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Marshall Govt backpedals on Adelaide-Melbourne bike trail pledge

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The Marshall Government has scrapped its “bold” election promise to build a major cycling trail connecting Adelaide to Melbourne, after undertaking a confidential study into the project’s viability.

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Premier Steven Marshall announced the Liberal Party’s “bold vision” to build the “Great Southern Bike Trail” while in opposition, describing it as a “premier tourist attraction” that would inject “millions of dollars into our economy” and create “much-needed jobs, especially in our regions”.

The trail was spruiked as a 1000-kilometre-long bike path that would start in Adelaide and head south over the barrages of the Murray Mouth, down through the Limestone Coast and along the Great Ocean Road heading into Melbourne.

Ahead of the March 2018 election, Marshall said the path, which had support from the Federal Government, would cater for cyclists of all abilities and provide direct access to businesses such as wineries and tourism operators.

The State Government conducted a feasibility study in 2019 which outlined the cost of building the trail, but that study has not been made public.

In response to questions from InDaily, a state government spokesperson said after undertaking the feasibility study, the Government “decided to go in a different direction”.

The spokesperson said the Government was still “committed to improving recreational trails across South Australia”, and had instead set up a “dedicated cross-government trails taskforce”.

They said the Government had also set aside a $20 million tourism infrastructure development fund.

“After undertaking a feasibility study into the Great Southern Bike Trail the Government has decided to go in a different direction,” the spokesperson said.

InDaily asked the Government for a copy of the Great Southern Bike Trial feasibility study, but was told the report was commercial in confidence.

The Government did not say how much it spent on the project before it was scrapped.

Bike SA CEO Christian Haag told InDaily he wasn’t surprised by the Government’s decision, saying “fewer and fewer people” had the capacity, interest, time or money to complete “long, generally self-guided and self-supported” cycling holidays.

“Just prior to 2010 we were doing a lot of work strategically looking at cycle tourism within the state and the economic argument for those sorts of investments really don’t stack up – particularly when you start looking at the shifting trends of consumers moving away from wanting to have that experience,” he said.

“We’re not surprised in that regard – it’s a good call – but we certainly want to continue to see greater investment from the state in ensuring that the experiences of visitors is second to none.

“It’s an extraordinarily competitive marketplace across the country and to be pretty blunt South Australia’s been lagging behind in that investment, particularly when you look at the fact we have one of the most extraordinarily successful marketing campaigns in the Oceania region with the Tour Down Under.”

Haag said there was growing interest in “cycling hubs” or shorter cycling routes, as opposed to longer, self-guided bike trails.

“The hot ticket at the moment is really development of mountain biking parks,” he said.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work that’s happening at the moment at Fox Creek in the Adelaide Hills near Cudlee Creek – there’s a lot of money going in there.

“Our mantra at the moment is we really want to create better trail not more trail and by that, I mean really looking at what we have already and making those existing experiences for both residents and visitors much more enjoyable.”

Bike Adelaide committee member Katie Gilfillan also welcomed a decision to reallocate government funding to other cycling tracks within South Australia, but said the group still supported the proposal to build a cycling track linking Adelaide to Melbourne.

She said when the Liberal Party announced its intention to build the Great Southern Bike Trail, cyclists welcomed the prospect of improved regional bike tracks, but there was also “disbelief, as if they’d pulled this party idea out rather than necessarily fully considering doing their research first in terms of what would be the best approach in terms of investment”.

“I’m actually not surprised that their feasibility study didn’t stack up,” she said.

“The Great Southern Bike Trail is still an idea that we’d like to see, particularly with the connection up through the Coorong, however, we do think there are bigger opportunities within the state to build up a really good recreational cycling trail network throughout the regions.

“If they could actually detail what funds they were going to contribute towards that (Great Southern Bike Trail) network which have not been spent and if they could commit that significant fund to the development of a regional cycling trail in South Australia then that would be welcomed.

“However, a vague statement around developing trails with no clear measurable funding commitment is not an appropriate action following such a significant election promise that was never delivered.”

Gilfillan said Bike Adelaide would welcome investment in cycling tracks such as the proposed Capital City Wine Trail, which is being spearheaded by several councils and involves building a bike track that links the McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa and Clare wine regions.

“We do have pockets of good cycling infrastructure but they don’t connect to create longer cycling tails for people to do bike-packing trips which are now really popular worldwide and across Australia,” she said.

“The Capital City Wine Trail would look at connecting aspects of our bike trails through McLaren Vale, through the Adelaide Hills, through the Barossa and into the Clare region to create one comprehensive route.

“If they (the Government) have a real commitment that they really support cycling, then I would see them come out with a funding figure along with their trails taskforce to significantly improve South Australia’s cycle tourism network.”

A state government spokesperson said the government was spending “record amounts” in South Australia’s parks to improve nature-based tourism and conservation.

“Our historic move to open our reservoirs for recreational access has unlocked nearly 100 kilometres of trails and significant upgrades in the Southern Flinders Ranges and Fleurieu Peninsula will reinforce South Australia’s reputation as an adventure tourism destination,” they said.

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