NE Rail Trail on the final stretch with DA tick

Launceston Council has given the tick of approval to the extension of the North East Rail Trail on its land, paving the way for work to begin on the entire trail.

Dorset Council has been waiting on approval from Launceston Council before it begins work on the extension of the trail.

The North East Rail Trail currently runs 28 km from Billycock Hill to Scottsdale. Dorset Council has proposed a 40 km extension of the trail running from Scottsdale through to Lilydale Falls.

Now the Launceston approval has come through, Dorset can apply to the Minister for Infrastructure to give the final approval to lift the rails and start work.

Dorset plans to create the trail by grinding down the large rock ballast that sits under the sleepers and rails into a finer chip that’s easy to ride and walk on.

The initial development application to Launceston for the 14 km between Wyena and Lilydale Falls was made in August last year but has been held up by whether to include a new parking area at Lilydale Falls.

Launceston requested Dorset include a new sealed car park but when the application was advertised there was local opposition due to the loss of trees and grassed area.

The revised application approved at the Launceston Council meeting on 23 February 2023 abandons a new car park in favour of expanding and reconfiguring the existing car park to 20 car spaces, one disability space, one shuttle bus space and three campervan spaces.

The new application also includes improvements to two access paths between the rail trail and car park.

Launceston Council debate

The development application provoked a long debate at the Launceston Council meeting, with 12 representors speaking to their submissions and Councillor Walker asking multiple questions about the process.

In the end the majority of councillors backed the expert planning advice and approved the application. The councillors who voted against the application were councillors Walker, Pentridge and Cai and Deputy Mayor Garwood.

Is this finally it?

While opponents of the rail trail can appeal Launceston Council’s decision in the following two weeks, an appeal to Dorset Council’s approval of the trail was dealt with by the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2021, so any appeal would have to come up with new grounds that have not already been dealt with.

Most of the representors who spoke at the council meeting were concerned with potential contamination of land from the crushed ballast, however, this was the main subject of the appeal heard before the tribunal.

If no appeal is lodged, then the Dorset Council can apply to the Minister for Infrastructure for the final approval and start work on the entire length of trail.