars and the main thoroughfare, but if this goes through we will be out in the main thoroughfare.”

Main street of the Tasmanian town of Longford
The council says “new protuberances” would come out no further than parked vehicles, but farmer Rob Bayles said the plan would “make it narrower in every spot”.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

Ebony Brooks, who works at JJ’s Bakery that’s on Wellington Street, said the street needed a revamp but wasn’t sold on the existing proposal.

“I have heard a lot of mixed reviews, both positive and negative,” she said.

“We are a rural town, every second or third vehicle is a tractor or truck, so it will affect them driving through.”

In a statement, Northern Midlands Mayor Mary Knowles said Wellington Street’s width would not be affected and the works would not impact on heavy vehicles and cyclists.

“The new protuberances at the intersections come out no further than the parked vehicles in the street,” she said.

“The protuberances will improve safety for all users. Particularly drivers of vehicles leaving side streets will have improved visibility when entering the main street; and safety will be increased for pedestrians traversing the roads.”

Mr Bayles disagreed.

“The system is not broken now, why does it need to be changed? There is room to pull off, there is room for trucks to get around corners, and they are just going to make it narrower in every spot.”

Mary Knowles smiles at the camera.
Northern Midlands Major Mary Knowles, Tasmania.(ABC News: Lachlan Bennett)

Council officers recommended the works be approved, but councilors voted to defer the decision until after it was considered by the Northern Midlands Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The works have been approved by the Department of State Growth.