Five of the 11 councillors were Apologies at the Planning Services Committee meeting last Monday, 20 November, continuing the pattern of low attendance at these meetings, many of which involve multi-million projects in crucial areas of the Mornington Peninsula.

Two of the five were policewoman Cr Julie Morris (née Edge), whose job, nabbing villains, prevents her attending Monday meetings, and Cr Hugh Fraser, who was attending (at his own expense) the Commonwealth Local Government meeting in Malta with shire CEO Carl Cowie.

Ordinary council meetings were switched from Mondays to Tuesdays so Cr Morris could attend.

The other three Apologies were councillors Sam Hearn, Rosie Clark and Bev Colomb, the trio who represent Briars ward. No planning matters concerning Briars ward were on Monday’s agenda.

Councillors are not required to attend PSCs.

Again, it was a short meeting, closing after an hour and 40 minutes. Bandicoot was left with many questions not addressed by councillors to officers.

First agenda item was to approve a new architect for the Cape Schanck resort area’s design review panel, to replace the previous architect, who had died. This was a seemingly straightforward matter, quickly dealt with.

But the plan contained anomalies between what planners presented to councillors and the July 2014 Incorporated Document, part of the “Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme”, titled “Specific Sites and Exclusions for the National Golf Course and Cape Schanck Resort Development”.

The anomalies, largely differences in figures between the 2014 document and those presented to councillors on Monday, were not explained at the meeting. Some were possibly explicable, but they were not minor.

For example, the Monday agenda stated that the report’s proposed residential hotel “must not exceed 208 rooms and 44 self-contained accommodation units”. Yet the Incorporated Document stated the hotel “must not exceed 160 hotel bedrooms and 40 self-contained accommodation units”.

The unasked and unanswered question: the later figure represents a a 30% boost to hotel room numbers and a 10% rise in self-contained accommodation units. When did these changes occur and under what circumstances? Perhaps a simple explanation exists. Those in the gallery were not enlightened.

A further variation occurred in the convention centre patron numbers. The 650-patron limit in the the Incorporated Document drops to 250 in the agenda report – a 62% drop. Why?

Bandicoot was also puzzled that a resort that could add nearly 1700 people, about 400 of them permanent residents (in “dwellings not exceeding 210 in number”), to the Cape Schanck area, without including shops. There appeared not so much as a kiosk where residents could get a paper, a litre of milk and a loaf of bread. Were they to drive 15 kilometres to Capel Sound for such daily needs?

Shops were not mentioned in the officers report. But the Inc. Doc. did refer to “Beauty Salon” and “Food and Drink Premises”, describing them as “ancillary lower order food and drink premises [that] may be located on the Golf Course to the satisfaction of the responsible Authority”.

So, apart from the convention centre, which would presumably have the capacity to feed its attendees, is there to be no café, no restaurant, not so much as a pie stall or fish ‘n’ chippery.

That 15 kilometres to Capel Sound could well be covered in record time.

The proposal to adopt the recommendation passed nearly as fast as a takeaway trip to Capel Sound.

Officers brief councillors before these public council meetings, so much of this might have been discussed. However, matters not mentioned in officers reports then discussed privately can leave the public in the dark.

VPP framework proposalNext agenda item was the latest episode in the rapidly expanding State Government proposal to remove “third party” (your) rights via the astoundingly undemocratic VicSmart “reforms” to state planning.

The graphic (right) clearly demonstrates its proposed simplicity.

Even the shire planning department is cutting up rough over the ever-broadening state government proposals that people should be stripped of their right to know what their neighbour proposes to do, and their right to object to the plan – or even take their objection to VCAT.

All in the interests of efficiency and red tape removal.

It appears that the apparently simple-minded folk who inhabit the planning section of the Department of Water, Environment, Land and Planning, or its bloody-minded minister, Richard Wynne, can see no subtleties in planning, and prefer rules that don’t make their brains hurt.

They are applying a “one size fits all” policy to everything. If it’s good enough for the narrow lanes, alleys and narrow houses of erstwhile inner-city slum Richmond, where Wynne stalks the streets, it’s good enough for the broad thoroughfares and boulevards of the peninsula, of Bendigo, Ballarat, even unto the hamlet of Upotipotpon and its splendid flora reserve.

But in their ignorance of the fact that the Mornington Peninsula is 70% green wedge, their “reforms” of the Victoria Planning Provisions have them stepping on to the grass, such is their zeal to keep it simple, stupid. Beware the cowpats.

The aim is to build VicSmart’s absurd efficiency aim into everything. It is to be integrated “into appropriate particular provisions and overlay schedules”; then all administrative provisions are to be consolidated. Further all state, regional and local planning policies are to be integrated and municipal strategic statements must be simplified.

It doesn’t stop there.

“Policy themes” are to be expanded, a clearer and simpler structure for policy making is to be created, and – look out! the foaming-mouthed needle-hornèd Bronze Bull of Babylon is on us! – “embed a VicSmart assessment pathway in appropriate particular provisions and overlays schedules”.

Not only does this department churn out planning gibberish – it has invented a dense new language! (Bandicoot states this with the greatest respect.)

The shire’s planning department responds cautiously. One must not antagonise the Beast: “It is important to note that not all of these reforms are considered to be significant in the context of the Mornington Peninsula Shire…”

DWELP’s proposal to “integrate, state, regional and local planning policy” really sets the department’s teeth on edge. The shire’s own unique, tailored local planning policy was a hard-fought victory, one of only two in the state, and now Mr Wynne plans to snatch it away, possibly to reduce planning to levels understandable to all.

Planners, in their response to this, under the head “The ‘Watering Down’ of Local Policy”, state: “The Planning Services Unit has concerns that this restructuring of the PPF [Planning Policy Framework] could reduce the strength and intent of the Mornington Peninsula’s specificity within the local policy.”

Roughly translated, the planners are saying: “It is difficult to comprehend the silliness of this proposal.”

The next subsection, “The Broadening of VicSmart Application Classes”, has the planning department opening up with both barrels. Bandicoot quotes it in full:

“The reform seeks to broaden the categories of VicSmart application classes. Whilst this provides a benefit to applicants in providing a shorter timeframe to a decision, it reduces the inclusion of third parties (e.g. neighbours) in the planning process.

“The reforms also seek to provide code-based assessment for proposals such as small café /restaurants, pop-up shops, larger home occupation businesses and secondary dwellings.

“Planning Services considers that there is significant value add being made by officers in the detailed and objective assessment of these proposals. The implementation of code based assessments will limit the scope of a discretion in the determination, which has the potential to result in undesirable local planning outcomes.

“This code assessment approach is a ‘one size fits all’ across Victoria and may not necessarily be appropriate for the Mornington Peninsula or other peri urban municipalities.”

Roughly translated, the planners are saying: “Have you gone completely off your heads?”

But there it is, an Exocet fired straight from the Sir Humphrey armoury – “one size fits all”, one of the most appallingly direct and telling accusations one bureaucrat can hurl at another. Deadlier even than calling a minister’s decision “courageous”.

The shire also warms to its task when discussing the notion of licensed premises being “as of right” (no permit needed) in commercial zones.

“A clear framework will need to be developed for how the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation [can] seriously consider the adverse amenity outcomes and the cumulative impact of alcohol harm,” its submission states. One can only hope this is the unanimous view of every municipality in Victoria.

On the shire’s precious, irreplaceable green wedge, Bandicoot can only rise and applaud the shire’s position:

“The Mornington Peninsula’s Green Wedge is highly sought after for lifestyle and amenity purposes, which can often be at odds with genuine farming operations and the environmental assets.

“The Green Wedge area is the most critical element of the character and values of the Shire. It is critical that planning policy continues to have in place measures to control the encroachment of ‘rural living’ on the Green Wedge Zone.

“The reforms that propose to exempt dwelling extensions and ancillary outbuildings from requiring a planning permit seem to be at odds with Clause 14.01 (Agriculture) of the SPPF [State Planning Policy Framework], which seeks to prevent the unplanned loss of productive agricultural land due to permanent changes of land use.

“The reform is likely to result in the gradual creep of residential curtilage or land unit into productive agricultural land, which must be protected into perpetuity.

“The MPSC observe a broad range of dwelling extensions and outbuildings being proposed in the Green Wedge Zone. Many of these applications involve in depth negotiations with permit applicants to scale back the development or respond to the site’s context in terms of landscape, agriculture or vegetation.

“It is considered vital that planning discretion is continued to be required for these developments to ensure the values and character of the Green Wedge Zone are not further eroded.”

Little of this was discussed, and certainly not at length or depth, at last Monday’s meeting. That is to be deplored. When shire planners state that a particularly noxious planning change – not a “reform” – must never be introduced, never ever, “into perpetuity”, it is looking DWELP hard in the eye, with an axe handle behind its back. Bravo!

After the meeting the shire’s 2017-18 mayor, the pro-development Bryan Payne, who now wields a casting vote to break deadlocks, said in a statement about one green wedge development: “It is our responsibility to guide how the Mornington Peninsula’s green wedge looks and operates in the future.

“All decisions made regarding our green wedge need to be made by taking a strategic approach.”

In light of what planners have said to the Minister, Bandicoot will be most interested to learn precisely what mayor Payne means by that statement. It has a bureaucratic ring about it that could spell difficulties. Bandicoot vastly prefers the simple, direct shire aim of “[ensuring that] the values and character of the Green Wedge Zone are not further eroded”.

Into perpetuity.

 Apologies, PSC meetings 2017

29/05/17 First of the new planning meetings cancelled
19/06/17 Cr Edge, Cr Hearn, Cr Martin, Cr Fraser (leave of absence)
17/07/17 Cr Edge, Cr Fraser (leave of absence)
31/07/17 Cr Edge, Cr Martin, Cr Payne, Cr Fraser (leave of absence)
14/08/17 Cr Edge, Cr Hearn, Cr Clark
04/09/17 Cr Edge, Cr Hearn, Cr Payne, Cr Fraser
18/09/17 Cr Edge, Cr Martin
16/10/17 Cr Edge, Cr Hearn, Cr Martin
20/11/17 Cr Morris (Edge), Cr Fraser, Cr Hearn, Cr Clark, Cr Colomb