Construction of the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination projected to start in 2024

We have just had word that the Victorian Minister for Planning, Sonya Kilkenny, has signed off on the Planning Scheme Amendment for the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination, allowing the project to move forward. Situated in the forest around Mount Donna Buang, the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination has proposed 160km of singletrack about 90-min from Melbourne — giving it a catchment larger than the entire population of Tasmania. It became the first ever mountain bike trail network to be forced to undergo an Environmental Effect Study, taking it into expensive and time-consuming uncharted territory.

This news comes just as the Yarra Ranges Council has unveiled a ‘UGE new pump track at Wesburn Park.

“It’s a big milestone. It’s sort of the fundamental thing that we needed to just set everything into motion,” says Senior Project Manager with the Yarra Ranges Council Matt Harrington.

We have been reporting on the curious case of the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination since 2019. If you’re not up to date on what’s happened so far or need a refresher, grab a beverage and check out our in-depth reporting.

What does this mean?

For those who aren’t up to speed on the ins, outs and legalese of the planning system in Victoria, as Harrington explained, this signature on the Planning Scheme Amendment is a bit like when you’re trying to build a house, and you get the planning permit. Once you have that, you must still get the building permit and other technical documents together before breaking ground.

For the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination, inside the PSA is something called the ‘incorporated document’, which sets out what the Council needs to do and the obligations it has before the project can break ground.

“Some of those obligations include further documentation that needs to be approved by the Minister, things like the Construction Environmental Management Plan, and the Operational Environment Management Plan,” Harrington says.

“These other documents are more like the building permit in theory because they are technical documents. As long as we fulfil the technical requirements, they would just normally go straight through,” he explains.

So, more or less, there is an exercise in paperwork that still remains, and the project can finally move dirt. But don’t expect to see Harrington popping bottles just yet.

“I’m not celebrating until we stick a shovel in the ground. I’ve learned the hard way there are always twists and turns this project can take that you don’t always foresee coming. It’s great to have this major milestone locked away, but I’m always mindful of how hard this journey has been. So I’ll celebrate later on,” he says.

It’s been a long fought battle to get here, and with this signature the first stage of the Warby MTB destination is a go!

Splitting the project to get started

With this announcement that the Minister has signed off on the first stage of the project, we’ve also learned that it has been split into two Planning Scheme Amendments. One for the southern end of the project, with over 100km of singletrack in the state forest, and another for the northern part in Yarra Ranges National Park.

“We continue to work with Parks Victoria around the amendment to the second planning scheme. We’ve made it really clear to all of the stakeholders that we are still absolutely committed to delivering the full project, and we will continue to work with Parks to try and resolve any of the issues that we’ve got,” he says.

Reading between the lines here, the project would not have been split unless one of the stakeholders continued to throw up interference after the EES was approved. We can only speculate as to what may be happening behind the scenes, but it seems that despite the approval of the EES, Parks Vic is still actively working to stymie the trails in Yarra Ranges National Park.

Of course, the trails in the National Park were always slated to be the project’s second stage. So splitting them and removing Parks Vic’s purview over the entirety of the network means that the remainder — which is the vast majority — can go ahead.

“In light of the native timber transition and the loss of jobs in the region, but also the large number of stakeholders and businesses who’ve already invested in the region on the back of this project, we really want to deliver something so that we can get some return into the community,” Harrington says.

Even still, over 100km of trail in 90-min outside of Melbourne is a huge win! Glen Jacobs from World Trail tells us they are locked and loaded.

“Our teams are locked in. All of our machines and everything are headed down there to start work this April. We’ve got over 100km to build, and because of its location, it’s going to be amazing,” says Jacobs. “We’re so pumped to see it go ahead and finally get down there.”

As always, we’ve been closely watching this project for four years and counting, and we’ll continue to keep you up to date on the latest with the curious case of the Warburton Mountain Bike Project.

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