WINDFALL: Federal Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, Dr John McVeigh, and Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel discuss plans for Stage One of the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct following the Commonwealth’s $10million commitment to the project this week. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

BY VINNIE RODI

MILDURA Rural City Council has finally secured a major funding commitment for its Mildura Future Ready (MFR) initiative, with $10million allocated to Stage One of the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct (MSRSP) this week.

The funding announcement has been welcomed by indoor sporting groups across the region, with one supporter in particular saying the onus is now on Council to get “bang for their buck.”

Features of the $16million first stage of the MSRSP will include at least four indoor courts, change rooms and a café/kiosk, with a 3000-seat capacity for conventions, performances and other functions planned for the future.

The outstanding $6million needed to complete the project’s first stage will come from Council reserves and potentially new borrowings, with the total cost of the MSRSP, which once complete will also include two AFL-standard ovals, to be $36.5million.

Volleyball Victoria board member, and Sunraysia Volleyball Inc. committee member, Paul Freckleton, was among the first to welcome this week’s funding pledge. A long-time advocate for construction of an indoor sporting complex in the region, Mr Freckleton said Council now had to ensure they get value for money.

“We’ve got $16million sitting on the table now, and you can achieve a lot with that amount of money,” he said. “It’s imperative that Council engages with local builders, construction groups and user groups throughout the design phase.

“By doing this, not only can we ensure that the facility caters to all users, but you will also get the best result for ratepayers in terms of money spent.”

Mr Freckleton also confirmed that Volleyball Victoria and Sunraysia Volleyball Inc. remained committed to constructing a $500,000 beach volleyball component at the MSRSP now that the green light had been given for the stadium.

“That offer is very much still on the table, and we will begin to work with Council to incorporate that into their design,” he said.

Federal Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, Dr John McVeigh, joined Federal Member for Mallee Andrew Broad on Tuesday to make the announcement at the proposed Deakin Avenue and Sixteenth Street site of the precinct.

The funding forms part of the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF), with the MSRSP one of only two projects across the country to receive $10million as part of the second round of funding.

Council’s general manager Community, Martin Hawson, said he was delighted to secure such a significant funding boost for MFR, while also confirming Council’s goal to continue to pursue funding opportunities for the precinct, and for other MFR projects – the Mildura Motorsports and Community Precinct (MMCP), stage two of the Mildura Riverfront redevelopment, and advocating for the return of Mildura’s passenger rail service.

“We need to be able to take advantage of every opportunity we get,” he said. “We’ve got the BBRF money, which is a really good start, and the next phase is focused on our live application within the Regional Growth Fund, which is another Federal fund.”

Council is currently awaiting confirmation as to whether it will be successful in securing an additional $17.4million in Federal funding for MSRSP, and $11million in funding for the MMCP, through the $272.2million Regional Growth Fund.

“We would need to re-structure the MSRSP depending on the outcome of that Regional Growth Fund application,” Mr Hawson said. “We are also not losing sight of the fact that the MSRSP is a whole precinct, and we need to continue to look for funding to make that a reality.

“The next step from a funding puzzle is the State Government, and we need to look at how we can influence that in the coming months to try and get some money out of them, because at the moment they’re not putting anything in.

“We would like to think that the pressure is now on both sides of State politics to support the project following this Federal Government announcement, and to be fair they (the State Government) have been heavily involved and are aware of the project, and aware of what we’re trying to do.

“There is a Building Better Stadiums program coming up from the State Government, and we’ll certainly be putting an application in for that, and outside of that there is other commitments the State Government can make if they see merits in what we’re trying to do.”

Mr Hawson said the actual scope of the MSRSP’s first stage could vary before the first sod is turned based on any additional funding secured.

“What we would be looking at is trying to get some additional funding to increase the scope where we can, but there will come a point where we’ll have to say this is what we need to do and commit to it,” he said.

“I’ve got no doubt that at some point all of these Future Ready projects will be done, it’s more a question of when… persistence overcomes resistance.”

Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel said the successful funding application vindicated MFR and Council’s approach to tackling the region’s concerning social and economic indicators.

He stressed that while funding had now been secured for one of the two shovel-ready projects under MFR – the other being the MMCP – it would not impact on progressing the motorsport precinct.

“This is very much about sequencing rather than priorities, which is an important distinction to make,” he said. “In the case of the motorsport precinct, this Federal funding really sharpens the focus now on the Victorian Government and its contribution, which is a requirement, along with private funding to start this project.”

Mr Broad said in making the announcement that he was happy to be turning up with “a big cheque.”

“To think that we can do something for our children in this community is just great,” he said. “It’s going to be a big project, and one that will reshape the sporting community in Mildura with more opportunities for more sports for more people.”

Minister McVeigh agreed with Mr Broad’s comments, and praised both Mr Broad and Member for Mildura Peter Crisp for their work advocating for the project.

“Sporting facilities such as the one we are planning to build here… are so very important to our communities,” he said. “This project stacks up, and this, I understand very clearly… is about fitting in with that Mildura Future Ready focus, and when you’ve got a community that gets on with that strategic planning and sets out a plan… it makes it easier for Federal politicians to see the common sense and where it fits in.”

Mr Crisp said the funding announcement was another example of “The Nationals delivering for Mildura.”

“This is great news from Andrew Broad and the Federal Coalition Government,” he said. “We’ve had good discussions with Council about this and the other Future Ready plans, but it’s disappointing the Andrews Labor Government hasn’t engaged yet, as the project will need a State contribution to be completed in full.

“I’ll have more to say about my election commitments in the near future.”