Halls Gap zoo refuses to pay for turning lane after council changes permit

The location where current traffic turns to enter Halls Gap Zoo.
The location where current traffic turns to enter Halls Gap Zoo.

Halls Gap Zoo owners say they are unable to apply for any new permits until a turning lane outside the premises is created.

However, they refuse to pay, claiming Northern Grampians Shire Council should instead take responsibility.

Co-owner Greg Culell said it followed a four-year tussle with local government after the the council changed the usage of property from Halls Gap Wildlife Park to Halls Gap Zoo in 2015. 

Mr Culell said the change in permitting was in reaction to a misinformed zoning decision. 

“Before we bought the business we approached council and questioned if all the permits were in place and all the zoning was correct, and they said yes,” he said. 

“Four years later they came to us and said our permits and zoning were incorrect – that we needed new permits to counteract a zoning problem, so we’ve ended up having two VCAT hearings to resolve this.”

Halls Gap Zoo was established on a rural residential zone code (1), but Mr Cullel said it should have been on rural residential zone code (2) instead.

“Council then changed our establishment from a wildlife park to a zoo to get around this zoning issue,” he said. 

Since the naming change VicRoads then approached and ordered Halls Gap Zoo to construct a sealed shoulder to improve the safety of vehicles turning right into the zoo.

But Mr Culell said he refused to pay for the construction.

“Those permits that the council got done were incorrect,” he said.

“Anywhere in Victoria if there is a new business and you have a certain number of volume on your road and you need a turning lane, that business has to pay for it, but we didn’t change the actual business, the council did.”

VicRoads’ regional director for the western region Mal Kersting confirmed they had been referred the new planning permit by Northern Grampians Shire Council in December, 2015 under the Planning and Environment Act.

“We’ve been working closely with the Northern Grampians Shire Council since late 2015 over the issuing of a new permit to cover the operations of Halls Gap Zoo,” he said.  

“VicRoads does not object to the issuing of the permit, so long as the works are undertaken to ensure the safety of vehicles turning right into the zoo.”

VicRoads reviewed the application on road safety and efficiency grounds and provided two conditions.

Halls Gaz Zoo was instructed to build a sealed shoulder to the satisfaction of VicRoads to improve the safety of vehicles turning right from Ararat-Halls Gap Road into the zoo.

VicRoads also conditioned any proposed advertising signs needed to satisfy the VicRoads’ Ten Point Road Safety Checklist for advertisements and hoarding's and required all signs to be located within the property.

Those permits that the council got done were incorrect.

Greg Culell

Mr Culell said he and his wife had been able to transform a “little wildlife park” into Victoria’s largest regional zoo, but further expansion would be made difficult until a resolution was reached. 

”This year we have giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos – we’ve gone from employing nobody to employing 16 full-time employees,” he said.

“We can double that if we hadn't had all the red tape, but instead of council saying we’ve got this wrong, let’s support this business they have instead tried to make it a battle they were always going to lose.” 

But Northern Grampians Shire Council director of economic and community development Debbie Bach said council had worked continuously with Halls Gap Zoo over the past five years to provide dedicated assistance with the permit process.

“They have also received funding via council's Business Assistance Scheme during that time, and we are currently in the midst of providing them with business planning services, again via the Business Assistance Scheme,” she said. 

“We are also working alongside VicRoads to assist the Halls Gap Zoo through the process for road access.”

Mr Culell said the current situation required another $50,000 or $100,000 to get a ruling through VCAT. 

“We don’t want to spend any more money fighting bureacracy, it has destroyed Evonne and I emotionally,” he said.