“It is not the role of council to tell us where to put our houses.”

The shire’s second Planning Services Committee meeting (the first was cancelled) was, for several people, an unmitigated success, in particular for farming couple Kaye and David Fallick, finally given approval to put a house where they want it on their 18.3 hectare property in Tucks Rd after a decade-long battle.

But for every winner there must be a loser, in this case council planners. More of that later.

Bandicoot thought this meeting, the first for several years devoted exclusively to planning, would draw a full councillor complement (apart from Hugh Fraser, researching in London Victoria’s first settlement at Sorrento).

Absent were policewoman Julie Edge, possibly on patrol in a divvy van, Sam Hearn, perhaps tending to an ailing child, and Frank Martin.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAalAAAAJDYyOWYxYmM2LWQzMDktNGI4NS1iNDg4LTkzZGQzY2YxYWU3YQCr Antonella Celi (pictured) chaired the meeting briskly, keeping the agenda moving, herding errants back to the matter at hand when necessary and giving applicants their allotted three minutes’ speaking time, plus two more if needed.

Councillors were told a temporary stop to Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s imposition of an 11-metre – three storey – residential height limit in the shire would be sought from the state government, capped for two years at nine metres while the shire sought to negotiate a permanent nine-metre limit.

They also heard that Mr Wynne had agreed to a meeting between shire mayor Cr Bev Colomb and his advisers. Letters to local state MPs had not yet been answered. Haste is being made slowly. 

Shire planners were watching for applications to build to the new three-storey limit, the meeting was told, but since these applications could be made to a private surveyor they might not become known to council until a planning permit was, as required, lodged, councillors were told by Mr David Bergin, shire planning services executive manager.

After councillors approved the plan aimed at reducing the height limit they moved to the Tucks Rd farmhouse application from Mr and Mrs Fallick. It was heard just a few months ago, on 13 February, after being brought to council by Red Hill ward councillor David Gill. That meeting had deferred the item pending a proper planning process.

Fallick landThe Fallick land, narrowing sharply at Tucks Rd and reverse L-shaped to the left of image. The star indicates the general area of the house site. Planners wanted it in line with the Tucks Rd houses. Click to enlarge. 

Again planners recommended rejection of the application in a report that appeared to be identical to that presented in February. Councillors Gill and Simon Brooks began their questioning by remarking that the report appeared thin and repetitive.

Bandicoot believes a very good case must be presented to deny landowners the right to build on their land – especially farmland. Sometimes the law is precise. The shire’s case for refusal was not whether a house could be built, but precisely where on the 18.3 hectares it could go. It did not favour the site the Fallicks had chosen.

As the Fallicks’ planning consultant Ms Jackie Prossor told the meeting, “It’s not the role of council to tell us where to put our houses.”

Indeed it is not, especially when the shire had effectively told the Fallicks exactly where the house should go – “the dominant and preferred location of dwellings in the surrounding rural landscape … are predominantly located to the front of site, within close proximity to Tucks Road”.

This would have put the Fallicks within loud argument range of two neighbours – not that the couple appear prone to arguments, and Bandicoot is sure their neighbours are similarly quiet and refined.

Elsewhere in its recommendation to refuse the application, the shire argued variously that the Fallicks’ preferred site “has the potential to adversely impact upon the agricultural focus of the land”; “is considered to constitute a form of inappropriate rural residential development”; “siting is not consistent with the pattern of rural residential development in the surrounding area”; “does not prioritise future use of the land for agricultural purposes”; and is “not considered to be consistent with … sustainable agricultural land use and the natural attributes of the land.”

Asked which particular part of the green wedge rules the shire was citing to seek rejection of the application, planners said the assessing officer was using a “holistic” approach, looking at the range of reasons why the Fallicks’ house site was unsuitable, including possible spray drift from neighbouring properties and difficulties including that the dwelling – 1% of the 18.3ha – bisected the land, possibly making it unsuitable for future agricultural purposes.

“Irrelevant,” retorted Ms Prossor.

Bandicoot agrees. A far larger agricultural obstacle is Manton Creek, which, with the vegetation along its banks, bisects the farm as a natural and permanent obstacle to, say, a wheat crop – not that anyone of sound mind would plant wheat on a small block of splendid Upland Basalt Slopes (the plan is to run vealers).

Planners, in making their case, were not deliberately seeking to control the uses to which farmers can put their land, but ran pretty close with their statement that:

“The proposed dwelling site would not lend well to a potential future change in agriculture to crop raising, given its central location to the land and likely amenity impacts on future occupants, such as spray drift and machinery noise.

“The dwelling location also has the potential to constrain existing adjoining crop raising activities in its proposed location.”

bryan paynePutting the Fallicks’ case to councillors, Mrs Kaye Fallick made mention of taking the matter to VCAT – an indication of how fed up the couple were at the long delays in achieving their goal of living on their own land in their own house, and not in a “central location”, as constantly asserted by the shire and in no way constraining neighbouring farm activities. 

Not a single objection had been made to the Fallicks’ plan.

Councillors approved the application by a handsome majority, with Cr Bryan Payne (pictured above) saying it should be approved rather than costing the applicants – and ratepayers – tens of thousands of dollars to achieve at VCAT what shire planners were recommending be rejected.

Seventy per cent of the Mornington Peninsula is green wedge, comprising land parcels from under a hectare to 80ha or more. Bandicoot understands councillors have still not been briefed on green wedge planning rules, more than seven months into their four-year term.

Why not? Why the hell not?