A funny thing happened last Monday on the way to the shire forum (known as the shire Planning Services Committee meeting).

It was a “you can speak/no you can’t speak” farce, linked to the meeting’s agenda item dealing with the proposed new Sorrento ferry terminal – another triumph of modern design known in the Bandicoot household as “Neo-Gorblimey”.

There’s a lot of gorblimey about, described by its practitioners in the same terms as one finds on wine bottle labels – “This cheeky little red takes a firm grip on the middle palate” and so on.

Ferry terminal c. 1900Sorrento resident Mr Frank Hindley had been invited by the shire to address councillors on the ferry terminal plan. Mr Hindley is actively involved in Sorrento community life, especially its history and proposed development, though his work with the Nepean Historical Society and the Sorrento Museum.

Ferry Terminal late 1900sHe and many other Sorrento residents oppose the scale and design of the proposed ferry terminal. They also fear the probable consequences – added traffic congestion that cross-bay ferry plans will impose on their town. Business does not spend $30-40 million on a project without expecting a good return on the investment.

Ferry terminal - proposedBut when Bandicoot met Mr Hindley at the council chamber pre-meeting Mr Hindley was, to put it mildly, in a tizz. He had been told by shire planning chief David Bergin he might not be able to speak. It was up to meeting chair Cr Antonella Celi, he was told, despite the formal shire information.

Pictures, from top: ferry terminal c. 1900; late 1900s; current proposal. Note height of tree near ferry. 

Mr Hindley had prepared his three-minute address to councillors. He wanted to speak on the planners’ proposal to separate discussion of the ferry terminal (by an independent panel) from the traffic impacts (by a separate advisory committee). Surely these issues should be heard together, not separately.

Ferry terminal - Bay steamer posterThe meeting began. No mention was made by anyone of Mr Hindley’s shire invitation to make a presentation. It appeared Cr Celi had decided to deny him his three minutes without referring the matter to her council colleagues. The matter was not mentioned, by Cr Celi or Mr Bergin or anyone else in the chamber who might have known of it.

Thus councillors, ignorant of what Mr Hindley might have told them, passed the planners’ recommendation. Would his presentation have influenced any votes? We will never know.

This seemed to Bandicoot, and Mr Hindley, to be at the very least discourteous. Choose your own adjective; a number of more pungent terms suggest themselves to Bandicoot (including “imperious”, “autocratic” and “undemocratic”).

By way of contrast, in the two agenda items that followed, Cr Celi invited opponents and proponents to speak for three minutes with the option of seeking two minutes more. Three people were called: one was not present; the other two spoke then sought and were granted the two additional minutes. Since the meeting was over in an hour and 15 minutes, there was plenty of time for Mr Hindley’s five minutes.

Communities don’t work effectively without people like Frank and the people he represents, especially when developers, VCAT and even the local council set money as their prime consideration. So it is with the Sorrento ferry terminal. It diminishes the council meeting process to effectively gag discussion and debate, for no apparent reason, on an important community matter.

But back to the beachfront. It used to be called Sorrento wharf. Youngsters dived and swam off it, dinghies moored at it, people fished the day away, and young marrieds promenaded with their infants. At the end of the pier lay sleek steamships on their advertised “Round the Bay for a Bob” (shilling) weekend cruises.

George Coppin a theatre entrepreneur and owner of the Continental Hotel, the swimming baths and a tramway that carried visitors from the bayside beach to the wild open back beach at Sorrento, started the Bay Excursion Steamer Company Ltd and commissioned the construction of the first Port Phillip Bay paddle steamer 1886.

By the turn of the century, three paddle steamers – the Ozone, the Hygeia and the Weeroona – thunked the waters from Melbourne to Mornington, Sorrento and Queenscliff.

The Sorrento wharf was replaced with a stronger structure able to bear the weight of vehicles that used the small newly introduced cross-bay ferry. The beach still ran to each side of the wharf. But demand continued to grow.

Now Sorrento is faced with a “wharf with the lot”, a gor-blimey building that reflects the growth in demand for the modern two-level vehicle ferries, requires a lot more parking and more of the beach. It further restricts public access, except for those that want to visit the “maritime museum, café/lounge tenancy, and small shops for souvenirs” and, yes, buy a pedestrian ferry ticket.

Observe, in the artwork of the proposed terminal, the tree nearest the ferry. Bandicoot calculates it is three to four times the height of the other trees, possibly – no! surely not! – in an effort to disguise the vastness of the proposed museum/cafe/lounge/souvenir stall shopping centre.

What will they think of next?

Dromana-1 IN ANOTHER gorblimey moment, councillors knocked back, as planners recommended, an application to develop a three-storey mega-gorblimey apartment block at the south end of Dromana on Point Nepean Rd. Pictured: artist’s impression. What height is foreground tree?

With 73 apartments, underground parking, a gym and a restaurant – the capacity of which Bandicoot was unable to find specified, nor the car spaces allocated to it – and a swirling design facing the beach that could induce carsickness in those of a delicate disposition, Bandicoot felt it amply fitted the application’s description of it as “a creative and exciting design solution” of the sort planning minister Richard Wynne would applaud under his statewide three-storey height diktat.

Dromana-10 more blahFortunately for residents of Dromana, and those passing through the sleepy town on any form of transport, councillors gave it the thumbs-down. No representative of the applicant turned up to fill three minutes of praise for the “striking curvilinear design and an organic built form that pays homage to the coastal location and introduces a new level of sophistication and luxury to the Dromana housing market … the ‘horizontality of the proposal is offset by way of vertical returns that articulate the proposal …” (&c &c) “… a pallet [palette, surely?] of local colour to complement the natural coastal setting.”

 LAST ITEM on the mercifully thin agenda – Bandicoot predicted these unnecessary separate planning meetings would run out of puff before Christmas – was an application to build another hot springs at a property known as Hilltonia, behind Rye, near Peninsula Hot Springs.

hot spring resort - diagramDespite the luxuriant verbiage detailing the application, and the 29 pages plus 48 shire conditions in the recommendation for approval, councillors (except Cr Celi) voted to throw it out.

Bandicoot was enchanted by one exchange between Cr David Gill and planner Ms Rosa Zouzoulas.

Asked how, in the property’s remote location, conditions on patron numbers and so on would be enforced, Ms Zouzoulas replied that the shire “relied on applicants to do the right thing”.

At which planning chief David Bergin exploded out of the blocks to remind councillors and the gallery that the shire was widely known for its diligent enforcement and constant court appearances with malefactors collared for breaches.

As the troops say, “Tell that to the Marines.” Or, more locally, “Tell that to Tully’s”.

Bandicoot was home in time to watch a very interesting ‘Four Corners’ with the family cat on his lap. Not out of affection, of course – Scrappy is not that kind of guy – but for the warmth the staff was required to provide.