FOLLOWING extensive community consultation, Nillumbik Shire Council adopted its Green Wedge Management Plan (GWMP) at the Council meeting on November 26 by four votes to three, but not without controversy as the meeting was interrupted by a group of eight protesters.
The new plan will provide direction for the management of the Green Wedge over the next decade.
It includes a vision, principles, goals, objectives and key actions and has been informed by extensive community engagement over the past 18 months, including an independent panel to provide recommendations to Council.
Council received 746 submissions in response to the draft GWMP during the six-week community consultation period in July and August and their Future Nillumbik Committee also heard 80 verbal submissions in September.
The plan was further revised in response to the feedback received from the community.
Nillumbik Mayor Karen Egan said Council appreciated the feedback and had listened to what the community had to say.
“While there have been divergent views on how the Green Wedge should be managed, one thing is clear — our community is passionate about this unique landscape in which we live, work and visit,” Cr Egan said.
Nillumbik’s Green Wedge is one of 12 across Melbourne and covers 91 per cent of the Shire.
Land uses include conservation, agriculture, rural living and tourism.
Now that the GWMP has been adopted, annual implementation plans will be prepared.
Max Parsons of the Nillumbik Proactive Landowners Group (PALs) told the Diary “PALs fully supports the new GWMP as adopted at the Council meeting on November 26.
“ The new GWMP provides a comprehensive strategy for the future of the Green Wedge that represents an appropriate balance of all the factors that contribute to living in the landscape.
“Acknowledgement of the role that landowners play in a successful green wedge has been long overdue and was sadly lacking in the previous plan.
“This has been achieved whilst simultaneously balancing the importance of biodiversity and significant important vegetation with a landowners’ right to live and thrive within the same green wedge.”
Don Macrae from the Wedge Tales blog — which is sponsored by the Warrandyte Community Association, the Friends of Nillumbik and the Green Wedge Protection Group tells us that “the most positive outcome of the entire program has been community involvement in the plan” and gives it tacit approval but awards no cigar.
“To spend in the vicinity of $500,000 on this project was outrageous.”
Following up with Mr Macrae, he has confirmed this figure is a “conservative” educated guess based on Council approving consultation fees of $345,000 in 2017 and factoring in the costs of running the community panel.
A spokesperson for the protestors told us “Council disregarded the results of their own community consultation process, wasting over $300,000 of ratepayers’ money.”
We reproduce Green Wedge Plan Adopted by Council, no cigar by Don Macrae — which has been edited for print publication and an account from the Green Wedge protest group in attendance at the November 26 council meeting.
Council’s Green Wedge Plan falls short of community expectations
By DON MACRAE
WEDGE TALES BLOG
AMID SCENES of protest, at its November meeting Nillumbik Council “adopted” a new Green Wedge Management Plan (GWMP).
The gallery was packed and the Council divided, but the motion to “adopt” the GWMP was passed along the now familiar 4–3 lines.
Nillumbik’s first GWMP was adopted in 2010 and was intended to serve as a basis until 2025.
For reasons never explained the current Nillumbik Council decided to prepare a replacement, which after a year-long project has now been formally adopted by Council.
This new GWMP shifts focus away from the natural environment and towards the expectations of resident landowners, as expressed in the phrase “Living in the Landscape”, the title of the current Council Plan.
The best that can be said about it is that it is unlikely to do much harm.
It is a document of only 26 pages which is more like notes towards a plan rather than an actual plan.
As a pamphlet or discussion document it is better than the published draft, but it is insubstantial.
A reference to “buffer zones”, a concept that featured in the draft, designed to allow more subdivision in the vicinity of the urban growth boundary and which attracted massive community criticism, has been removed — a distinct improvement.
But, the idea that some areas of the Shire zoned Rural Conservation should be rezoned remains, although it really does not look like becoming a serious proposal.
The document suggests that there is “land dotted throughout the RCZ that is already cleared for agriculture”, and which should be rezoned Green Wedge Zone (GWZ) so that land owners can engage in agriculture without getting a permit.
To create a rezoning proposal would require significant effort but there does not appear to be any intention to embark on such a project.
Furthermore, if the intention is to allow agriculture to proceed on suitable land it is entirely within the Council’s control to expedite permit assessments.
Sustaining agriculture on agricultural land in green wedges is a challenging issue, but this rezoning idea probably has more to do with satisfying the “less regulation” constituency than with promoting agriculture.
The Green Wedge townships are important elements in the Shire and need to work as attractive gateways to the Green Wedge for visitors as well as providing amenity for residents.
The GWMP recognises also that [the townships] will need to be the focus of additional ageing-in-place facilities for Shire residents, as well as for increasing population.
The State Government mandates that green wedge councils must prepare a Green Wedge Management Plan.
But this GWMP appears to have been planned as a public relations exercise.
The focus of the project was a community consultation program culminating in a “Community Panel”, which made recommendations to Council.
Then came the publication of a draft and the hearing of community submissions on the draft.
The total cost of the project has not been made public, but if all internal costs as well as consultant charges are included it is probably approaching $500,000.
As was pointed out in several of the submissions on the draft, the State Government’s Planning Practice Note 31: Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan was not followed, contrary to Cr Clarke’s claim at the council meeting.
No Steering Committee was established and no formal collaboration with relevant bodies was embraced.
Management of the program appears to have been overseen by an external consultant without a planning background, and in the face of the loss of long term Council planning staff.
One clear outcome of the community consultation program was to confirm that the Shire overwhelmingly values the environment and in principle supports the planning scheme.
Only a very few survey respondents complained of too much regulation, so it was surprising that the draft GWMP contained significant elements which did not respect this.
The adopted GWMP is less offensive.
But, at the conclusion of the project, what have we got for all that expense and effort?
This has been a council intent on change.
Its cavalier treatment of two development applications in 2017 and its apparent attack on its own organisation makes this plain.
It is believed that council staff turnover in 2017/18 exceeded 25 per cent, and eventually included all Senior Managers.
To replace the substantial, previous GWMP with this brief document has the appearance of a political act.
The most positive outcome of the entire program has been community involvement.
There were 688 responses to an online survey and 181 people attended community workshops.
There was a total of 746 submissions in response to the draft, mostly critical.
Many Shire residents have an increased understanding of how our Green Wedge works.
But to spend in the vicinity of $500,000 on this project was outrageous.
Environment protesters disrupt Council meeting
By HANNAH GRAHAM
AT THE NILLUMBIK Council meeting on November 26, a group of eight protesters interrupted Councillors before they voted to pass their draft Green Wedge Management Plan (GWMP).
Eight people, dressed in cloaks eco-printed with local native plants, walked into the meeting when the Green Wedge Management Plan agenda item was announced.
They broke into song; singing about saving the Green Wedge, and asking why the majority of the community were ignored during the consultation process in regards to this plan’s review.
Both Mayor Karen Egan and Cr Jane Ashton promptly left the room when the protesters walked in.
There was both support and disapproval amongst the audience in the gallery.
Some joined in on the singing, as lyric sheets seem to have been circulated.
The protesters then silently turned their backs on the councillors whilst standing in a line.
They wore signs on their backs which read, “Don’t turn your back on community”.
Signs on their front read , “$300k+ Community Consultation”, “Community Panel Ignored”, “80% of Submissions Ignored”, “You speak for us not just your pals”, “Next Election: October 2020”.
After standing for a couple minutes, the protesters were warned to leave the room by Mayor Karen Egan — who had since returned.
An agitated man in the gallery attempted to shove protesters apart and the protesters proceeded to walk out of the gallery in silent procession.
One of the protesters had this to say about the disruption.
“We don’t want to upset the peace by going against the council meeting process, but we feel that the councillors have left us no other choice.
“They disregarded the results of their own community consultation process, wasting over $300,000 of ratepayers’ money.
“The majority of the community objected to the draft plan which seemed intent on looking at the Green Wedge as capital for a minority of private landholders, rather than vital native habitat, and a carbon sink.
“At this time of mass extinction and an unsafe climate the revised Green Wedge Management Plan was an opportunity for Council to prioritise the environment for the safety of all Victorians.
“That’s what the community wanted, but they ignored us.
“We disrupted the councillors in this way because we knew they couldn’t ignore us”.