The Southern Brown Bandicoot and other potentially endangered species could stand in the way of the sale of the Holden test track in Lang Lang.
Environmentalists have mounted a campaign to have the land preserved to protect its unique native wildlife and habitat.
Holden’s parent company General Motors has owned the 877-hectare/2167-acre facility near the town of Lang Lang – about 90km south-east of Melbourne – since 1957.
The facility was listed for sale earlier this year after the US car giant announced the Holden brand would be retired by the end of 2020.
As a secure site to test top secret cars years before they are due to arrive in showrooms, the habitat inside the Holden facility has been left largely undisturbed for more than 60 years, despite nearby urban sprawl.
An environmental group called Save The Holden Bushlands, headed by author, wine maker, and former motoring journalist Tim O’Brien (pictured below, right), is petitioning Bass Coast Shire Council and the Victorian Government in an attempt to have the site protected and bought back by the authorities.
Mr O’Brien – who has written to Holden pleading with the car maker to consider the environmental impact of the sale of the site – says the Lang Lang facility is home to a number of endangered animals including the Southern Brown Bandicoot, the Swift Parrot, the Long-nosed Bandicoot, and is key to the survival of certain native grasses and swamp species.
“Given all the goodwill the Australian community has shown Holden over the past six decades or so, General Motors should do the right thing and strike a special rate to allow the site to fall into public hands, and preserve such an important parcel of land,” said Mr O’Brien.
Mr O’Brien says the Lang Lang facility is the “single largest parcel of preserved coastal bushland in the whole of the Western Port region”.
“The land is currently zoned for farming, and while it’s zoned for farming it’s in grave danger of being bought by a sand miner,” said Mr O’Brien.
“We are appealing to the planning minister to rezone the site,” he said. “The Bass Coast Council has put forward a number of motions proposing the state government rezone the site and purchase it. Our view is it should form part of a National Park linking all of that remnant vegetation which forms part of a vital bio-link corridor.”
A letter written by Darrin McKenzie, the Regional Director in Gippsland for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – to the Save The Holden Bushlands group and posted on its Facebook page – said in part: “The process for the Victorian Government to purchase freehold land requires a thorough assessment of the public land and environmental values, the most appropriate protection methods, overall public benefit and cost.”
The letter continued: “The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) will work with Parks Victoria and Bass Coast Shire Council to discuss options and investigate possible acquisition and protection measures.”
General Motors Holden is understood to be canvassing offers from trucking magnate Lindsay Fox (who owns another vehicle testing facility inside a 1141-hectare parcel of land near Angelsea, about 125km south-west of Melbourne), and Vietnamese start-up car company Vinfast, which has been hiring former engineers from Toyota, Ford and Holden and has established a base in Melbourne.
The Holden Lang Lang test track has a 44km network of roads, including a 4.7km four-lane high-speed oval, a 5.5km ride and handling course, a 1.8km noise testing stretch with “rumble strips” and tram lines, and a 100-metre diameter skid pan.
The test track also has “rattle and squeak” obstacles, an off-road test area, and deep water crossings.
Holden spent $15.9 million updating the facility – which also has an emissions lab – in 2018.
It was previously thought the Lang Lang test track could survive the shutdown of Holden as a brand because most of its contract work in recent years has been for General Motors in Detroit.
However, the Lang Lang facility will be sold with the exit of Holden from Australia and New Zealand by the end of this year.
CarAdvice sent the following questions to General Motors Holden earlier this week and will update this story when we receive a response.
Will Holden/GM consider keeping the Lang Lang site or donating the Lang Lang site for environmental preservation?
Is there still the intention to sell the property to the buyer of Holden/GM's choosing?
Would Holden/GM give preference to a buyer who has plans to preserve the site on historical and/or environmental grounds, or will the highest sale price be the determining factor?
Does Holden/GM expect the sale of Lang Lang to be finalised by the end of this year?