MELBOURNE Water has announced it plans to sell-off 1000 hectares of land in Christmas Hills following a decision not to proceed with the Watson’s Creek Storage Reservoir.
Melbourne Water has engaged consultants, Spiire Australia to prepare a study for the land previously identified for the reservoir.
The project team called for submissions late last year and has now embarked on a period of community consultation.
During a series of information sessions held last month, Associate Planner at Spiire, Erica Fox, told attendees a decision had been made by Melbourne Water that the reservoir was no longer practical to build, therefore legislation dictated that the land must be divested from the authority’s land holdings.
The project team were frank in their advice to the meeting that some form of change is inevitable.
“There will be change in the study area, because you are going from publicly owned land that has essentially been locked up for 40 years to land that is privately owned,” Ms Fox told residents.
“To sell that land we need to ensure that it is in the appropriate zone which means it can no longer be in a Public Use Zone, something that only applies to public land and it needs to be put into what we call an underlying zone,” she said.
The divestment also frees up the privately held land that was under a Public Acquisition Overlay.
At the meeting, a number of options were presented to the community to gather feedback on the most appropriate zone to be applied to the area, and how to restructure the existing 112 lots that are currently owned by Melbourne Water.
Residents were told that 280Ha will be transferred to the Warrandyte Kinglake Nature Conservation Reserve, however the remaining 720Ha will be sold off on the open market.
“The land use study provides direction on appropriate planning controls and subdivision patterns, reflect the area’s constraints and opportunities; they will be implemented by a planning scheme amendment,” said Ms Fox.
Residents of Christmas Hills have voiced their concerns, firstly about the consultation process, but also that the sell-off will impact the character of the small rural community.
Spokesperson for the Christmas Hills Community Group, Veronica Holland, told the Diary what Melbourne Water were offering was either a “bad choice or a worse choice”.
“There has been no attempt to look at what Christmas Hills is and what it can offer the future planning of Melbourne.
“Melbourne Water has seen it as an opportunity to carve it up into smaller blocks and make money out of it.
“So we don’t agree with what they are doing, but these sessions have been designed not to include any discussion about anything other than Melbourne Water’s preferred option,” she said.
Media Manager for Melbourne Water, David Walsh told the Diary the way that it is planned to be broken up will potentially end up with between 18 and 30 new dwellings.
“It is a big area, but with the constraints, there will not be a massive amount of development taking place,” he said.
Local resident Sandy Jeffs disagrees, for the community of only 300 people another 20–30 houses is around a 20 per cent increase in the number of people living in the area.
“It is a big influx of people,” said Ms Jeffs, “people will build McMansions and try and cut the trees down and bring their horses and have their hobby farms.
“The whole character of Christmas Hills could change — it is a mix of rural and bushland, people nestled away in behind — you don’t see all the houses, and for us it is going to be a change of character,” she said.
A statement issued by Nillumbik Council to the Diary noted that any zoning decisions will be made by the State Government, it would not be a Council decision.
However, should permission to rezone be given, then further permission for any future housing would still need to be sought from Nillumbik Shire Council.
“We will continue to advocate for sensible planning outcomes consistent with land use in the area, with Council having a management role over the Rob Roy facility which should remain as Crown land,” the statement said.
“We are currently considering the various draft options by Melbourne Water as well as views of our community that have been expressed throughout the process to date.
“We will make our views known to the water authority and the community after thorough consideration,” it continued.
Last year the State Government brought in changes to the bushfire regulations which Ms Fox said have changed the requirements for land that is to be rezoned or subdivided.
“It needs to meet more stringent requirements for bushfire protection, previously we could meet BAL19 … because of the change to the legislation in late November, we now have to meet BAL12.5 which means a much larger area of defendable space is required.
“The result of this is that we have gone back and re-looked at the bushfire constraints for this area to work out the areas that no longer meet those requirements.
“So it has resulted in additional lots that won’t be able to be developed from a bushfire perspective,” said Ms Fox.
She told the meeting that many of these undevelopable lots will be marketed as “undevelopable lots” which could be suitable as offset properties, where the land will be set aside to offset land clearing in other areas.
The meeting included a round table discussion where residents could discuss the plans at a block-by-block level, establishing a preference for different zoning in each precinct, and how the various lots should be consolidated to allow the best outcomes both for the existing community and for the future development of the area in line with Green Wedge provisions.
Many options were a choice between RCZ3 or RCZ4 — either 8Ha or
Veronica Holland believes this consultation and the subsequent internet survey treats the residents of Christmas Hills “like sheep”.
“There is no opportunity for deviating from agreement with Melbourne Water’s preferred option; no chance to object to rezoning of land to RCZ3 and the subsequent development of a small hobby farm, no chance to look at Christmas Hills as a whole,” Ms Holland said.
“At no point in the process has the vision or opportunity been looked at.
“Melbourne Water has manipulated the consultation process and almost cherry picked the planning scheme to support what they want to do, which is to maximise their financial gain.”
David Walsh says that Melbourne Water has to fit in with the Nillumbik planning scheme, “we cannot do something different through here because it was our land, it all has to comply with the planning scheme,” he said.
“People love what they have got at the moment, and what we are trying to do is make sure anything we do stays in line with the current feel of the area.”
Veronica Holland said it has been the long drawn-out decision on the dam that has forged the character of Christmas Hills in the first place.
“Ironically it is because Melbourne Water put on the Public Acquisition Overlay meant that it escaped the eagle-eye of speculative developers and people who wanted to build their McMansions… introducing hobby farms will bring people with urban expectations into the area… they will destroy the landscape and, because many of those blocks have nice views, you can see that they will attract people who want to build their McMansion to take advantage of the nice views and don’t realise that the view out destroys the view in,” she said.
“For so long it was up in the air and they hadn’t made a decision, said Sandy Jeffs, “so for us, we have been there 40 years, it has been 40 years of bliss because they hadn’t made a decision.
“It is Christmas every day here in Christmas Hills, we worry that as the roads are upgraded there are more houses more traffic more people it just brings in another level of complexity that we don’t want”.
Not all residents are pessimistic about the future of Christmas Hills, Narelle Campbell, from community group Rural Link told the Diary that she believed it would be “much better than another dam, which is what the land was bought for”.
She said the Melbourne Water proposal “appears to be balanced and reasonable and makes a genuine effort to consider the social, economic and environmental challenges”.
“We are pleased that a mix of landholding sizes and types is recommended, that rural residential lots are planned to be of suitable size for development, that the State Park allocation is progressing, and public spaces like Rob Roy, the Community Hall and tennis court are left in situ for the community.
“We will continue to work with Melbourne Water to promote the sustainability of the rural Nillumbik Green Wedge.”
Veronica Holland hopes a compromise can be reached.
“I am trusting in the Green Wedge Provisions, the planning provisions … I think it is possible that Melbourne Water can get quite a few very saleable lots without destroying the integrity of Christmas Hills as it is now.
“We want to preserve the integrity of the area — we want to preserve the idea of the scattered settlement and we don’t want to ruin the landscape value of the area, but we do want people to see it is such an asset in terms of its biodiversity and its high environmental values.”
There will be a long process before the final decisions have been made, as Erica Fox explained:
“Because Melbourne Water is a government authority, any land it seeks to sell needs to go through the Government Land Planning Service and that land service acts as an independent planning panel to assess and review the proposed Planning Scheme Amendment and the master plan we are proposing.
“It will then provide its own period of public consultation.”
She told the meeting the planning service will have a six-week submission period followed by a series of panel hearings that are anticipated to occur later this year.
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