BANDICOOT AN AMATEUR, COUNCILLOR ADVISES

“A councillor” has written to colleagues regarding several of Bandicoot’s recent green wedge articles, setting them straight on the Old Coot’s qualifications and expertise. The advice was that Bandicoot is not an expert in the planning field and therefore his articles should be … well … disregarded.

“The writer of these articles is journalist [sic] not a practitioner of planning,” the councillors were told by email, a copy of which landed in Bandicoot’s inbox, “and while the opinions may be interesting to read I tend to rely on professional, expert advice such as through our officers or industry specialist [sic] or those that I know to have a more realistic and less biased perspective on planning items.”

One of Bandicoot’s articles, (Councillors “yes” to Willow Creek Winery *), illustrates the need for councillors to rely on planners rather than shamelessly biased non-experts such as Bandicoot. (“Bias” can be defined as “facts or opinions with which one disagrees”.)

The article dealt with an application by Willow Creek Winery for a huge expansion to its operation, including a 46-room hotel containing a restaurant/convention centre and retention of the existing Salix restaurant.

willow creek shire aerialCouncillors were informed by shire staff experts that Willow Creek Winery was entitled to:

“… a maximum of 150 patrons for the conference centre which includes the restaurant within the hotel building as well as a maximum of 150 patrons for the existing ‘Salix’ restaurant.

“In summary the controls therefore allow for a total of 300 patrons to be on the site at any one time due to the different operating functions of the restaurant/conference centre and the ‘Salix’ restaurant.”

In his article on councillors’ decision to approve the application, Bandicoot quoted the green wedge cap of a total of 150 patrons in restaurants and conference centres “at any one time”. Addition of a second restaurant was an unusual deviation from the norm of one restaurant per green wedge property, smoke-screened by its secondary use as a convention centre.

Above – Willow Creek Winery, with vines strangely patterned.

VCAT confirmed Bandicoot’s statement that 300 patrons was not permissible. Its 23 December 2016 decision specified in permit condition 5 thata combined total of no more than 150 patrons [were permitted in the Salix restaurant and the restaurant/conference centre] at any one time”. That is, 150 patrons in each venue was prohibited.

But wait – that’s not all. At the 28 November 2016 meeting shire executive manager of planning services David Bergin told councillors that, were Willow Creek Winery on a 40-hectare land parcel, “it could have 310-plus” [patrons] because the Victorian planning provisions “did change a couple of years ago to allow additional patrons within sites”.

Willow Creek Winery is on a block measuring about 18.2ha.

Mr Bergin then told councillors: “…[F]or a residential hotel the reason why we state [in figures supplied to councillors] it’s 80 rooms; the planning provisions don’t actually stipulate whether the rooms can accommodate two, three, four or more people so it could be some of those rooms [pause] if they were all four persons that could be accommodated in each would represent a number of 320 just for the hotel component.

“So we base that analysis on a two-person room accommodation.”

The hotel is described by the applicant as having 46 rooms, which presumably means that, at four persons per room, the hotel would be able to accommodate 184 guests rather than Mr Bergin’s figure of 320.

In its conditions, VCAT stipulated a maximum of two hotel guests per room, effectively setting or confirming that figure as a benchmark for hotel room occupancy in the green wedge zone. Bandicoot trusts the shire will check regularly to see this condition in particular is met at Willow Creek Winery. 

Mr Bergin also told the meeting the property had a “lawful” existing use right, without specifying what it was. He said the property’s proposed patron numbers were “going closer towards what the general provisions are heading towards”.

He had earlier referred again to “recent changes to the green wedge conditions [that] occurred in recent times at state level” – changes unknown to planning experts Bandicoot consulted after the councillors’ decision.

After the meeting Bandicoot sought from Mr Bergin details of the state planning changes to which he referred, and Willow Creek Winery’s existing use rights. Answer came there none.

VCAT’s Willow Creek Winery decision has shocked green wedge experts. A letter will be sent to VCAT’s president, Supreme Court Justice Ian Ross, seeking more information about the case.

Hilltonia hot springs MarkdelA further demonstration of Bandicoot’s rank ignorance of green wedge planning matters came following the 12 December council meeting, when councillors – again relying on an officer’s report, approved a brewery at ‘Markdel’, a former racehorse training facility at 160 Sandy Rd, Fingal.

The 32-page report to councillors recommended approval for the brewery on the grounds that it is a “Rural Industry (Brewery)”, with a maximum patron number of 180 rather than the GW cap of 150.

Bandicoot knew from his research that “brewery” is not a defined green wedge rural industry: the category names only “abattoir” and “sawmill”. Council officers accepted the applicant’s argument that, “brewery”, being an “innominate” (not named or classified) use, was effectively freed from restrictions such as patron number placed on “named” green wedge uses such as restaurants.

Aerial view shows Peninsula Hot Springs (red dot), ‘Markdel’ brewery site (racecourse) and ‘Hilltonia’ (cottages among trees, mid-left, below Rye houses). Click to enlarge.

Shire planners appeared to have overlooked two VCAT decisions, one from Senior Member Anthony Liston, which ruled that “brewery” was not a “Rural Industry” because it involves manufacture.

The omission of these cases from the officer’s report possibly left councillors uninformed of crucial material that, in Bandicoot’s amateur view, would have – or certainly should have – weighed very heavily in their deliberations.

Bandicoot reported this on morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com just before Christmas, when the brewery decisions were brought to his attention by members of the Green Wedge Coalition (“OK for brewery defies VCAT cases” *).

In an application for a brewery at Cape Schanck five years ago – it was approved but has never been built – councillors were similarly not informed of these two cases, Bandicoot’s research reveals.

Several more green wedge applications await the imminent attention of planners and councillors. One, Hilltonia’s application for a hot springs on a small green wedge block in Browns Rd, Fingal, was removed from the planning list after Bandicoot published an analysis of it. The explanation for its disappearance was that problems had arisen over use of the hot aquifer currently being exploited at a nearby property.

Bandicoot knows of yet another hot springs proposal in the area, which will almost certainly soon be considered by the shire, if it has not already been decided under delegation by planning officers.

This can occur because, as Bandicoot understands it, some years ago councillors voted to permit all planning decisions in the green wedge – some 70% of the shire – to be made by planners: that is, decided by shire staff with no reference to councillors. Councillors might soon move to reverse this unfortunate decision.

Meantime, Bandicoot will struggle to keep interested readers of his uninformed maunderings informed of shire decision-making in this absolutely crucial area of planning, despite the status under which he labours. He notes “a councillor’s” helpful advice to colleagues that “There is lots of information and research out there some has credit but not all of it” [sic].

“A councillor” no doubt has the expertise to sort the wheat from the chaff. Or should that be “from the brewer’s barley”?

* morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com/2016/11/29/councillors-yes-to-willow-creek-winery/

See also morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com/2017/01/03/new-attack-on-green-wedge-awaits-decision/

and morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com/2016/12/23/ok-for-brewery-defies-vcat-cases/

DISCLOSURE: Bandicoot’s amateur status stretches back half a century, to when he joined the honourable craft of journalism. He worked predominantly for Melbourne metropolitan broadsheets as a sub-editor – basically, ensuring reporters’ facts were correct – serving in a number of middle-ranking positions. Then he was invited to participate in The Age move from hot metal to computer-set printing technology. In that role he taught himself to write computer code – ironic, after choosing a career as far from mathematics as possible.

Favourite journalism quotes:

We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers. – Helen Thomas, veteran White House reporter

Journalism is to politician as dog is to lamp-post. – H.L. Mencken

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. – Mark Twain

1 Comment on "BANDICOOT AN AMATEUR, COUNCILLOR ADVISES"

  1. It seems that certain councillors are taking note of your writings. Pity they can’t understand their own and state planning policies when making green wedge application decisions of late because they have made some shockers. And the officer reports have been sadly lacking in the content and considerations.

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