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Council pushes back against Christmas Hills land sale

THE NILLUMBIK Council meeting in April considered a request by Melbourne Water to make amendments to the Nillumbik Planning Scheme to facilitate the sale of land in Christmas Hills.
As the Diary reported during the community consultation phase in 2018, Melbourne Water has determined the proposed Watsons Creek Water Catchment is not necessary and so is seeking to subdivide and sell off the land that has been set aside for that project.
In its Land Use Survey, Melbourne Water divided the land into 43 parcels, which they seek to dispose of following rezoning, of which 22 lots would be below the minimum subdivision size in the Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ).
Melbourne Water has indicated it is also seeking to provide controls on lots under the minimum lot size and with significant vegetation/bushfire constraints to prevent future development.
Council is looking to ensure the undersized blocks are unable to be built on in the future.
However, Cr Karen Egan noted that some people who purchased land in the last land sale were caught by a similar provision, when they purchased the land expecting to build their dream home in paradise, but then discovered they were unable to obtain a building permit.
She advocated for a community education program around the sale to ensure no one gets caught like that again.
Councillors met with Melbourne Water representatives in March for a briefing about the requested changes to the planning scheme.
The briefing raised several points including traditional owners’ rights, bushfire management, inappropriately sized blocks, and the future of the Mechanics Institute and tennis courts.
In a letter to Council on March 31, Melbourne Water said the Mechanics Hall and the tennis courts are currently within Public Use Zone 1 (PUZ1).

“This zone cannot be retained on the land due to the surplus nature of the land with respect to Melbourne Water’s ownership.
An alternate zone is required.”

The letter said the community has indicated a desire to retain both the Mechanics Institute Hall and the tennis courts as publicly available assets.

“Melbourne Water has proposed to facilitate this through the Masterplan and rezoning which supports Council purchase and ownership of this land through application of the PUZ6 (Local Government).
However, if Council are unable to purchase the land an alternate zoning (not a public land zone) will be required that still facilitates use by the community.”

Melbourne Water then suggested the Mechanics’ Institute Hall should come within Rural Conservation zoning as the property is privately owned.
At the April Council meeting, representatives from Christmas Hills Landcare, CFA and other groups used public question time to request Council meet with them about the land sale and the impacts on the existing community.
Mayor Peter Perkins advised the groups that Council would indeed facilitate a future meeting with the Christmas Hills community representatives.
Deliberations were then made at the April Ordinary Council Meeting regarding Council’s role within the divestment.
Sugarloaf Ward Councillor, Ben Ramcharan moved a motion rejecting the proposed amendments to the planning scheme.
“We know the land is going to be sold, it has to be sold, that is a fact and what we need to do is work with the Community, Melbourne Water, and the Land Planning Service to limit the impact of this on the local environment and local community,” Cr Ramcharan said.
The tennis courts were built using bushfire relief funding and are very well valued by the Christmas Hills community, and are managed by a committee of management and run as a not-for-profit.
“It is about the community meeting together in a community space,” said Cr Ramcharan.
A spokesperson for the Christmas Hills community, David Evans said the tennis courts are already managed by the Mechanic’s Hall committee, and their hope is the courts could be incorporated into a title that includes the hall.
“The courts could not be gifted to the committee as it is a private entity, so we hope that the Council could be some sort of intermediary in that respect.
The Council officer’s report noted Melbourne Water’s proposal would cause a huge impost on council in facilitating often complex planning applications, be a financial burden on council with an increased population requiring additional infrastructure, such as roads, and highlighted the additional work that CFA will need to undertake in mitigation works.
Council unanimously voted on a three-point motion.

That Council:

  • Does not support the proposed amendment to the Nillumbik Planning Scheme by Melbourne Water to facilitate the divestment of its land at Christmas Hills in its current form for the reasons identified in this report.
  • Authorises the Mayor to write to the Minister for Planning and local MPs requesting that the Christmas Hills Tennis Courts be retained by Melbourne Water or gifted to Council in order to protect it as a valuable community asset.
  • Directs officers to work with councillors and the Christmas Hills community to prepare a submission to the future Government Land Planning Service Advisory Committee process in consideration of the proposed amendment.

The motion will, in effect, remove Council from overseeing the planning scheme amendment and will see them only as a submitter to the Government Land Planning Service Advisory Committee (GLPSAC).
However, Council has agreed to advocate on behalf of the Christmas Hills Community during any future consultation.
Doug Evans told the Diary the community was happy that the Council chose not to support Melbourne Water’s proposal.
“We hope we can find a position both Council and the community can support and speak together with one voice when GLPSAC have their submission phase.”