WHY THE GREEN WEDGE IS SO IMPORTANT

SHIRE SPELLS OUT ITS VISION

What is green wedge? Why has Bandicoot been banging on about it these past weeks? Here are a couple of paragraphs of explanation:

The green wedge is the rural area of the Mornington Peninsula, one of Melbourne’s most important long term assets. It is a key element in the sustainability and liveability of metropolitan Melbourne, as well as being critical to the peninsula’s character and the amenity of its residents.

Virtually all of the towns on the peninsula have a rural landscape backdrop. No area is more than 10 minutes’ drive from a major reserve, an area of bushland or the coast.

Here’s a vision for the green wedge. It is:

* A place that keeps about 70% (52,181 hectares) of the peninsula’s land mass as a rural land resource in recognition of its value for current and future generations.

* A place that protects, conserves and enhances the diversity, quality and extent of natural systems for their international, national, regional and local significance.

* A place where sustainable agriculture is supported and the productive capacity of land is conserved and enhanced for the future.

* A place that retains a rural character, defined by agriculture and natural systems land uses, heritage places, attractive vistas, unobtrusive buildings and a low population settled in relatively few buildings that is:

At its strongest in key locations including: significant landscapes, land with coastal frontage, land adjoining urban growth boundaries and separations between closely located townships, and

Protected by population, industrial and commercial growth being located inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

* A place for all people to access a high quality regional open space network and diverse rural and coastal landscapes for their health, wellbeing and learning, in particular their need for outdoor, unstructured recreation.

* A place that supports a township-centred approach to tourism that has most accommodation, retail premises and the like located in townships, but will, in the rural areas, provide limited support for:

Outdoor-based leisure and recreation uses;

Small scale host farm and bed and breakfast accommodation;

Primary produce sales and, in conjunction with established large scale rural enterprises (ie farming, wineries or outdoor leisure and recreation), other retail premises; and,

Other uses that will bring regionally significant and sustainable improvement to the protection and enhancement of natural systems or heritage places.

* A place that supports landowners to provide sustainable land stewardship.

gw-map-23-sept-2013These are not Bandicoot’s words. This is the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s own vision for this valuable community resource, expressed almost entirely in its own words in the ‘Interim Green Wedge Management Plan (September 2012)’.

Bandicoot hopes those visionary words express the aspirations of all peninsula residents. They certainly express Bandicoot’s position. This article results from the concern he has expressed on this website over councillor decisions taken in the first two working meetings of their four-year term. Map shows Melbourne’s green wedges. Click to enlarge. 

Some councillors have voted consistently for development in the green wedge (Antonella Celi, Frank Martin, Bryan Payne) or are newcomers presumably relying on officers for information (Rosie Clark, Sam Hearn, Kate Roper, Julie Edge) or are generally pro-green wedge (Simon Brooks, Hugh Fraser, David Gill).

All councillors, old and new, must regard themselves bound by the law and governed by the enforceable shire policies, such as this management plan, even if they were elected after it was adopted.

The shire vision set out above is framed to conform with state and local policy on what is permitted – and, more importantly, what is not permitted – in the peninsula’s green wedge zone. A long list details these cans and can’ts in the Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme at clause 35.04. You can’t, for example expect to get approval for a brewery on green wedge land. But it happened.

The MPPS can be accessed via the shire website.

Land owners are devising more and more ingenious arguments to try to weasel their way around the green wedge rules, aided regularly by planning experts of all sorts. Sometimes they get what they want and thus weaken the structure of the law protecting our rural land. Some utter barbarians would have a restaurant or a brightly lit hotel on every hilltop in a chessboard landscape of pocket-handkerchief subdivisions.

Councillors, the shire council and the law, occasionally including VCAT, must defend green wedge from this garish vision and its quick-quid proponents. 

The GWMP, after setting out the history of planning on the peninsula, lists its objectives under various headings.

Invariably, these concentrate on such subjects as “Retain[ing] the Green and Rural Character of the Green Wedge by Minimising any Further Subdivision and Development”; “Foster[ing] Opportunities for a Positive Relationship Between the Farming Community and other Green Wedge Residents” and “[to] Promote and Support Farming and Agricultural Productivity in the Green Wedge”.

Even an objective such as “Maintain the long term recreational value of the Green Wedge” stresses the undesirability of permitting “all kinds of recreational facilities which may displace rural activity and be intrusive or out of character [with] the inherent values of the rural Peninsula [that] provide opportunities for access, understanding and enjoyment”.

The document adds: “It may be noted that many of these recreational opportunities are dependent on the experience of ‘getting away’ from urban Melbourne, which increases “the importance of avoiding development of a quasi urban built up nature that will erode this key value”.

“The original planning studies for the Peninsula noted that tourist development is a common cause of complaint in relation to loss of landscape value. Often it damages or detracts from the beauty of the areas to which it owes its existence,” it states.

There follow a series of dot points on how to ensure agriculture and development coexist agreeably – the need for minimum site areas, a cap on patron numbers, an “essential link” between, say, a restaurant and a vineyard.

Overall, the Interim Green Wedge Management Plan is a very well researched and thoughtful document, worth reading to gain a clear picture of why green wedge land must be protected. A pity it has not been updated since 2012. A pity new councillors have not yet been briefed on it.

The Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme, dated 24 November 2016, echoes much of the GWMP, but with a wider focus on the role of regional Victoria and Melbourne’s peri-urban areas in agricultural, recreational and environmental issues.

This is because the local planning scheme is incorporated into the State Planning Policy Framework, which deals with all the planning issues from the SA border to the eastern tip of the Croajingolong National Park in Gippsland.

Under the heading “Significant environments and landscapes”, the strategy is set out as being:

“[To] protect environmentally sensitive areas with significant recreational value such as the Dandenong and Macedon Ranges, the Upper Yarra Valley, Western Port and Port Phillip Bays and their foreshores, the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra and Maribyrnong Rivers and the Merri Creek, the Grampians, the Gippsland Lakes and its foreshore, the coastal areas and their foreshores and the Alpine areas as well as nominated urban conservation areas, historic buildings and precincts from development which would diminish their environmental conservation or recreation values.”

The purpose of the planning scheme? The document begins succinctly:

* To provide a clear and consistent framework within which decisions about the use and development of land can be made.

* To express state, regional, local and community expectations for areas and land uses.

* To provide for the implementation of State, regional and local policies affecting land use and development.

The shire and its councillors have a vital role to play in both our local and Victoria-wide planning framework. Individual ideology can have no role in this planning area. The groundrules are clear. So are community expectations.

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