Minister breaks election pledge to protect Green Wedges
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Minister breaks election pledge to protect Green Wedges
The Planning Minister Richard Wynne has broken his election promise to protect the Green Wedges from inappropriate development by:
- approving the Alex Fraser Group application for its concrete crusher to stay in the Kingston Green Wedge for another 10 years (effectively forever) and on the same day
- launching his Planning for Melbourne's Green Wedges and Agricultural Land options paper, which includes options to undermine existing Green Wedge protection.
The Green Wedges Coalition welcomed the Labor Government’s pledge to tighten controls to better protect Melbourne’s Green Wedges and peri-urban farmland from inappropriate development and overdevelopment before the State election. In November 2018, the Planning Minister, Richard Wynne said: Only Labor will stop Melbourne’s green wedges from inappropriate development and protect our prime agricultural land in the outer suburbs.
Minister Wynne's decision to allow the Alex Fraser concrete crusher to stay in the Kingston Green Wedge for another 10 years – effectively forever - shows he is unlikely to protect the Green Wedges against anything. It is a sign that money talks, particularly overseas money.
Community groups fighting the many inappropriate and over-development applications in the Green Wedges should not look to this Minister for help. The Alex Fraser concrete crusher is an industrial use which has been prohibited on this site by this Minister's 2015 planning scheme amendment to rezone the land north of Kingston Road to Green Wedge A Zone. Approving such a prohibited use brings the planning scheme into disrepute and will encourage other industrial uses to resist being moved on from Green Wedges.
In 2015, the Minister said: "The Andrews Labor Government believes in modern, state-of-the-art waste recovery and recycling facilities properly located in industrial areas, away from parklands and homes.” To justify last week's decision, the Minister cites the Advisory Committee report, which states in paragraph 12: 'the committee considers that the short to medium term imperative of resource recovery outweighs the longer-term future planning for the Kingston Green Wedge.'
This despite the fact that Kingston Council officers had identified several industrial sites in South Dandenong that were big enough and close enough to meet Alex Fraser's needs for relocation. But as Alex Fraser's commercial land expert told the Advisory Committee, industrial land would cost more.
The Alex Fraser group, which is owned by the wealthy, UK-based multi-national Hanson Corporation which in turn is owned by the even bigger and wealthier Heidelberg Cement Corporation offered Kingston Council $7.5 million in an Active Recreation Contribution and 'lease' payments to approve their application for a 15 year extension, but they do not want to pay for industry-zoned land.
Ironically, the Minister announced his Alex Fraser approval on the day his Planning for Melbourne's Green Wedges and Agricultural Land options paper was released. The options paper is supposed to fulfil the government's promises to protect the Green Wedges (see attached). Instead, it has options that undermine existing Green Wedge protection, eg:
- Green Wedge land bordering the Urban Growth boundary is proposed to become a
"transitional" area for urban uses such as Schools, Places of worship, infrastructure and other uses not permitted or restricted by conditions in the Green Wedges. This would weaken the Urban Growth Boundary and allow inappropriate urban uses to leach into the Green Wedges
- It proposes to reintroduce two of the rural zones phased out of the Green
Wedges by the Bracks Government's Green Wedge Protection Package in 2002: the Rural Living Zone and the Farm Zone. These zones permit a number of inappropriate urban uses including Cattle feedlot, Materials recycling and Service industries such as Carwash, Dry cleaner, Motor repairs, Panel beaters and Waste Transfer Station.*
- It encourage waste and resource recovery facilities to be located in Green
Wedges, and to ‘identify and safeguard’ appropriate locations,‘including those which are already in operation where they make a significant contribution to our resource recovery capacity.’ ** Was this a flag that the Minister was already planning to approve Alex Fraser’s application several months ago, before the Advisory Committee hearing?
We were hoping the options paper would provide for reforms we have been requesting to restore protections that were removed from the Green Wedge and Rural Conservation Zones in 2013. This allowed schools to be built in the Green Wedges and removed the requirement for tourist uses like residential hotels and function centres to be “in conjunction with” agriculture, conservation or other Green Wedge uses. Schools and churches are urban uses that should be in urban areas where the students and parishioners live. The options paper proposes restoring some controls, eg a limit of 150 patron for an Exhibition Centre (eg an Art Gallery) and prohibition of such uses in high fire risk areas (covered by the BMO).
The Minister has refused our requests to meet with him since December 2019 to discuss the loopholes in this options paper and a number of huge and inappropriate overdevelopments awaiting his decision, including the Alex Fraser application and the following:
- A tsunami of seven religious School and Place of worship applications have
recently been lodged or are proposed in Designated Bushfire Prone areas of the Southern Ranges Green Wedge, threatening to turn the rolling hills of Narre Warren North and East into an education and Place of worship precinct at the expense of the farmland, environment and scenic landscapes the Green Wedges are supposed to protect.
We asked the Minister to call in and refuse or at least consider these applications together, but he preferred to leave it to the Casey and the Yarra Ranges Councils and to VCAT. Yarra Ranges Council has refused two applications, Casey has approved all theirs and VCAT has approved a huge 3000 sqm mosque, almost as big as Sydney's Lakemba mosque. Two schools and a very large multi-unit dwelling across the road that could be converted into a school boarding house are headed for VCAT.
The PMGWAL options paper proposes to prohibit schools and places of worship in Green Wedge areas covered by the Bushfire Management Overlay apart from in the 'transition' areas adjoining the UGB, where they are on main roads. But this will not stop any existing applications, which will be determined on existing planning provisions. And the 'transition area' proposal will cause more problems for Green Wedges than it will solve.
- New Zealand-based Ryman HealthCare has appealed to VCAT against Council's
refusal of their application to build a retirement village for about 4-600 residents in six apartment blocks of two to four-storeys on the heritage-listed Mount Eliza Business College site, although residential development is supposed to be prohibited in the Green Wedges (apart from single dwellings or some tourist uses).
Ryman found a loophole in an old, laxly-worded Mornington Council Special Use Zone. The Minister responded to Rymans' request to remove an impediment to the application caused by another planning scheme amendment, but not to Mornington Peninsula Shire Council's request to rezone this land to the underlying Green Wedge Zone. Or to authorise the preparation of a planning scheme amendment to rezone this and other land covered by the same anomalous Special Use Zone to Green Wedge Zone.
After receiving 1068 objections, Council is reluctant to ask the Minister to call in this application because he seems to be favouring Ryman.
- Developers are paying landowners millions of dollars to allow 'cleanfill' to be
dumped on a number of Green Wedge farms notably recently in Doreen, where cleanfill has displaced farming on two properties, damaging the environment and farming downstream.
We have written to Nillumbik Council and to the Minister drawing their attention to a number of Council and VCAT decisions that cleanfill – soil that is a waste product from residential development in the urban growth zones – should not be dumped without a planning permit from Council. The Minister has left it to the Council which has been slow to act. The new options paper includes nothing to stop this destruction of farmland.
We naturally expected this review to honour the State Government's pledge to better protect the Green Wedges.
But if the Minister is unable to protect the Southern Ranges Green Wedge from a blatant over-development of urban School and Place of worship applications;
If, after a well-funded misinformation campaign by Alex Fraser, the Minister has put the interests of the waste industry operators ahead of protecting the Green Wedge and residents;
If he doesn't even protect farmland from destruction by landfill operators; and
If he can't stop a high-density, multi-storey residential development in the Green Wedge;
If he doesn't act on such blatant breaches of Green Wedge protection principles, we seriously wonder whether he is going to protect the Green Wedges against anything.
We are deeply concerned that the interests of wealthy overseas companies and waste industry operators are being put ahead of Green Wedge protection. We are also deeply concerned when we hear the IBAC president, Robert Redlich talk about "the 'privileged' access that donations and Mr Staindl’s long Labor links had given (his client) to the highest levels of government." (Several Councillor votes changed after Alex Fraser offered Kingston Council $7.5m (a $2.5m 'Active Recreation Contribution and other payments) if their permit was extended by 15 years. Friday's decision does not mention this offer, but we wonder what other payments they may have made to other parties.)
These comments may be attributed to Rosemary West, coordinator of the Green Wedges Coalition, 0418 554 799; For comment, call her or Kahn Franke, President, GWC (Nillumbik) 0437 906 118. Please see more details about the Alex Fraser threat below.
The Planning Minister, Richard Wynne’s 2018 election pledge took Green Wedge protection to a new and much needed level. Minister Wynne has also been steadfast about holding the line on the Urban Growth Boundary, which has not moved in his time.
Every survey of attitudes to Green Wedges has found that overwhelmingly most residents want the green wedges protected for their environmental, agricultural and rural open landscape qualities. We have been advocating for years for our Green Wedges to be protected as stringently as the English Green Belts are and were hoping this could now be achieved.
Kingston Council refused the Alex Fraser Group's application for a 15 year
extension of their concrete crusher permit in the Green Wedge. On Friday, the Minister has approved a 10-year extension, which would effectively make this industrial use permanent. Their application contravened the Minister's 2015 insistence that they must leave by their due date of 2023 to make way for the long-awaited Sand-belt Chain of Parks on adjacent land.
The Alex Fraser Group, owned by the multinational, German-owned Heidelberg Cement company, appealed against Kingston Council's refusal to extend its concrete crusher, permit for 15 years beyond the due date set for its relocation in 2008. The Minister referred this to an Advisory Committee after both Council and Alex Fraser asked him to call it in and has now approved a ten year extension, which probably means forever. If this Minister won't get them to leave now, we can't imagine a future Minister will be able to get them to move off their cheap Green Wedge land after they have had another 10 years to entrench their operations.
Alex Fraser has been waging a formidable, well-funded public relations campaign, involving Phil Staindl, a lobbyist who appeared before IBAC last week, which has involved a good deal of misinformation, unfair and inappropriate inducements. The only aspect of this application that has changed since 2015 is the $7.5 million Alex Fraser was offering Council as an inducement to approve their extension on top of the recently added and probably illusory offer of the title to the land after 10 years. The Alex Fraser application is subject to a Probity Review by Kingston Council, and we hope this identifies why the minister changed his mind and why several Councillors who voted for the 2015 amendment also changed their minds.
The media coverage has included much misinformation and Alex Fraser and their waste industry supporters have convinced various media and public figures that:
- their operation is in some way related to the current recycling crisis involving the paper and plastic waste products formerly shipped overseas, which would be made worse by Council's refusal;
- the land was only included in the Green Wedge in 2015, whereas it has been in the Green Wedge since the Green Wedges were introduced in 1971.
- They are an Australian company, whereas they have been acquired by the multi-national Hanson corporation, which is in turn owned by Heidelberg Cement;
- 50 jobs and a million tonnes of recycling would be sent to landfill if they couldn't stay where they are. Not if they relocate to an appropriate industry zone;
- The land could be redeveloped as public parkland and recreational open space (after 2038). Or – more likely – it could be leased to Alex Fraser indefinitely.
- The Mordialloc Freeway will be deprived of their recycled concrete and glass. whereas the Mordialloc Freeway will be completed before Alex Fraser has to leave in 2023. Etcetera. And there are other glass recyclers, one of which, the Owens Illinois facility has told Yarra Council officers it can recycle all the glass in Victoria.
The Minister's strongly stated reasons for approving C143 made a call-in particularly relevant in this case. If Alex Fraser are making it so difficult for Council to hold this line now, how much harder will it be for a Council to ask them to leave in 2033? And if Alex Fraser is allowed to stay, we anticipate some of their waste industry supporters will be quick to lodge similar inappropriate applications. In fact a concrete batching plant already has.
Mayo Ahlip, 0430 537 652
- State Government & Planning Minister's election pledges to protect Green Wedges.
- Kingston Council media releases on the Alex Fraser application
- Loopholes provided by the proposed RLZ and FZ:
* The rural zones allow a vast range of inappropriate activities that are either not permitted or are permitted only subject to more restrictive conditions in the Green Wedge Zones since 2002. For instance the Farming Zone would Camping and caravan park, Dwelling, Dependent persons unit, Cattle feedlot, Timber production, Materials recycling, Research and development centre, Rural industry, Service industries such as Carwash, Dry cleaner, Motor repairs, Panel beaters; Waste Transfer Station, Restaurant (even with Clause 51.02 still in place. We doubt there’ll be much room for agriculture, biodiversity or rural scenic landscapes once you have all those things back in the Green Wedges. The Rural Activity zone would allow even more inappropriate uses.
Similarly, the Rural Living Zone is a residential zone which puts residential and other developments ahead of Green Wedge purposes that have priority in the Green Wedge Zones and even with Clause 51.02 in place, it would still allow Hotels, Motels and Bars to be established in the Green Wedges while Dwellings, Dependent persons units, and Bed and breakfast accommodation for up to 10 people would still be allowed as a Section 1 use, as of right, without the need for a permit.
**What the PMGWAL options paper says to encourage Waste and Resource recovery industries into the Green Wedges:
page 53 in a section headed: 3.3.2 Planning for future infrastructure and energy needs:.
“This section outlines the planning challenges posed by the following potential infrastructure in our green wedges and peri-urban areas:
• waste and waste recovery facilities
• extractive industries
• renewable energy generation and facilities.
“Waste and resource recovery
The green wedge and peri-urban areas of Melbourne have historically accommodated many of Victoria’s waste and resource recovery facilities. Landfills and recycling infrastructure often require land with appropriate buffers to separate activities from other sensitive land uses, such as residential use.
These sites represent significant investments in ensuring Victoria has the capacity to live sustainably, repurpose recyclable material and avoid unnecessary extraction of virgin resources elsewhere. The recently released Recycling Victoria policy and action plan sets a range of ambitious goals and targets to improve recycling outcomes in Victoria. This includes diverting over 80 per cent of Victoria’s growing waste from landfill by 2030 and working with the Australian and other state governments to ban the export of waste materials.
“Meeting our recycling targets and transitioning away from exporting our waste material means that we must process more recycled materials locally, which will require more appropriately located recycling and material processing infrastructure.
“The Victorian Recycling Infrastructure Plan (VRIP), formally the Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan, provides a roadmap for the waste and recycling infrastructure Victoria needs to safely manage our growing waste streams and to increase the amount of this waste we recycle. It also identifies hubs of State significance, which provide critical recycling services to the Victorian community.
“Provision of these services needs to be balanced with the protection of natural assets to ensure sustainable and reliable waste and resource recovery infrastructure that minimises further development within natural areas.
“Appropriate locations for waste and recovery infrastructure need to be identified and safeguarded, including those which are already in operation where they make a significant contribution to our resource recovery capacity.
“Options to repurpose suitable land, such as former extractive sites, in green wedge and peri-urban land should be explored, so this important infrastructure can continue