We are assembled in the Mornington shire office last Friday, 11 February, for a pleading – or, perhaps more accurately, a Pleading, over a small informal park in Rosebud. The capital letter underlines the word’s legal usage (“How do you plead?”), which is appropriate in this room, since a barrister is present.
We were, if Bandicoot may be a trifle melodramatic, pleading for a small community’s life.
But passion and sincerity burned bright in the room: people were indeed pleading, mostly via measured argument, for their Rosebud neighbourhood, for the scraps of bushland, the rare plants and particularly for the modest open space whose fate was being decided.
It involved land known by many locals as “the old pony club land” south of Herman St, between Bayview Rd. Its owner, Melbourne Water, wants to sell it: asking price – around $22 million.
MW had told a public meeting the shire was earlier offered the land at a 30% discount. But this offer was not made in writing. Thirty per cent of $22 million is a handy $6.6 million.
The shire does not want to buy it – rather, it embraces MW’s plan to rezone the 5.6 hectares for “redevelopment”, aka “housing”, for sale to the highest bidder. What will the 50 or so house blocks fetch? What would a new house cost there? One storey, or two?
“The land is vacant,” officers told councillors in a 28 November report. Good old Terra Nullius, empty land, apart from the koalas and birds, the skinks, the rare orchids, the amphibians in Murray Anderson Creek where kids can hunt for tadpoles in season, the trees for dogs to inspect when they stop chasing balls.
Far better to cover it with houses (two storeys or three?), let it generate rates for the cash-strapped shire, add to road congestion, expand the carbon footprint, the demand for gas and electricity, the sewage load, additional rubbish…
That’s how modern government instrumentalities in this Neolib era see vacant land: an opportunity to grab dollars after giving small communities a proper statutory hearing to plead that the land should not be alienated forever. Better to provide “infill development” on this “vacant underutilised land”.
Underutilised? Says who? This appears to be pure assertion; no substantiation is provided. Besides, did it even occur to MW, or the shire, that this small parcel be gifted to the neighbourhood for kick-to-kick and the sheer joy, for man and beast, of simply running free like the wind?
Of course not. Vacant land must be utilised, not wasted!
Back to the meeting. At the top table were Ms Mandy Elliott and Mr Alan Chuck, officiating at this Government’s Land Standing Advisory Committee gathering. They will decide the fate of the land, off Jetty Rd just inland of the freeway. To their left and right were barrister Peter O’Farrell (for MW) and shire executive manager of planning services Mr David Bergin.
A Ms Mandy Elliott is listed on LinkedIn as a sessional planning member at Planning Panels Victoria and a director of EnviroME. The web yielded no information on Mr Chuck, who could well be a MW employee.
There is precious little open space in Rosebud, where some of the peninsula’s most intense subdivision has occurred over the years. Developers have argued for tiny housing blocks: the great expanse of the foreshore gave residents plenty of open space, they said. Folk living far from the beach could always walk their dogs on Lawson Park, or the golf course, or the tennis courts.
West Brunswick has more open space than Rosebud, Bandicoot calculates.
The meeting was to have been held at the Dromana Community Hall but it was found the venue had been double-booked. So we all moved to Mornington.
A succession of speakers put their case to Ms Elliott and Mr Chuck. Some submissions were audible, others not: Mr Chuck was largely inaudible for lack of microphones and an amplifier. One hard of hearing member of the gallery moved to the top table in an effort to hear proceedings.
The adjudicators listened politely to the succession of speakers, about flora (the rare carnivorous Drosera peltata, (right), or pale sundew, Melaleuca armillaris, the bracelet honey myrtle); about fauna (“Koalas are quite rare in this area … to our amazement [they are] still managing to breed” – animal welfare volunteer Craig Thomson); about the impending loss of a safe play area for grandchildren; about the possibility of ranks of town houses. (Three storeys, or four?)
Then, to round off the submissions, came Mrs Doris Campbell, president of the Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association. She did not mince her words. Bandicoot will now quote her at length.
“There is no honour in the conduct of Melbourne Water regarding this matter,” she began, “as crucial information was omitted at the very beginning of its dealings with [the shire], which makes this fast track process invalid.” Bandicoot sensed a stirring among adjudicators and the public.
“Two – it was held in Dromana yet is relevant to Rosebud. At this session we were told that [this 11 February] hearing would be in Melbourne. (Cherry ballart with fruit, pictured.)
“Three – at the November community information session Robert White of Melbourne Water stated that the shire was offered first refusal, and was notified that if it purchased part or all of the land for community use, Melbourne Water would give the shire a 30% discount on the valuation of the land.
“This would be with a caveat that states that it cannot be sold on at a later date, or a change of zoning applied. He was very specific. He also stated that Melbourne Water did make this offer to the shire without a costing, as they do not do a valuation unless their offer is accepted.
“Four – it is understood by the Ratepayers Association that in August 2016, the only first refusal received by the shire from Melbourne Water was via an email listing available State Government land. [That document was presented at the meeting.]
“At no time did Melbourne Water notify the shire that if it bought all or part of this land for community use it would give the shire a 30% discount on the valuation of the land. There was never any mention of a caveat that stated that the land, if purchased by the shire, could not be sold on at later date or a change of zoning applied.
“Five – The timing of the email and the fact that the caveat states that a change of zoning cannot be applied, clearly implies that the land would be sold to the shire under the Public Use Zoning Valuation.
“Six – At a public council meeting held in Somerville on 28th November 2016 – only 12 days after the community information session – councillors voted to make submissions to the Advisory Committee but without this important information being included in the officers’ report and recommendation.
“Seven – it would appear that this was because the officers were never informed of the offer by Melbourne Water.
“From day one this process has failed and must be a matter of public record. The community expects a proper process of public consultation before this amendment is decided upon.
“There is increased pressure on the Peninsula’s amenities including open space, during peak season; and a critical need for dedicated open passive recreation spaces within walking distance of the communities they serve.
“On Melbourne Water’s website ‘Land and Liveability Partnerships – Our Space Your Place’, this land is clearly marked as areas available for community projects, park benches, landscaping etc. but not available for large scale infrastructure due to access, drainage, safety etc. This is a contradiction of what Melbourne Water is asking for now in this Fast Track Amendment.
“Is it possible to negotiate a lease agreement for a nominal fee, similar to what the shire already has at police Point, Pt Nepean?
a) Carrington – this is already being developed into 14 house blocks.
b) Carrington Caravan Park – this 2.5 hectares has recently been earmarked for redevelopment for housing and is already zoned General Residential. (See caravan park in map, bottom right.)
c) Pony Club – which is actually part of this parcel of land for Fast Track Amendment.
d) Rosebud Public Golf Course and Tennis Club – neither of which could be called spaces open to the passive recreation for families with pushchairs, kids on bikes and walking the dog!
“Most people here today have watched the ABC comedy Utopia and this outrageous situation would make a classic episode!”
Well, that rapid-fire enfilade stiffened a spine or two in the room! It was a typically well researched, precise and concise submission from the ratepayers’ and residents’ group, which quietly and efficiently over the years has done sterling service for the peninsula community.
Bandicoot heartily endorses Mrs Campbell’s submission and urges the community to join both the organisation (PO Box 4087, Rosebud, 3939) and to stand for its committee.
Ms Elliott and Mr Chuck have 10 days from last Friday to bring down their decision on the pony club land. Bandicoot fears it will be sold, proving yet again that communities finish well behind any stray dollar the state government and the shire spy glinting among the flora and fauna.