Archive:  Catchments

Last Updated 25/3/14





VCAT Sets Bar High For Houses In Water Catchments With "Rozen Decision":  That's A "Well Done"

(22/5/10 - P)  Definitive interpretation of State guidelines for development in open, potable water catchments 

Just before Christmas, VCAT delivered a 'red dot' decision that finally, finally set some standards and restrictions for development in open, potable water catchments.  The application, for four houses on four rural lots, had been around for several years.  The land in question is immediately upstream of Woodend's Campaspe Reservoir, which provides drinking water for the town.  That is, the subject land is within an open, potable water catchment, meaning the water that runs from the privately-owned land is harvested and stored as a domestic drinking water supply.


The application was refused by Macedon Ranges Shire Council, and also collected objections from referral authorities Western Water and Southern Rural Water on its way to VCAT in 2007.  VCAT approved the application. 


VCAT's decision was then challenged on a point of law at the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled that VCAT had indeed made a legal error in not taking matters required to be considered properly into account. 


As a result of this Supreme Court ruling, to its credit the State government reviewed and introduced stronger guidelines for development in open potable water catchments.  One of the new bases for decision-making introduced in the revised guidelines is a requirement for the 'precautionary principle' to be applied when determining planning applications, and another is a new, explicit need to consider 'incremental' impacts of development (i.e. not just the impact of the application under consideration but its impact when added to existing impacts).


The Supreme Court's ruling overturned VCAT's original decision, and the application was sent back to VCAT for a new decision.  The new guidelines were now required to be used to make this decision.  VCAT's December 2009 decision, with Vice President Helen Gibson in the chair, concluded that an application for 4 houses did not meet the guidelines' requirements.  VCAT ordered that a permit issue for only one (1) house.


Needless to say, such a sensible decision - which puts the public interest first - has been met with howls of protest from those who don't appear to (1) understand the importance of protecting domestic drinking water supplies and the catchments that collect that water, (2) those who see open potable water catchments as just so much empty land begging to be profitably developed and (3) don't seem to get 'public interest'.


The December 2009 VCAT decision is now, we understand, being challenged in the Supreme Court.


Click here to see MRRA's archive.  Click here to see the December 2009 VCAT decision.  Click here for more information about the new guidelines for open, potable water catchments.


MRRA Says:

The December 2009 VCAT decision provides an excellent insight into the reasoning applied in making the decision.  It also sets down a definitive interpretation of the new open potable catchment guidelines, what they mean and how they are to be applied.


The other VERY interesting thing about this decision is how VCAT saw the Macedon Ranges' planning scheme - seems it is so full of references to protecting rural land and our precious water catchments they were too numerous to fully reference.  Another very welcome finding was that Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 is not only relevant but upholds National water policy.  And so say all of us!



ALERT  MRRA Calls For Bipartisan Political Support To Immediately Protect Rural Land and Water Catchments

(6/9/07 - P)  This isn't a political issue.  It's a survival issue.   Also, Planning Backlash meeting with Planning Minister Justin Madden

Macedon Ranges Residents' Association today issued a media release calling for immediate action from the Victorian government to protect Victoria's rural land and drinking water catchments.  The call comes after yet another meeting this week of landowners and real estate agents (this time in Mitchell Shire) who are demanding to be allowed to have houses on rural lots without planning permits, and also after the shattering news this week of massive earthworks within a proclaimed drinking water catchment at the Macedon Lodge property on Mount Macedon. 

Click here to see MRRA's media release. 


The call reflects MRRA's long-held concerns which it raised at a meeting with the Minister for Planning, Justin Madden, on August 16th when the Association appeared as a member of a Planning Backlash delegation of rural-based community, conservation and resident groups.  Click here to see a report on the Planning Backlash rural groups' meeting with Minister Madden


MRRA Says:

MRRA especially wishes to thank Mary Drost and the Planning Backlash working group for their untiring efforts in organising 2 community group meetings with Minister Madden.  Extra well done!



Updated Guidelines For Planning Permits In Open Potable Catchments

(30/5/09 - P)  Some improvements at last 

The Department of Planning and Community Development has issued revised guidelines for planning permit applications in open drinking water catchments.  Key changes are introduction of the precautionary principle, and a requirement that the guidelines must be addressed where a planning permit is required to use land for a dwelling or subdivide land in a drinking water catchment.  These guidelines which have been approved by the Minister, will certainly give Councils more options in refusing residential development on land which produces water for public water supply.


You can access the guidelines here:  guidelines


You can also see a legal interpretation of what the guidelines mean by going to the Phillips Fox website Planning Update:


MRRA Says:

Glad to see the precautionary principle getting a run, especially as its inclusion came about because of a Supreme Court decision for Macedon Ranges (Rozen).  Although the guidelines represent an improvement, they would have more teeth if included in planning schemes and given real grunt by being acknowledged as State policy in the SPPF.  And for good measure, it would be useful (very useful) if these requirements were added (at a minimum) to zone provisions in all rural and LDRZ zones. 



New Melbourne Water Catchment Charge In Non-Serviced Rural Areas Challenged

(11/9/08 - E)  Residents express concerns and have started an on-line petition opposing the inclusion of rural areas within the metropolis and the waterway/drainage charge.

"The charge is also imposing a cost on many people who are water self-sufficient (ie living on water they collect in water tanks) - in order to subsidize those in Melbourne who are water hogs. This is not about sustainability, helping the environment, or providing incentives for water-saving lifestyles. It is a tax." says Alison Joseph.

Click on the link for a full explanation of the objection and to sign the petition:



Supreme Court Says VCAT Erred At Law In Approving 4 Houses In Proclaimed Water Catchment At Ashbourne

(6/10/08 - P)  Western Water challenge succeeds and is now heading back to VCAT for a new decision

This application (Rozen) has now become a series of 'overturned' decisions.  Firstly, VCAT overturned Council's refusal, and now the Supreme Court has overturned VCAT's subsequent approval of 4 dwellings in a Rural Conservation zone, just upstream from the Campaspe Reservoir, which supplies Woodend with drinking water. 


In the end, it all came down to how VCAT had interpreted and applied requirements for protecting the quality and quantity of water for human consumption.


In a nutshell, VCAT had generally said that as long as the land had been demonstrated to be capable of disposing of on-site effluent, the application could be approved. 


The Supreme Court found that VCAT had failed to consider (or properly consider) additional requirements relating to not unduly intensifying risk, or put another way, failed to have full regard to requirements to consider the cumulative impact of additional on-site disposal, and the potential for detriment a cumulative increase could cause. 


This is the principle  which underpins the Minister's Guidelines for Open Potable Water Catchments, which contain a desired development density of 1 dwelling per 40 hectares within open, potable catchments.  As the Supreme Court points out, there has been no action to make the Guidelines mandatory in the 8 years since they were introduced.  This has led to many different interpretations being placed upon the weight to be given to the Guidelines, but the end result is that many poor decisions have been made.


The application for 4 houses now goes back to VCAT.


You can access the decision on the Supreme Court's website by clicking on the following link:


MRRA Says:


This decision has the potential to drive improvements not only in catchment management and protection, but also in what is given weight in future decisions on development in open drinking water catchments.  Overall, it's a good decision that puts the problems associated with putting more and more houses in open water catchments, and the principles that should be being applied to planning permit applications, right in the spotlight.


But will anyone act?



Port Phillip & Westernport CMA Report Card A Shocker For Macedon Ranges' Southerly Flowing Rivers

(24/12/07 - E)  Macedon Ranges "rock bottom"

Last week Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority released its "Melbourne Environment Report", and the results point to there being an increasingly urgent need to address conservation and river health problems in Macedon Ranges.  In the report, Macedon Ranges is included in an area encompassing Macedon Ranges (Port Phillip catchment i.e. southern portion of the shire), Hume, Mitchell and Whittlesea. 


An article in the Age newspaper (19/12/07) stated "River health was rock bottom in urban Melbourne, the area around the Macedon Ranges and Whittlesea, and in the west around Moorabool, Melton and Geelong." [emphasis added]


The "report card" produced by PPWCMA says the following about the Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell and Whittlesea region:


"The loss of 80% of the original native vegetation endangers the diversity and health of local natural ecosystems. The National and Regional Parks hold most of the remnant native vegetation but are under pressure from surrounding urban development. Relatively little habitat remains on private land. Three-quarters of the waterways are in poor condition but a program to improve priority stream reaches has been started by Melbourne Water. Insufficient monitoring has occurred to assess water quality. The groundwater levels around Lancefield appear stable but better monitoring is needed  to measure long-term trends. Community conservation and Landcare activity is strong and growing. There are some excellent examples of Council programs benefiting the environment."


Following are some extracts from the background report (Methods and information used to produce the ratings for the Melbourne Environment Report 2007):



2. Terrestrial Native Vegetation : Trends  Page 9 start

Reporting area Total area (ha) Total native vegetation area  (ha) Percentage of reporting area Extent rating Trend
Mornington Peninsula 72,149 13,445 19% D Declining
Moorabool, Melton, Wyndham & Greater Geelong 251,698 64,920 26% C Declining
Urban Melbourne 145,383 7,283  5% E Stable
Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell & Whittlesea 221,854 44,762 20% D Declining
Yarra Ranges & Nillumbik 264,719 176,515 67% A Stable
Casey, Cardinia & Baw Baw 237,303 57,620 24% C Declining
Bass Coast, South Gippsland & Islands 85,020 21,440 25% C Stable
Total region 1,278,126 385,985 30%    

Fig 2. Native vegetation extent, extent ratings and trends by reporting area.

Trends vary from ‘stable’ to ‘declining’. No reporting area is rated as ‘improving’ and it appears that net gain is not being achieved in this region. Unpublished DSE research also shows a declining trend for the region. It estimates that recent losses associated with urban development were about 1,400 hectares each year for woody vegetation and 2,700 hectares each year for native grasslands.


3. Native Vegetation in each Reporting Area  Page 12 start

Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell & Whittlesea Total native vegetation area  (ha) Percentage of reporting area Extent rating Trend
  44,762 20% D Declining

The loss of 80% of the original native vegetation in this area endangers the diversity and health of its ecosystems. The National and Regional Parks hold most of the remnant native vegetation and relatively little habitat remains on private land. Clearing of grassy woodland containing mature Red Gums and remnant native grasslands is being driven by rapid housing development in the area’s urban growth corridors. This will continue to further erode the area’s threatened vegetation types.


4. Health of Rivers  Page 20

Percentage of total river and stream lengths in ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ condition

Reporting area Mornington Peninsula Moorabool, Melton, Wyndham & Greater Geelong Urban Melbourne Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell & Whittlesea Yarra Ranges and Nillumbik Casey, Cardinia & Baw Baw Bass Coast, Sth Gippsland, & Islands
% of rivers in good/excellent condition 16% 12% 0% 5% 48% 15% 20%
 Rating D E E E B  D D
Trend ? ? ? ? ? ? ?


Fig 3 Percentage of total river and stream lengths in ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ condition in each reporting area and the letter-based ratings for this report



5. River and Stream Health in each Reporting Area  Page 21 start

Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell & Whittlesea
Condition Rating: E.          
 Trend: Unknown.          
1481 22 (1%) 62 (4%) 350 (24%) 659 (45%) 388 (26%)


"Only 1% and 4% of stream lengths in this reporting area are rated excellent and good. These are in the north east forested areas and include the upper Plenty River and Jacks Creek which score highly for Index of Stream Condition measures of natural flows, water quality and aquatic life. Almost three-quarters of rivers and stream lengths in this reporting area are in poor and very poor condition. They include the Darebin River and Merri Creek which exhibit the common problems of lost streamside vegetation, poor water quality, altered flows and scarce aquatic life."

 Fig 9: Stream condition in the Macedon Ranges, Hume, Mitchell and Whittlesea reporting area.


For more information and to download a copy of the "report card" and/or "background report" (Methods and information used to produce the ratings for the Melbourne Environment Report 2007), go to Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority's website  NB the background report is a LARGE file of some 12 megabytes.


MRRA Says:


Congratulations to Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority for producing the report.


The damning findings for environmental indicators within the Macedon Ranges 'area' should make us all hang our heads in shame.  These results are doubly concerning when considered in the context of Macedon Ranges being an area of State significance for drinking water catchments and conservation values.  


The report's message is obvious: our collective actions and inaction are damaging our environment to the point where much of it is struggling to survive.   The report should be seen as a 'wake-up' call for all of us that we need to start thinking differently about and rejecting damaging human impacts on our environment, and start trying, where possible, to repair some of the damage already done.  


Figure 4 in the "background" report shows the Macedon Ranges 'area' having roughly the same amount of endangered native vegetation as the Moorabool, Melton, Wyndham and Greater Geelong 'area' - with both having the highest levels of endangered vegetation within the Port Phillip and Westernport region.  Is it worth saving?  Yes.


The ("background") report admits the State "net gain" policies for native vegetation aren't working (p9) - at best native vegetation is only 'stable', with an overall declining trend noted for the region. 


MRRA would go further than that.  Many current policies and decisions - particularly in planning - are failing the environment by allowing environmental protection principles to be ignored.  And over-arching these general short-comings is the failure to date of the Victorian government to deliver its 1998 promise of special protection for Macedon Ranges as an environmentally sensitive area.  In this regard, it is worth noting the sharp differences between results for the "Macedon Ranges" and "Yarra Ranges" areas - both are areas of State significance. 


The results in this report also go a long way towards confirming MRRA's concerns for impacts of development in, and lack of State level protection for, open drinking water catchments.  For example, in the background report, at page 19, the upper reaches of Riddells Creek is the only waterway shown as being in 'good' condition south of the Divide in Macedon Ranges.  The rest are either shown as being in 'moderate' or 'poor' condition, with Jacksons Creek from Gisborne to Riddells Creek shown as being in 'very poor' condition.  No waterways are shown as in 'excellent' condition within this section of Macedon Ranges Shire.


Time to put our socks on and pull them up, isn't it?



State Government Gives More Money And More Protection To Melbourne's Water Catchments

(9/12/07 - E)  Keep looking boys, us country folks have drinking water catchments too and there's not a shred of protection for ours

The Victorian State government this week announced an additional $27 million will be spent providing even more protection for the drinking water catchments that supply water to Melbourne.  Click here to see The Age article of 3 December 2007.


MRRA Says:

A bit rich, isn't it... Could anything make country Victoria's 'poor cousin' status clearer than this?


It's bad enough that country Victoria's water is being pinched to feed Melbourne's out-of-control population growth, which is also heaving itself into rural areas (you know, the places with less and less water).  And now, while our drinking water catchments are over-developed, urinated and defecated in, contaminated, dug up, industrialized, commercialised, littered, suburbanized, mined, de-vegetated, burnt to the ground and bulldozed, Melbourne's are to be even more cosseted and nurtured and protected.


Only one thing for it - we'll all have to move to Melbourne.  Seems it's the only place to be in today's Victoria.



'State Of The Catchments In The West'  Seminar 6 April

(27/3/06 - E)  An excellent program is proposed - RSVP by 30th March

Check this out - it's free, and you will be amazed by what you learn.  Click here