Hanging Rock’s East Paddock, a picturesque venue for international artists like Elton and Springsteen is valued at $3m but not everyone wants it sold.
The Macedon Ranges Shire Council bought the 22 hectare site 30 years ago, to protect Hanging Rock from thousands of visitors who flocked to the location of the successful Australian film.
It has since become a famed rock venue, just one hour north-west of Melbourne.
Thousands saw Elton’s farewell concert in January 2020, Springsteen in 2017, Leonard Cohen and Paul Kelly in 2010, on the temporary stage with the Hanging Rock as a back drop.
But local historian Matthew Nickson said it was time for the Council to sell the East Paddock venue to the Victorian Government, as per its original plan.
“East Paddock was purchased [in 1989] with gate-takings to provide a buffer against too many people going onto Hanging Rock itself,” Mr Nickson said.
Mr Nickson, who lives next to the site, was part of the Hanging Rock action group opposed to council accommodation development on the paddock in 2014, said council does not have the reserve’s best interests at heart.
“The various shades of councils we’ve had since 1995 just prove you cannot trust any of them — they’ve always seen Hanging Rock as a cash cow,” he said.
Milking the ‘cash cow’
But the council’s plans to sell the paddock to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have been scuppered by a disagreement over how much it was worth.
Last February, council received a formal offer from DELWP for the space, “significantly lower than council’s valuation.”
Council rejected that offer in May behind closed doors and DELWP’s offer to the council has remained confidential.
The Macedon Ranges Shire Council has since released its independent valuation of the site, $3.065 million, in an attempt to revive negotiations.
The Council claims the difference in valuation is due to the investment in the east paddock facilities, including two picnic shelters for large groups, neither of which council paid directly for.
Grants for venue’s facilities
Council received $2 million for those upgrades from the state government, and $2m from the Federal Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund.
In a 2014 valuation of the site, when council was courting conference venue developers, East Paddock was valued at $750,000.
Macedon Ranges Mayor Jennifer Anderson revealed the $3m figure to the public at last month’s Macedon Shire Council meeting.
“We made the decision to approve that the public would find out the valuation that we’ve had independently valued of the East Paddock, to keep working with DELWP to negotiate a satisfactory outcome to proceed with the transfer of the East Paddock,” councillor Anderson said.
Negotiations with DELWP will reappear before council in a report, ahead of further community consultation on whether to sell the popular concert space.
“I’m sure many more questions will be coming from the community, and we’ll do our best to answer what we can,” she said.
Matthew Nickson said the approach was not in the best interests of the taxpayer.
A council divided
Not everyone on the Macedon Ranges Shire Council wants the venue sold, and dissenting councillor Geoff Neil said he was yet to hear a good reason to sell the space.
“It’s the loss of the asset to the community, it’s the loss of an income stream. Really this paddock ticks all the boxes, it ticks the boxes for our tourism people, it ticks the boxes for our business people, and just generally it brings the local residents enjoyment,” councillor Neil said.
“I come back to the same question that I asked myself at the beginning: ‘Give me a reason that we should sell it?’ And nobody has yet has been able to do that.”
In a statement, the department did not disclose its most recent valuation of the site.
“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will continue to work with Macedon Ranges Shire Council in regard to the East Paddock with the aim of protecting the Hanging Rock precinct for current and future generations.”