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North East Rail Trail extension a step closer

The extension of the North East Rail Trail is a step closer following a recent ruling from the Resource Management Planning and Appeals Tribunal.

Dorset Council’s development application to remove rail line to extend the rail trail to the boundary of its border with Launceston Council was appealed by Michael de Bomford on two grounds.

These broadly were that crushing the ballast under the rail line would contaminate waterways and that the council should have gone through an Environmental Protection Authority Tasmania process to obtain permission for materials handling.

The Tribunal has ruled that neither ground of appeal was “made out”.

However, it is requiring the council to modify its Construction Environmental Management Plan to include a contamination risk assessment of all areas near watercourses. This includes sampling for arsenic and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and using construction methods what will minimise dust, soil and other infrastructure becoming airborne.

It is also asking council to undertake engineering designs and drawings for stormwater discharge and to amend the permit conditions for the project.

The tribunal is requiring the council to amend the permit conditions and provide these to Mr de Bomford by Tuesday next week.

If Mr de Bomford does not accept these new conditions, the tribunal may be reconvened to hear more evidence before it makes its final determination.

You can read the ruling on the appeal grounds on the tribunal website.

Background

Scottsdale Rotary first converted a section of the disused north east rail line between Tonganah and Billycock Hill in 2012, it then extended that through to Scottsdale in 2015.

In February 2014 Northern Tasmania Development commissioned a report from TRC for preliminary demand and economic benefit assessment of an extended trail through to Launceston.

Dorset Council applied to the National Stronger Regions Fund and received $1.47 million in matching funding in early 2015 to extend the rail trail through to the outskirts of Launceston.

A group of rail enthusiasts then put up a competing proposal for the same length of line to run a tourist train.

In October 2017 Infrastructure Tasmania released a review of the train proposal which found it had merit but also challenges and so requested the Department of Treasury and Finance to conduct an economic analysis of both options.

This was released in July 2018 and recommended the rail trail be the preferred option between Scottsdale and Lilydale/Lalla. The government then issued a statement saying it would support the rail trail to Lilydale Falls and then pathway to Lilydale.

The Tasmanian Legislative Council announced an inquiry into the rail trail in October 2018 and reported in late 2019 supporting the government’s compromise position.

The government transferred rail corridor management to Dorset Council in late 2019.

In September 2020 the federal government announced it would provide funding to Dorset Council for the project, following the expiration of its grant due to the state government interventions.

In January 2021 Dorset Council lodged a development application to being work on the rail trail and approved the project in February.

Appeals were lodged with the Resource Management Planning and Appeals Tribunal against the project, with one appeal surviving to hearing stages. Two decisions, deferred hearings and finally a hearing in November 2021. A date for a final decision has not been set.