Residents saddened by gallery approval

289638_01 Alicia Hansford and children Allyra and Kabe at the site the gallery will be developed on. Picture: Gary Sissons.

By Eleanor Wilson

In late June, plans to build a $50 million art gallery – with $500 million worth of art – alongside a restaurant and function centre in the semi-rural suburb of Harkaway were approved by the State Government.

But local residents, who have long opposed the development of Rosemaur Gallery, say they are “surprised and saddened” by the decision.

Harkaway resident Alicia Hansford said she has no issue with the development of an art gallery, but claims it is the traffic from the 150-seat function centre and restaurant that poses safety concerns.

“You would have to agree the magnitude of the restaurant and function centre is not suitable for a narrow one way in and one way out small town road,” Ms Hansford said.

The $50 million Rosemaur Gallery will be developed on land owned by manufacturing magnate Lindsey Hogg, who plans to donate his multi-million-dollar private art collection to the gallery, which includes 150 works by artists such as Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley, Francis Bacon and Gustav Klimt.

The approved plans for the gallery, restaurant and function centre caters for a maximum of 300 patrons at a time, with up to 580 patrons permitted during quarterly large events.

In the 2021 census, Harkaway’s population was recorded at 1011 people, leading to concerns about the pressure the restaurant and function centre will put on the suburb’s infrastructure.

Ms Hansford, along with many other residents in Harkaway, have been outspoken about their disapproval of Rosemaur Gallery since plans for its development first arose several years ago.

A Rosemaur Gallery Advisory Committee garnered 521 submissions from members of the public in late 2020, of which 83 per cent opposed the proposal, citing concerns including the location, traffic, bushfire danger and impact to flora and fauna.

Another concern held by locals is the long, hilly, one way in one way out unsealed road the gallery land sits on – known as King Road.

“We don’t have the right infrastructure in Harkaway for a development of this size. The road is unpaved, there’s no footpath and we have two big blind corners in Harkaway, which non-local traffic would not be aware of,” Ms Hansford said.

“Who will be paying for the required upgrade of the narrow dirt King Road? The ratepayers of the City of Casey?”

She also holds fears for the safety of students at the local Harkaway Primary School.

“There is no planning or rectification for the congestion and safety in front of Harkaway Primary school, as the last session lunch session finishes at school pick up. Again this poses the risk of potential loss of a child’s life,“ Ms Hansford said.

Despite residents’ concern, Casey Council has been consistently supportive of the proposed development, calling it “an enormous community asset”.

“Council supports the Rosemaur Gallery project because it is so unique an opportunity that if delivered, the art collection would be an enormous community asset albeit held by a charitable not for profit entity,” the council said in a submission to the Rosemaur Gallery Adivsory Committee.

“ It would in turn, in addition to its cultural significance and through the proposed development, offer a high-quality tourism destination, economic development opportunities, and social benefits not just for Casey municipality but for the State of Victoria. “

While Mr Hogg and design firm Architecture Associates have been given the go ahead by planning minister Richard Wynne, Ms Hansford said she feels there are no options left to rebuke the development.

“I think a lot of the residents here would love to take it to the Supreme Court, but we just don’t have the funds to justify it,” she said.

“What more can we do, we don’t have the money, we don’t have billions.”

The State Planning Minister’s office and Architecture Associates were contacted for comment.