Archive:  (Braemar School) Golf Course Hill Subdivision

Last Updated  22/12/15


See Report on Council Meeting 16 December 2015 for update




Who Is Behind The Massive Development Push At Woodend's Iconic Golf Course Hill?

See also Settlement Strategy Archive

See also Amendment C84

Braemar: A Trojan Horse



Uh--oh.  A Resignation From Villawood

(24/12/14 - P)  What's going on with Stuart Bonnington?  

The following public notice appeared in the 16/12/14 edition of the Midland Free Press (also the previous Friday's Guardian).  Mr. Bonnington has carved out a reputation in Woodend as a person acting for Villawood.  Now it seems the marriage between Villawood and Mr. Bonnington is over.



MRRA Says:

What's going on?  We don't know!   It all comes across as a very formal - if not legal - notice.  Like the ones you used to see saying someone or another would no longer be responsible for debts incurred in their name.  One story circulating is that Mr. Bonnington may be trying to make peace with the Woodend community because he wants to live there.  Mmm.  That would be too little, and far too late.   Local scuttlebut has it that Mr. Bonnington has been a self-confessed agent for the Villawood developers.  Finding anyone who has anything good to say about him would be akin to meeting someone giving away $1,000.  Shall we say... RARE.   Hopefully it signals the demise of Villawood (or Davies Hill Pty Ltd), which would be an extraordinarily excellent thing.



Woodend Estates.  Woodend... What?!   Is This A Retirement Village - Or Just A Whopping 300 Unit Residential Development Come Resort In A Rural Zone?

(10/11/14 - P)  Brochure says "it will be like living on a cruise ship".  Yep, that description pretty much nails living on this floodplain.    Woodend Retirement Village    

The recent "launch" of this development comes 7 years after it was approved by VCAT (after also being approved by Macedon Ranges Council in 2006), which means, luckily for the applicant, Council has obviously kept the permit 'alive' by extending it, of necessity several times.   At the launch, a company representative apparently presented Mayor Jukes with a hamper of goodies in deep appreciation for the cups of coffee and assistance the Mayor had provided to get the development to fruition.  Lucky Mayor, too.


The companies behind the development are Prestige Lifestyle Estates P/L and Woodend Estates P/L, which say "Woodend Estate will comprise 300 villas and apartments, recreational amenities, retail, food and beverage outlets and medical facilities", and "Once completed, Woodend Estate will include 205 independent living villas, more than 90 aged care apartments, a 10-bed specialist care facility, a network of walking tracks, BBQ areas, parklands and children’s play grounds."


Prestige Lifestyle Estates also says: "Uniquely, our Estates will be managed by experienced members of the Hospitality industry, including entertainment and travel managers, providing a rewarding lifestyle for over 55s and their families.", while the Prestige Lifestyle Estate's vision includes "creating superior quality resorts throughout Australia for the middle to upper income market."


Stage 1 apparently consists only of "luxury 2 & 3 bedroom villas" (newspaper ads); "The luxury villas and exclusive activities Pavilion will comprise the first stage of Woodend Estate. Another 150 villas will be built over the next 3 years and it is anticipated these villas will be for lease only." (Woodend Estate website); or  "48 luxury villas" (Prestige Lifestyle Estates website).   The Woodend Estates website says these luxury villas are "priced from just $399,000", which (48 units x $400,000) returns at least  $19.2 million for Stage 1.  No timeframe is given for when the aged care/retirement village facilities approved and required for this retirement village will be constructed, so far it's just luxury villas over "the next 3 years".


Stage 1 of the development is being advertised heavily (full page, full colour), and pitched as a great investment opportunity: "Woodend Estates is a prime residential investment opportunity in the Macedon Ranges" (Woodend Estates website), and "Stage 1 provides a range of opportunities for long-term property investors or those keen to secure a short-term investment that can become a long-term home."  


The development made news in the Sydney Morning Herald recently - and Villawood got in on the act, with Mr. Rory Costelloe quoted as saying "The need for retirement options was a constant refrain at the community meetings his company holds in Woodend – although some people in the town are vehemently against greenfield and infill developments.  People say they really need retirement options. A lot of people who live out of Woodend on large properties and farms want to move into town."


MRRA Says:


Oodles of 'resort' and 'residential' - even families and children - but where's the 'retirement' in this 'village' development?   Where are the aged care facilities?  The big earner luxury villa units are up first, and second, but no mention of the facilities aged and infirm people need that are to be included in this approved development. Those facilities are what played to decision-makers' heart-strings and got it approved... yet they are nowhere in sight.


Instead it's all luxury, elite, top investment, verrry expensive - and the sales pitch almost sounds too good to be true.  Perceived highlights are glowingly and amply covered;  what's missing is the multitude of down-sides that exist.


If you want to live here, you are going to have to LOVE freeway noise.  Because the Calder Freeway is right next door - in fact it is the property's eastern boundary.  Yes, yes, there's a noise mound but it isn't going to be birds twittering and wind in the trees stuff, is it?   Then there's the large freeway ramp which fills most of the northern (frontage) boundary - it's the ramp that lifts traffic to the Mt. Macedon Road overpass across the freeway.  All that noise and over-looking, but the bummer is, you can't actually get on the Freeway here (it's Mt. Macedon Road overpass, not interchange), so it's off to Romsey Road for freeway access (via the Woodend township or Boundary Road).  With those towering earthworks wrapping around two sides, unlike the ads there might not be much of a view to Mount Macedon for some either.  


Distance from most things that count is cause for pause.  If not an avid walker or bike rider, it's a car trip (or the bus the development is supposed to run) to get to Woodend's High Street, community facilities and the railway station. 


Something new residents would need to consider is whether they are comfortable settling in Woodend, one of the 52 towns in Victoria that are officially classified as having extreme bushfire risk (it's the potential for a catastrophic bushfire from the south-west to consume the town that does it).   And those trees on the development site?  Very tricky cutting them down: Eucalyptus aggregata, Black Gums, endangered, listed on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee, State level conservation significance - might even involve the Federal government through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


And then, of course, there's the flooding.  Always the flooding.  The site is as flat as, except for the creek that runs through it, and there's a 900 to 950 ha catchment south of the site feeding the flooding problems. The developer's consultants said, in their report to VCAT in 2007, that "the volume of water stored within the site during the 100 year storm event is in the vicinity of 15,000 to 20,000 cubic metres." (page 9), and "the flow width through the site is considerable given the flow volume, limited capacity of the incised drainage channel and flat nature of the floodplain."  (page 10)   The answer?   "...a 'parallel' storage channel or basin to the east of and adjacent to the existing watercourse area". (page 11)   Oh-oh. That wouldn't be the lake shown in some of the early publicity material, would it?  Problem is, of course, if it's a lake it ain't a retarding basin (which is supposed to be empty when it starts to rain), and won't retard the floodwaters.  C'est la vie - can't have everything. 


Something else.  Although Woodend's a sleepy little country town, this development is anything but, in character.  As tightly packed as Melbourne to country eyes, and very high density for Woodend.  Somewhat wall-to-wall, really, so checking the site plan is a must.  Another thing - the housing style shown on the Woodend Estates' website - particularly the 'at ground level' bit - doesn't quite gel with what Council approved in 2006, and who knows how it relates to requirements for dwellings to be up to 1 metre above ground level.  Check that too.


Research, research, research.


This mammoth development wasn't counted in available land supply in either the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy 2011 or the Woodend Township Structure Plan adopted by Council this year, and is set to soak up a fair chunk of the growth projected for Woodend, without having to build another house anywhere else.  With three hundred 2 and 3 bedroom units, even using an estimate of 2 persons per household, that's potentially 600 people accommodated (even more if the Settlement Strategy's or Structure Plan's higher persons per household figure is applied).   This isn't good news for the self-interests who are saying the land supply in Woodend has been under-estimated.


Even so, it seems pretty clear that this development is much more than a response to any local Woodend demand and needs. It's about property investment and attracting new people from outside the town.  It's doing pretty much what Villawood hoped to do - creating a brand new growth market.


And speaking of Villawood - aced out again, by the looks of it, on the residential and retirement village fronts.  Not needed, go away.   Shoo!


Woodend Community Prevails As Council Rejects Villawood's Latest Development Proposal On 7 to 1 Vote

(25/10/14 - P)  Lone-voiced objector, Cr. Letchford again defends Villawood, calls Woodend community the "Town of No", and was the only vote for Villawood's application - until a division was called.  Then he sided with the Nays and it became a unanimous 'NO'.     C84    Woodend Structure Plan  Red Alerts

At last Wednesday's Council meeting (22/10/14), only three of 14 reports were dealt with in chamber, and the latest Villawood application to rezone its large tract of Farming and Rural Conservation zoned land was one of them.   Cr. Connor moved the officer's recommendation to refuse, saying he has heard the message about what the community wants, and the Woodend Township Structure Plan was accepted.  It was time to get it in the planning scheme and get it done.  Cr. Anderson seconded the motion.  Cr. Mowatt said it was neither the time nor the place to consider Villawood's request, and one of the Structure Plan's key thrusts is to investigate growth options inside the town boundary before investigating any outside.  He said it was clear where we [Council] are at - we knock it back tonight. 


With Villawood representatives in the gallery, Cr. Letchford then took the floor to put what he rather whimsically described as an analytical and philosophical perspective, which rapidly deteriorated into taking a slice off the Woodend community which, it seems, doesn't know what it is missing by rejecting Villawood's proposal.  Cr.Letchford again trotted out the old chestnut about not having (Villawood's) new greenfields growth areas means suburban infill everywhere instead.  He seemed to say that the community's position was untenable, and not taking Villawood in Woodend increased growth pressures on Gisborne and other towns; that the Structure Plan's population and land supply numbers are [as always] all wrong; available land is under-estimated; landowners are land-banking; the negative effects of population growth have been over-estimated/over-stated; and saying no to Villawood was taking a populist position.  He pointed out that Villawood's wasn't a new application, it had been there before.  Philosophically perhaps, he asked why would Council say no to new reserves?  Why refuse an application that posed no cost to Council?   He said it was Villawood which was being threatened, alleging various acts of vandalism against them.  The Councillor's comments were interrupted by calls from the gallery for points of order, and from Councillors, as Cr. Letchford wandered off topic again and again, despite several warnings from the Mayor.  Cr. Letchford rounded his speech off by saying that 'community's views' weren't the whole community's views, and he hadn't seen a plebiscite.


Cr. Anderson countered, saying it was wrong to claim moving this amendment forward would have no cost to Council.  It would, in fact, trigger costs to Council in officer time and representation at a panel.  There is an endorsed Structure Plan.  There had been a community reference group, including Villawood representatives, that had accepted the analyses, accepted the constraints.   The Woodend Structure Plan stands, it's time to put it in the planning scheme.


The vote was then taken, with Crs. McLaughlin, Anderson, Piper, Jukes, Hackett, Connor and Mowatt (7) FOR the officer's recommendation to refuse;  Cr. Letchford (1) against.  Cr. Morabito was absent.  A division (which records how each Councillor voted in the minutes) was called.  After the seven Councillors FOR were named, and it came time to record who voted AGAINST, Cr. Letchford changed his vote from AGAINST to FOR, making it a unanimous 8-0 decision to refuse.


During the course of the (very short) meeting, a Villawood representative asked firstly to address the chamber (but was denied), and then at Question Time, asked Council ("in the interests of procedural fairness") to exhibit Villawood's proposal so people could see its merits (request refused). 


MRRA Says:


Wooo.  Superlative triple gold medal and unlimited elephant stamps backflip from Cr. Letchford, which rightly reaped instant, audible contempt from the gallery.  What a cracker performance!   Although execution was sloppy, the extreme degree of difficulty would surely make it impossible for people of conviction to emulate.  And... and... could it be that the good Councillor's belated but overtly overwhelming desire to not go down in the official record as Villawood's sole supporter places him in the same camp as those low-life nay-sayers from the "Town of No" he so frequently and contemptuously condemns?   Hmm, might be a close call - too late, and those nay-sayers from Woodend just might not want him on their side.  P.S. Dear Woodend - fellow 'people from the Town of No' - wear it with pride.   MRRA does.  


Here again was confirmation that Villawood will whinge, misrepresent, bully, threaten and manipulate ad nauseam, to get what it wants.  The Woodend community is painted as some hotbed of anarchistic vandals and thugs, allegedly damaging and threatening Villawood.  Why would anyone bother?  That vacant, lonely-looking Villawood shopfront tells everyone all they need to know. Conveniently forgotten by Villawood is that for the best part of 10 years (when reports of plans for a 1,000 lot subdivision first began circulating) Villawood has darkened, invaded, derided, misled, threatened, smacked down and parachuted its agents into the Woodend community - and, obviously, has lobbied decision-makers hard - in order to enrich itself by turning its sow's ear of a speculative land purchase into a self-serving silk purse.  Villawood's proposals have never been about Woodend, they have been about Villawood opening up a new lucrative, greenfields housing market, outside the town boundary, not because it's needed, but because that's where their land is.


 Another defeat, another threat.  Villawood's latest craw-sticking utterance is that if it doesn't get what it wants, someone worse - an aggressive big-time developer - might buy the land.  Really?  With Villawood's litany of failures, could anyone else be so lacking in nouse and financial acumen?  


As for Villawood persisting with self-serving claims that there is only a noisy minority in Woodend opposed to its aspirations, MRRA's reading of community sentiment is that an army of Woodend residents would walk over hot coals to get to a plebiscite to vote against Villawood and its proposals.  BRING IT ON.


 Click here to see the Guardian's report



The Stench Of Villawood Assaults Woodend Yet Again With Yet Another (Amendment) Development Proposal Outside The Town Boundary

(20/10/14 - P)   They're back!  This time they want their 500-odd acres at Golf Course Hill rezoned for 150 lots (0.5ha to 20ha) and a potential retirement village (no numbers provided - as you do)    C84    Woodend Structure Plan   Red Alerts


At next Wednesday's (22/10/14) Council meeting, yet another proposal from Villawood will come before Council, this time a request for an amendment to the Macedon Ranges planning scheme to rezone their land from Farming and Rural Conservation Zones to Low Density Residential.


The officer's recommendation is to refuse the request, because it pre-empts the Woodend Structure Plan and investigation of other areas for possible future expansion, and because there isn't any justification available to expand development outside the town boundary.


The Council meeting will be at Gisborne Shire Offices, Robertson St, Gisborne, starting at 7.00 pm.  


NOTE:  In time honoured tradition, Council's website has it wrong again.  Villawood's request for an amendment is Item PE5 on the Council agenda, but Council's website shows no attachment to Item PE5.  It is there, as the Attachment to Item PE4.  Four attachments to PE4 are shown on the MRSC website.  The one you want says just PE4, the others say PE4 1, PE4 2, PE4 3.


MRRA Says:


Well, well.  Which of our Councillors will be Villawood's friend this time around?  


Last May (28/5/14), Crs. Letchford and Hackett gave excellent impressions of supporting what Villawood wanted, arguing vehemently for deferral of adoption of the Woodend Structure Plan to allow 'secret' and 'unseen' and 'not-properly-considered' matters to be considered.  They were supported in the vote by Cr. Morabito.   Pretty much everyone in the gallery, and in Woodend, clocked the key reason for trying to defer as being 'because the Woodend Structure Plan didn't support or suit Villawood'.  


Then cast your mind back to that Special Council meeting on 4 September 2013 (rescission motions for Amendment C84, and Hanging Rock).  That night, the C84 amendment's Woodend policy was rewritten, in a rescission motion, in chamber, to basically reflect what Villawood wanted for Woodend.  Cr. Letchford moved the motion, Cr. Mowatt seconded, and the changes were also supported by Crs. Morabito, Hackett, McLaughlin, Connor, and Jukes.  No, your eyes don't deceive you - TWO West ward Councillors (Connor and Jukes) supported what Villawood wanted over what their West ward constituents wanted.


Something else to keep in mind:  Villawood's amendment request is for rezoning to a Low Density Residential zone [LDRZ] (and 150 lots).  The Low Density Residential zone has recently been changed.  The zone used to have a mandatory 0.4 ha minimum lot size.  Not now.  Sewered Low Density Residential zoned land can be subdivided down to 0.2ha unless a schedule to the LDRZ says otherwise.  Macedon Ranges Shire, of course, doesn't have a schedule that says otherwise.  Villawood says its 150 LDRZ lots (0.5ha to 20ha) will be sewered so, on paper at least, all of those 150 LDRZ lots could in future be subdivided into 2000 square metre lots.  Now that's a lot of lots!   As for how big any retirement village might be - hmm, pick a number:  1, 10, 100 acres?


MRRA's advice to Woodend residents is to immediately start asking all Councillors, and particularly West ward Crs. Connor and Jukes, if they are going to put the Woodend Structure Plan and the Woodend community's wishes before the profit-making aspirations of these developers by supporting refusal of this rezoning request.   PS  Might be a waste of time trying to convince Crs. Letchford and Hackett to support either a plan or the community, but give it a go anyway


The Stench Of Davies Hill/Villawood Is Back

(16/11/12 - P)  And if you are silly enough to believe them, only 290 quarter-acre lots this time on their 550 acres of farming land  See also C84


Only days after the recent Council election, Davies Hill/Villawood Properties P/L speared in another application to rezone Farming and Rural Conservation zones for suburban-style greenfields development. 


Lucky old Woodend, it's 'only' 290 lots* this time.  Premature, pre-emptive, unwanted, not needed, but only 290.


* 290 lots is 55% more lots than the 530 lots the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy says Woodend needs to accommodate growth until 2036. 


The catalyst for this latest feeding frenzy seems to be the irresistible allure of new, inexperienced councillors perhaps ripe for suckering into supporting their proposal; and Villawood's self-serving misrepresentation of the Amendment C84 panel findings as giving Villawood a green light.  The C84 panel report does nothing of the kind.


The panel's findings for Woodend require careful reading.  Importantly, the panel supported the Settlement Strategy's conclusion that there should only be modest growth in Woodend. 


However, the report says Council hasn't done enough work to strategically justify this level of growth, or reject greenfields development.   All the panel heard was why the Davies Hill/Villawood and Rawson Wood (Moon property, Lancefield Road) greenfields developments should go ahead, not why they shouldn't.  Council couldn't respond because it hadn't done the equivalent strategic work needed to counter those claims.  Council also hadn't done enough to strategically justify Woodend being the exception to the Settlement Strategy's aim of directing growth to towns in the Calder Corridor, and towns with 'good' infrastructure. 


Contrary to Villawood's furphy in this week's Midland Express that the report says there are no constraints on land north of the town, the panel report recognizes there are significant constraints (flooding, landscape character and the Avenue of Honour, for example), but Council hadn't adequately addressed them or sufficiently investigated and assessed the implications of different growth scenarios.  Instead of putting a figure on growth in the town, strategic constraints to growth and greenfields development need to be identified, and more work done on protection of character, to demonstrate why the Settlement Strategy's findings** are strategically sound. 


** Latest ABS census data (Basic Community Profiles - Woodend Township) show 85 more occupied dwellings in the town in 2011 than in 2006 (i.e. 17 more per year ). This continues and reflects the rate of increase over the previous 15 years, which is the basis for land requirements identified in the Settlement Strategy for Woodend.


The panel report says remove the Settlement Strategy's statement about no greenfields rezoning for Woodend from C84 - but Council said it first. On the last day of the panel hearing, as if sensing it was in trouble, Council told the panel it supported dropping the statement.


Faced with unrelenting pressure for greenfields development, missing strategic work, and Council changing its position, the panel report says investigate, assess and address strategic issues, including constraints and potential for greenfields development, and evaluate impacts of development north of the town, as part of the Woodend Town Structure Plan process. 


Yes, the panel report raises questions about Woodend, but it doesn't say change direction, and certainly doesn't give Davies Hill/Villawood or Rawson Wood any 'green light'.  


Council and the community are under no obligation to support either proposal, but Council will need to produce high level and high quality strategic work - thoroughly addressing environmental, planning, economic, social and infrastructure issues - to keep it that way.  The panel report's premise is that comprehensive strategic assessment may identify opportunities for a mix of infill and greenfields development to accommodate modest growth.  On the other hand, it may not.  The problem the panel report identifies is that the work needed to make that judgement hasn't been done.  It also expresses related concerns for other towns, particularly Riddells Creek.


MRRA Says:


MRRA representatives attended some hearing days, and it seemed that a main focus of Council's submission was defending the population numbers in the Settlement Strategy.  Council didn't have answers to developers' claims that their proposals were strategically sound.  This omission comes through in some of the report's assumptions - such as Woodend only floods in low lying areas, and the town has a secondary school (Braemar College - which is a private school). 


In fact much is made of the town's 'good' infrastructure.  Yet this classification seems based more on developer descriptions and Council's flawed Moving Towards A Sustainable Community document (a supporting document for the Settlement Strategy) than how it all actually works.  For example, Woodend may well have two primary schools, but they - and child care facilities - are at bursting point with the existing population.  Varying levels of infrastructure and services may exist, but what hasn't been tackled is a realistic assessment of capacity, their ability to serve existing and future residents' needs, and what improvements/additions even Settlement Strategy growth would trigger.  Additional greenfields development - remote from the existing town - would be a whole new ball game as far as providing infrastructure and services goes.  Council needs to undertake detailed analysis of these issues.


Developer submissions seem to infer the Woodend community chose the Settlement Strategy's 2036  growth projection, and on that basis it is unreliable.  That's not correct.  Council produced the numbers based on historical growth rates; the community supported it.  It has never been about no growth in Woodend.  The point the Settlement Strategy and community is making is that there is enough land already available to keep growing at traditional levels.  Small developments within the town provide on-going opportunities for new housing and diversity; and high population turnover allows new residents to move into existing housing stock.  Historical housing demand is relatively low, and latest census data suggests that historical market demand is being and can continue to be accommodated within the town proper as per the Settlement Strategy's predictions.


What those speculating in large-scale, greenfields development are trying to create is a second market for their speculative products (additional to the existing market within the town itself), for which they need accelerated growth.  This has nothing to do with the town's best interests, of course; it's all about profit.


And in pursuit of self-interest, it looks like nothing is too gross for Davies Hill/Villawood, who are apparently setting up a shop front in Woodend to promote their product and try to convince the Woodend community to like them.  Hmm... might be fat chance of that, with the anger generated by the latest revelations of who has been working for Villawood, and who was supporting some candidates in the recent Council election.  Oh, what a tangled web they weave...


Amendment C84 - Interim Panel Report Confirms It's A Dog's Breakfast

(16/11/12 - P)   More money, professional expertise, more work and a re-write are needed to recover from Council's poor performance on this one 


When Council exhibited Amendment C84 just before Christmas in 2011, it insisted C84 just put the Settlement Strategy into the Macedon Ranges planning scheme, and 'updated' the Municipal Strategic Statement [MSS] 'in a policy-neutral way.'   


In MRRA's original submission, we said the amendment substantially changed the existing planning scheme/policy, without process or justification, and did it in an unskilled and agenda-driven way. 


The independent panel appointed by the Minister for Planning, which heard submissions on Amendment C84 in June, 2012, has now issued its findings.  The panel's report was released on 28 September, but Council held it for 28 days before making it public. 


The panel report is an interim one, meaning it makes recommendations for changes which then have to be taken back to the panel for further assessment.  Interim panel reports are not common, are usually indicative of major problems, and can be issued as an alternative to abandoning an amendment - providing one last chance to get it right.  The risk Council runs is that if it doesn't do the work the panel recommends, the panel may make a final recommendation to abandon C84. 


Council produced 4 versions of C84, two of which were not referred to Councillors (i.e. substantial changes were made by officers alone).  The first version tried to include the Gisborne and Romsey ODPs, before they received Ministerial approval.  The fourth version, dropped out without consulting Councillors or community at the panel hearing, was supposed to be the version that finally got it right.  Obviously not, because that's the version criticized in the panel's report.


The panel's report confirms changes to the MSS in C84 were not policy neutral.  It also found excessive emphasis on tourism and economic development, particularly in water catchments, at the expense of environment.  Important parts of the existing scheme have been left behind, or deleted (like the existing Rural Living policy).  The way the MSS has been put together (the formatting) was found to be far below acceptable standards, with parts in the wrong place, not clear, missing or not making sense - it just doesn't work.  Maps were likewise deficient, with one described as "unintelligible".  Errors - some fairly basic - go on and on.  


Although Council is playing down the embarrassing report as much as possible, apparently saying the panel just wants a few words changed, the panel's 30+ recommendations in fact say substantial work is needed to overcome the amendment's substantial deficiencies.


The panel recommendations themselves are succinct, but must be read together with the discussion that precedes them which identifies the range of issues to be addressed.  It would be a grave mistake to misinterpret them. 


For example, "review and revise the MSS to ensure references to tourism do not imply an overstated influence in planning decisions" isn't a minor edit, it's a review of the entire MSS.  Likewise, "review [Rural Living] provisions to ensure objectives and strategies reflect established policy..." and "review and edit the proposed MSS to ensure that the strength of existing policy is maintained" isn't cut, shuffle and paste a few words, it's put back what was silently taken out.  There are many other examples.


Then there's the challenge of moving everything around to put it where it belongs, reconsidering and rewriting that content, and integrating all those changes so there is some hope of a cohesive, professional document.  Mapping also must be revised and expanded, and all of the problems identified with how the Settlement Strategy - and settlement generally - has been represented in C84 for various towns also have to be addressed.  Recommendations for Woodend in particular highlight deficiencies in Council's approach (see also Woodend report), and identify the need for significant work to be done to support the Settlement Strategy's findings before going back to the panel.  Oh, yes, there's quite a lot of work to do - pretty much a rethink and rewrite of the whole thing.


In 1999, Macedon Ranges Shire Council received a similarly mortifying panel report in response to its 'in-house' attempt to produce a new planning scheme.  The word 'unintelligible' likewise came up in that report, along with 'error-ridden and cobbled together'.   The C84 outcome suggests that in terms of strategic planning, Council hasn't really progressed from where it was 12 years ago.  It seems that the best planning practice ethos fostered by former CEO Ian Morris is no longer in play at Council, and standards, skills and culture are poor.   Sloppy work also comes at a high cost to ratepayers, and does not represent value for money spent.


The decision now facing Council is whether or not to cut its losses and abandon C84 (or parts of it), or to spend the money to hire someone with the specialist professional expertise and experience needed to fix C84 properly. 


Given the panel's findings on C84, there would be benefit in engaging a planning professional not involved to date in the preparation of the Settlement Strategy/C84, who has experience and credibility with the type of work required, and with Macedon Ranges.   In 1998 Trevor Budge rewrote the new format scheme's MSS, and in 1999 he reconciled the 100+ new format scheme panel recommendations into the new scheme.  He has also done strategic work for the former Shire of Gisborne and the 2002 Macedon Ranges Rural Land Strategy, and co-authored the Macedon Ranges Cultural Heritage and Landscape Study.  In MRRA's view, this person has the right credentials, would be an outstanding candidate for the task, and one in which the Association would have confidence. 


MRRA Says:


Other dismal performances came from most last-term Councillors, who appear to have not taken sufficient interest in or responsibility for this amendment, and failed to ensure the limited delegated authority afforded officers was not interpreted as 'carte blanche'.  Only Crs. Letchford and Guthrie opposed sending C84 to a panel, instead calling for it to be abandoned.  Former Cr. Neil Manning agreed to send it to a panel because he couldn't see a political solution available at Council.  And there's the rub - planning held ransom to politics rarely produces anything that resembles planning.


In addition to Council's shortcomings, the Department of Planning and Community Development allowed this deficient amendment to be exhibited, suggesting higher standards of quality control are needed at Departmental level.


And although the panel confirmed the continued relevance of Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 [SPP8], and said put back what C84 removes from the planning scheme, Macedon Ranges continues to wait for the State government to make SPP8 State policy.  The urgency for this to happen, and to form the basis for re-writing C84, is obvious.


MRRA will be preparing a summary of the panel's discussion and recommendations, and assessing Council's response against them.


One more thing...

On the final panel hearing day Council's representative presented Council's closing response to submissions made at the hearing.  That response admitted C84 was not policy neutral, and that the Rural Living Policy had been deleted.  It also told the Panel Council agreed to ditch the "No greenfields rezoning" statement at Woodend.  Click here to see Council's closing response.


After the panel hearing, MRRA sent an email to Council, asking why it lied to the community about C84 being 'policy neutral' and why it betrayed the people of Woodend.  Click here to see the response provided by former councillor, Helen Relph.


Braemar Comes To Its Senses And Divorces Itself From Villawood

(24/12/11 - P)  The long journey for the school to recover reputation and community support begins... 

Braemar College has issued a statement formally announcing it will no longer be associated with Villawood Properties Pty. Ltd.   The statement also says Braemar will continue to look for a site for its second campus, and pay greater attention to community needs.


Villawood, on the other hand, has brushed this blow off, again identifying those many who disagree with it as 'vocal minorities' and vowing to keep pursuing both another school and its ambitious, speculative plans to almost double the population of Woodend township.


MRRA Says:


A bouquet to Braemar for finally realising what a loser the Davies Hill proposal is.


The usual triple brickbats to Villawood.  We wonder at what point in time the company will realise how silly it looks...


Minister For Planning Says State Government Won't "Micro-Manage" Davies Hill/Villawood Proposal

(23/10/11 - P)  Processes are in place that should resolve the issue without Government interference. 

On 17 October 2011, ABC Bendigo posted a story headed "Vic Govt won't interfere in Villawood row".   The story goes on to quote Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, as saying he understood Council had some concerns with the [Villawood amendment] proposal, and had articulated those concerns.  He said the matter should be resolved without Government interference.  Click here for the ABC story.


MRRA Says:


The Minister's comments appear to close the door on any hopes Davies Hill Pty Ltd / Villawood Pty Ltd et al may have harboured of getting around Council's refusal by tapping into claimed Spring Street connections to move the gross amendment proposal forward.


The developers are publicly blaming a "vocal minority" [i.e. most of the Woodend community] for Council's refusal, which rather misses the point. That wasn't why the amendment was refused, and making "vocal minority" a PR mantra won't change the reasons why it was knocked off.  Council's concerns and grounds for refusal were that the amendment didn't accord with the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy for Woodend, and also didn't meet local and State policy in the Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme. Not only doesn't the community want what the developers want, seems the planning system and scheme don't want it either.


Davies Hill Goes Down As Council (And The Weather) Rains On Villawood's Parade

(7/10/11 - P)  Council votes 8 to 1 to NOT support speculative development proposal for Golf Course Hill, Woodend 

Weather-wise, there wasn't much that could have made last Wednesday evening worse: a wild thunderstorm, torrential rain, roaring wind, flash flooding, power outages, all trains stopped, people having to overnight in Melbourne. 


On such a vile night there was also a Council meeting in Gisborne, where Woodend's future would be decided.  Despite the weather, people still managed to make it to the meeting.


The Council officer's report, published the previous Monday, recommended Council say 'no' to Villawood's application to rezone the former Davies' property from farming and rural conservation to residential.  If approved, the rezoning would allow Villawood Properties P/L and Davies Hill P/L to make a financial killing from acres and acres of new but superfluous residential development - superfluous, that is, to the town's needs. 


Council's Director of Planning, Sophie Segafredo, told the meeting that Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy was very clear and did not support the Villawood Properties P/L / Davies Hill P/L proposal. 


It was then announced that a Part 2 would be added to the officer's recommendation to refuse. Part 2 in effect acknowledges the 2009 C45 amendment (known as the Braemar amendment) as a separate amendment, currently on hold at the request of Braemar, which will be considered on current policy and on merit as and when it moves again. 


Cr. Henryka Benson moved the expanded refusal, congratulating officers on their report.  Cr. Roger Jukes seconded, but said he had nothing to add.  Cr. Joe Morabito and Cr. John Letchford opposed (with Cr. Letchford saying he opposed for the purposes of discussion). 


Cr. Morabito, in opposing the officer's recommendation, said he had done some soul searching and thought the proposal was a good project.  It provided considerable infrastructure such as 300 acres of open space, 7km of walking tracks, a Men's Shed, retirement village, $1 million to Buffalo Stadium, upgrading the railway carpark, and so on.  He said it took the burden off ratepayers.


Cr. Manning said the application had been taken through the whole process of planning justification and been found lacking.  It hadn't met requirements, and he supported the motion [to refuse].  Cr. Letchford said the motion didn't go far enough and read out some additional grounds for refusal [which in the end were not included].  Cr. Guthrie also congratulated the officers for a well balanced assessment of planning pros and cons, saying it was a good quality development in the wrong place and at the wrong time.  He said the cost of maintaining such a huge amount of open space would be an impost on Council - that amount may be appropriate inside the Urban Growth Boundary or at Point Cook, but not here.  He also noted that the $1 million contribution was well below the $4.5 million mentioned elsewhere, and that Council would have wanted the maximum contribution.


Earlier in the meeting, Crs. Benson, Jukes and Letchford had declared an interest in this agenda item due to present or past relationships with Braemar College.  At this point in the meeting, Cr. Letchford, apparently as Council's current "fellow" at Braemar, made a lengthy statement declaring he could make a decision - and came to the table - with an open mind. 


Cr. Benson closed discussion by saying she reiterated her original remarks, and congratulated the Woodend community for its input.


The vote was taken and then a division was called which showed Crs. Donovan, Manning, Jukes, Benson, Letchford, Guthrie, Relph and McLaughlin supported the officer's recommendation to refuse;  Cr. Morabito opposed. 


MRRA Says:


Well, we dared them to inspire us - and on this occasion they did.  The recommendation, and vote, saying 'no' to Villawood responded (and responded well) to planning considerations - including the Settlement Strategy's finding that no greenfields rezoning for residential purposes is needed in Woodend, as well as State planning policy.  Those planning considerations are the basis and justification for the officer's recommendation and Council's decision (for the record, wanting something doesn't justify it).


The developers, Villawood / Davies Hill, have vowed to "fight on", claiming Council has listened to a "vocal minority".  Anyone who thinks most of the town is a minority needs to get out more!  The boot's actually on the other foot. The vocal minority are the developers and their mates who don't seem to 'get it' that most townsfolk - and visitors - don't want the suburbia they do.


One of the options the developers have is to ask the Minister for Planning to intervene.  This would involve Ministerial approval of the amendment by over-ruling Council's refusal. The word going around is that the developers seem to think they have a good/excellent relationship with the Minister's office.  Since the Villawood and Braemar proposals were first mooted around 2005/2006, there have been whispers of hidden influence within the Department of Planning and Community Development.  But times and people have changed, and the challenges now would be if influences do exist, would they be sufficiently strong enough to persuade a new government which has just abandoned approving an amendment at Philip Island, and is committed to protecting Macedon Ranges, to look favourably upon the developers, particularly in the face of strong community opposition? 


Speaking of community, it beggars belief that Braemar could so mis-read the community it claims to be part of. Telling the town to get behind Villawood because it suited Braemar was a grave mistake, and a PR disaster for the school.  People were and still are shocked and distressed that Braemar so clearly expected (some might say demanded) residents to put the private school's interests before the interests of the town itself.  The arrogance of the school has been the talk of the town; the mothers' clubs; the trains, with much head shaking at how out of touch and step with the community the school is. Even after Council's refusal, the school's expectations don't seem to have changed.  It doesn't seem to understand the magnitude of what it has lost, or how its actions demonstrated just how much of a gulf exists between the school's interests and the community's interests.


Braemar's championing of the developers also raises another critical issue. Prior to the meeting, some local residents who have been active in opposing Villawood circulated an email (which came across MRRA's desk) asking why Crs. Benson and Jukes - both West Ward (Woodend) councillors - were silent on the issues.  It also raised questions about conflicts of interest councillors might have through associations with Braemar, and whether any such conflicts could have a bearing on the outcome.  Pulling no punches, the email then asked whether Council's continued presence as 'fellows' on the Braemar Board conflicted the whole Council.  It's a good question.


The practice of Council having a councillor representative at Braemar College Ltd. began way back in the seventies with the former Shire of Newham and Woodend.  Even though circumstances have changed, somehow it still continues today and councillors are still 'fellows' of the school.  Is it appropriate for Council to have such an insider role and direct association with what is essentially a private business, when Council is a statutory decision-maker and has before it a rezoning application from the body of which it is a privileged member?  Would it be acceptable for Council to be making decisions about other businesses if it had a 'Braemar' relationship with those businesses?  Is the relationship a truly arm's-length one?  Is it time for Council to cease its 'special' relationship with Braemar?


Villawood Amendment  Comes Before Council 28 September

(23/9/11 - P)  It's a make-or-break decision for Woodend, and Council. Residents are urged to be there. 


At its Ordinary Meeting on September 28 (Gisborne Shire Offices, 7.00pm) Macedon Ranges Council will decide whether it will support the Villawood Properties P/L [Villawood] amendment to rezone its Davies Hill [Golf Course Hill] land. 


Guidance on that decision is to hand.  After months of controversy, and hundreds of community submissions and emails rejecting the Davies Hill development and supporting low growth for Woodend, Council adopted the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy on July 27, 2011.  That adopted document says, for Woodend, that "No further Greenfield land is required to be rezoned for residential purposes out to 2036." (page 70).  Council fell at the first hurdle by approving 'in principle' a greenfields amendment in Woodend immediately after adopting the Settlement Strategy on July 27.  The question is, will Council redeem itself by upholding the Strategy this time round? 


The Villawood amendment wants Rural Conservation and Farming land at Golf Course Hill on the outskirts of Woodend rezoned to to Residential 1 and Urban Floodway zones.  It also wants the Woodend town boundary extended to include Villawood's 500 acres, almost doubling Woodend township.  


Braemar College Ltd. [Braemar] has linked itself with Villawood, and is lobbying hard to have the development company's amendment approved. The college recently sent a letter, claiming the school acquired land [from Villawood] in 2006, to some Woodend residents urging them to support Braemar by supporting the Villawood rezoning.  All of which detracts from the real issue: the Villawood amendment is not about the school, it's about rezoning farmland for residential development.


Woodend residents are urged to attend the Council meeting in Gisborne on September 28. 


Many interested observers will be closely watching Council as it makes this critical decision.  Of particular interest to Woodend residents is how their local (West Ward) councillors - Manning, Benson and Jukes - vote.  Residents may wish to encourage them to support community, and good planning, by voting to not rezone greenfields land for residential purposes.


Henryka Benson

0438 914 757


Roger Jukes

5422 3887

0400 647 445


Neil Manning

5427 3089

0400 026 241


For your information, Woodend residents Steve and Denise (who have provided a focus for articulating wider community views) have sent an email to residents, and a letter to Councillors which they believe captures and expresses majority community views and expectations for Wednesday's outcome.  Click here to see their email and letter, and if you agree with them, please send to your contacts and networks. 


Above all else, get to the Council meeting on September 28, Gisborne Shire Offices, 7.00pm.


MRRA Says:


Council is squarely at the fork in the road. In our report on the July 2011 Council meeting, we ended our comments by daring Council to inspire us.  This is it.  This is Council's chance to inspire, by showing Macedon Ranges has a Council that means what it says, and listens to what the community says.


There has already been a massive debate about the Settlement Strategy over growth in Woodend.  Residents objected strongly to changes promoting increased growth and rezoning in Woodend after exhibition of the Settlement Strategy, especially when so many had made submissions expressing their support for the exhibited low growth scenario, and opposition to Villawood's proposal. 


The final Settlement Strategy adopted by Council on 27 July says 30 years' growth can be accommodated in the current township.  It also says no greenfields rezoning is required for residential purposes out to 2036.  


The Villawood amendment is extensive greenfields rezoning for intensive residential purposes, all outside the planning scheme's existing Woodend town boundary.  The amendment also wants the town boundary expanded to include its 500 acres, an action not supported in the Strategy.  What Council is being asked to support is a speculative investment.  The dice were thrown, and the gamble was taken to buy up farming land then try to have it rezoned into what is virtually a new town, for profit. 


The amendment doesn't deliver the public open space the company said it would deliver.  And while there are no Wildfire Management Overlays on the land, recently released bushfire-prone areas mapping shows that ALL of the land is officially bushfire-prone - something the amendment doesn't address.


There is no logical or strategic justification for the proposal, or for supporting it.  Supporting it would, in fact, trigger a logical and justified pursuit for answers to the question, "why"? 


When Council adopted the Strategy in July, it in effect made a pact with the Woodend community - here's how we all agree the town will be.  Expectations are that Council will support Woodend community, its own Settlement Strategy and proper and strategic planning.  To live up to those expectations, Council must refuse to entertain the Villawood amendment application. 


It must also be made clear that supporting the amendment in the mistaken belief it is doing Braemar a favour is not a logical or strategic justification either.  The school has unwisely aligned itself with a gross and detested development proposal, a stance which runs the risk of not only alienating many in the community, but dividing it.


In the context of the Villawood amendment, Braemar is irrelevant. Villawood's amendment isn't about the school, it's about residential development. It's what suits Villawood. It doesn't give specific consideration to Braemar.  It doesn't even recognize a fixed site for the school, instead showing two potential school sites, which is confusing if Braemar acquired a site in 2006, as it says it did.


Equally confusing is that in 2009, the C45 (Braemar) amendment showed the 'Braemar' site straddling 8 lot titles (Crown Allotments 31 and 32, and part Crown Allotments 33, 41, 42, 43, 48 and 49).  That means the site claimed by Braemar did not exist as a separate title in 2009.  A Titles Office property report * (showing all land with the same ownership) confirms those 8 individual titles still exist in 2011, and that they are in the same ownership as all of the remaining Villawood-owned land.  Something seems to be missing...


MRRA was curious to see a letter in this week's Midland Express from a Stephen Carthew of Harcourt North, severely criticizing local resident John Shaw (and the editor of the Express) about John's letter the previous week critical of the Villawood/Braemar proposal.  Many will be wondering why someone from Harcourt North has taken such an interest in the issue that they feel they can defend Villawood, and say Woodend residents should be grateful for Villawood's proposal. 


MRRA met someone called Stephen Carthew, a planner, at a meeting with then Planning Minister Rob Hulls in 2005.  That Mr. Carthew was Senior Project Manager, Networked Cities Region [Melbourne 2030] with DSE, the then Department of planning (now Department of Planning and Community Development).  We also again caught up with Mr. Carthew (who was also formerly a Councillor at Mt. Alexander Shire) in 2006.  Research suggests Mr. Carthew left DPCD around 2008 and by 2009 was Project Leader, Regional Development Victoria, Department of Industry, Innovation and Regional Development [DIIRD].  Google also turns up references to a Stephen Carthew from Memark Associates Pty Ltd, the registered address of which is 69 Franklings Road, Harcourt, 3453.


Are they the same people??


* A property is defined as land under common occupation particularly for the purpose of rating, billing or habitation. Properties are typically described by street address or a "rate assessment number" allocated by an authority, eg local government or utility. A property can consist of one parcel (eg a suburban house block); many parcels (eg a farm); or part of a parcel (eg a shop in a development). Council's view of property is usually seen as being definitive and is described by a Council Property Number (CPN)


New Regulations For Bushfire Prone Areas In Force From 8 September 2011

(23/9/11 - E)  Regulations and maps released by State government 

The State government has released maps of bushfire prone areas in Victoria.  Around 85% of the State is now classified as bushfire prone which, among other things, indicates a vulnerability to ember attack.  New requirements and standards are now in place, which will affect new building and development - and planning for it.  Click here to see more information and links from the Department of Planning and Community Development's website.


MRRA Says:


It's not quite a blanket coverage for Macedon Ranges Shire, but it's close.  Bushfire-prone coverage varies across the towns, with Kyneton looking the least bushfire-prone. Click here for the Macedon Ranges Shire map.  Tip:  Use zoom in View to get a closer look at specific areas. 


We zoomed in for Woodend to see how the Villawood land is affected, remembering that there aren't any Wildfire Management Overlays on the land.  The new bushfire-prone maps change that.  It's no longer the 'safe haven' some would have it, because the new mapping shows the entire property is now officially classified as bushfire-prone.  Hmmm... does that mean the whole proposal will have to be re-thought, along with the desirability of putting a second Braemar school in a bushfire-prone area? 


 MR Settlement Strategy Gets The Nod But Only From 6 Of 9 Councillors 

(1/8/11 - P)  Late changes an improvement but not enough to make it a document of excellence. Then Council rendered the Strategy irrelevant by approving a greenfields rezoning in Woodend when the freshly adopted Settlement Strategy says no greenfields rezoning in Woodend... 


A good crowd attended last Wednesday's Council meeting to watch Macedon Ranges Council decide whether to adopt its troubled Settlement Strategy.  Attachments to the meeting agenda included a copy of the 27/7/11 version of the Settlement Strategy.  Director of Planning and Environment, Sophie Segafredo, read the officer's recommendation that the Strategy be adopted. However, prior to the meeting Councillors agreed to make further corrections, and Cr. John Letchford (South ward) sought clarification of whether adoption of these corrections was included in the motion before Council.  After some confusion, Mayor Henry McLaughlin (East ward) moved a motion to adopt the Settlement Strategy with 'amendments as circulated to Councillors' included.  Cr. Roger Jukes (West ward) seconded the motion.  Cr. Neil Manning (West ward) opposed. 


Mayor McLaughlin recapped the merits of the document and process.  Cr. Jukes noted the document represented the community vision for the Shire, and that Macedon Ranges leads the way for other rural councils.


Cr. Manning then spoke.  He acknowledged the latest corrections went a long way but not far enough, and Council needed to show honesty and faith with the community.  He said the Strategy wasn't a good study at all, with deficient consultation flawed by 'listening posts'.  The process used to prepare the Strategy made a mess of method in the way it calculated population, and inclusion of Rural Living zone population carried on the flaws by adding RLZ population to towns, making the [2006 - 2036] population increase for the towns look less than it really was.  He added that the application of Victoria In Future 2008 projections was also flawed because those figures are based on past Federal immigration intakes that were higher than are now occurring, and in his view this made the numbers flawed.  He said he felt exhibition had been badly done, and after that Council had come back with an altered document which wasn't acting in faith with the community.  He said the Settlement Strategy couldn't be called a community document because by Council's actions it had slipped away from community; it was now solely a Council document.  Gallery applause.


Cr. Manning then moved an amendment to the main motion, that the population table [Table 1?], be altered to remove all Rural Living zone population to allow a true representation of township population and growth.  Cr. John Letchford seconded the motion.  Mayor McLaughlin opposed. 


Cr. Manning said the document needed to show the community what the population is and will be in future, in all towns, to provide a true representation to the people.  Gallery applause.


Cr. Letchford thanked councillors for going 95% of the way to getting a better document, and if they could agree to separate Study Area population from township population it would be 99%. Gallery applause.


Cr. Rob Guthrie (South ward) endorsed Cr. Letchford's comments, saying the boundaries counted as population confused people, with the Study Area (including extensive Rural Living zone areas) for Gisborne extending all the way to the Shire's southern boundary, distorting figures.  He asked that the figures be broken down so people could understand what they meant. Gallery applause.


Cr. Helen Relph said she was keen to support the motion but didn't want to upset the integrity of the document. Council had decided early on to include Rural Living.  Director of Planning and Environment, Sophie Segafredo, advised that the numbers could be separated, then added the Settlement Strategy was over-arching for the Shire and actual areas where population is, is not dictated by the Settlement Strategy. 


At this point, the Mayor announced that question sheets had been received from the gallery pointing out that no-one in the gallery knew what was being considered by Council.  He advised people could check out changes at the break, or have them sent to them.


Cr. Manning's motion to remove the Rural Living element from the population table was put, and lost 4 votes to 5.  A division showed:


Crs. Letchford, Guthrie and Relph (all South ward) and Cr. Manning (West ward) FOR. 

Crs. Henryka Benson and Roger Jukes (both West ward), and Crs. McLaughlin, Joan Donovan and Joe Morabito (all East ward) AGAINST. 


Discussion then returned to the substantive motion.


Cr. Letchford commented that the Strategy was 95%, and before the last motion was lost could have been almost 100% right. He said he and Crs. Guthrie and Manning - all of whom have planning qualifications or a strong interest in planning - had worked hard on preparing corrections, many of which had been accepted by the other Councillors.  One point in particular that Council hadn't accepted was having the Gisborne ODP's population of 12,100 in Gisborne replace the Settlement Strategy's 14,700, higher because the Settlement Strategy counts rural numbers in town population. He said the thing to avoid was takeup of that rural component resulting in a sea of terracotta rooves from South Gisborne to Sunbury.  He hoped the Gisborne ODP would constrain growth, and added that Statement of Planning Policy No 8 - and the Peri Urban Study - states quite clearly the significance of Macedon Ranges, and this was of far greater importance to far more people.  He said agreement on the last 5% would have been the clincher.  Gallery applause.


Cr. Helen Relph urged Councillors to support the motion to adopt, and said high level character studies and the Rural Living Strategy were next, where the figures would come out.


Cr. Rob Guthrie, like Cr. Letchford, regretted that the previous motion had been lost, as all it was saying was take the Rural Living numbers out. He said the words 'recommended' and 'target' population must be replaced with 'projected' population throughout the document.  He couldn't accept the figures for Gisborne and Woodend, describing them as still saying to developers 'come here and do it.'  The former Shire of Gisborne had found that to save other values 12,000 was the limit in Gisborne, and that's where the Settlement Strategy should be. The numbers were too high and should be separated out into town and rural living.  He closed by announcing he would oppose adoption of the document.  Gallery applause.


Mayor McLaughlin said the main focus was on numbers, and probably too much focus.  The project wasn't an exact science.  Population numbers weren't predictions or targets.


The vote to adopt the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy (with amendments circulated to Councillors) was then put and carried on a split 6/3 vote.  A division was called, showing:


Crs. Relph (South), Jukes, Benson (both West), Donovan, McLaughlin and Morabito (all East) FOR;

Crs. Letchford, Guthrie (both South) and Manning (West) AGAINST.


Immediately following adoption of the Settlement Strategy, an application for a greenfields rezoning (from Rural Living zone Schedule 1 (40ha min lot size) to Low Density Residential) at Woodend came before Council.  Even though the just-adopted Settlement Strategy says "No greenfields rezoning" for Woodend, Council ignored that and voted 7/2 to move the greenfields rezoning amendment forward.  This time Cr. Manning supported the motion, with only Councillors Letchford and Guthrie opposed.


MRRA Says:


First off, to any other Councils contemplating using the Macedon Ranges experience as a model, MRRA's advice is: DON'T.  You can do better.  Much better.


While the gallery had no idea exactly what Councillors were approving for the Settlement Strategy, it quickly sensed the 'white hats' were Crs. Manning, Letchford and Guthrie, and loudly applauded their words.  All other speakers rose and sat to stony silence, and unlike the Woodend public meeting, there was no applause at all this time for Council's Director of Planning and Environment. 


The version of the Settlement Strategy published on Council's website the Monday before showed some improvement.  A copy of the 12 changes endorsed by all Councillors on the night, obtained "in the break", confirms more improvement, removing support for illogical and strategically unjustified actions. For example, references (included after exhibition) to an individual landowner at Clarkefield and including Clarkefield in the Urban Growth Boundary are deleted, as are inappropriate recommendations for changes to Rural Living zones in advance of undertaking a Rural Living Strategy.  Good.


Not good is maintaining the monumental mess created by the Strategy illogically saying Rural Living zones (especially those with 40ha and 8ha minimum lot sizes) are 'residential' zones, and including them in "township" Study Areas and in 2006 and 2036 population figures. Calling these Rural Living zones 'residential' laughably sees the "town" of Lancefield stretching from the Cobaws out to the Mitchell Shire boundary, and Gisborne from somewhere south of Macedon to the Shire's southern boundary with metropolitan Melbourne.  Cr. Manning's move to strip the lingering flaw of 'rural living' numbers out of population figures for the towns sounded refreshingly common sense, but five Councillors didn't buy it. 


The muddle remains. Loopy stuff that skews the Settlement Strategy and its supporting documents, leaving Macedon Ranges Shire with perhaps one of the most convoluted and obscure growth "strategies" ever devised.  If people don't understand the population figures now, unless some light can be shed on what the Strategy means for the towns themselves, how on earth will anyone understand them in 10 or 20 years time?


Not changed is the rampant but yet-to-be-strategically-justified doubling of population at Riddells Creek.  MRRA believes this whopping growth was such a late addition it left exhibited Strategy documents still saying Riddells Creek, Woodend and Malmsbury had limited opportunities for growth due to hazards, character, environmental constraints and infrastructure limitations.  Now Riddells Creek cops the full Victoria In Future population projections that will see the town bigger than Romsey in 2036, and still no-one can credibly answer the question: Why? 


What made the 'limited opportunities for growth' disappear?  The town's got a railway station. So?  Always did.


The only public meeting during the Strategy's exhibition was at Riddells Creek, where residents weren't asked what they wanted but told what they would have. Council's take is that residents didn't mind, don't object, so it's OK.


A planning officer's response to MRRA said "Allowing for growth in towns such as Riddells Creek better positions the Council to constrain growth in other areas.".  Thanks for confirming the Settlement Strategy is really about pushing population targets into the Shire rather than genuinely assessing growth against constraints, but none of the above is STRATEGIC justification for growth that will see Riddells Creek sprawl south of the railway line to the Shire's southern boundary with metro Melbourne.  Why...? Anybody?


Not changed is the increased growth [5,000] at Woodend, quietly slipped in post-exhibition despite overwhelming community support for lower growth [4,400].  Woodend also missed out on a statement that growth until 2036 would be confined to the 520 – 1,230 lots in existing residential zones, even though Council's Director of Planning and Environment seemed to say it would be included at the 13 July meeting in Woodend, and the officer's report to Council on 27 July said it was.  All the Strategy says is an ephemeral 'no greenfields rezoning' at Woodend, a planning principle Council immediately shattered anyway by approving a greenfields rezoning. This application of Rafferty's Rules made it pretty clear why the Strategy doesn't say keep growth in existing residential zones - Council already knew it would be making more of them!


Not acknowledged in the Strategy is the Baillieu government's intention to reinstate Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 as State policy.  The Strategy instead has is a nicely side-stepping statement that State policy is continually evolving. The SPP8 policy itself is at last in the Strategy, although its late and reluctant inclusion highlights that the Strategy and growth levels haven't been measured against SPP8's objectives, and those objectives aren't what drives the Settlement Strategy.  It was conceived and born under the Brumby government which viewed Macedon Ranges as a growth opportunity, not a natural asset.


Not changed is the towering overall level of growth. How is this much compatible with handing future generations a natural environment and a place of special significance?  A prime place to visit?  A contrast with Melbourne?  Why does Gisborne have to have thousands and thousands more?  Why so many more almost everywhere?  Who says?  Why do only a few at Council seem to understand this place has a higher value than becoming another suburb of Melbourne; that with intense infrastructure deficiencies in the Shire, this much growth isn't the rates bonanza some naively seem to think it is? 


Since amalgamation in January 1995, Macedon Ranges Shire has been dogged by poor quality and poor choices, and steered by petty agendas, personal choices and local politics.  Over the years there have been glimpses of something better, but only glimpses, quashed by what seems to be a crusade for mediocrity.  In planning, it's a Shire that rarely shines, and is more often regarded as something of a State-wide joke.  Last Wednesday's Council meeting encapsulated the highs, and the lows.


In the late 1990s, Macedon Ranges Shire attempted to produce, in-house, its new format [VPP] planning scheme.  In 1999, a Planning Panel called that planning scheme "error-ridden and cobbled together", and of such poor quality the Panel considered making Council do it again.  It instead made over 140 recommendations it thought would, if implemented, provide a suitable interim scheme pending further strategic work - such as a Settlement Strategy - being completed.


Twelve years later many of those recommendations still haven't been implemented, and the interim scheme has never been completed. Most residents have first hand experience of how damaging those gaps can be. Yet the Settlement Strategy relies on that incomplete scheme to identify constraints in the towns.  


The Strategy, rather than being a document of strategic integrity, has now been picked over, with parts that don't match and much that doesn't make sense, and over it all sits a vision of growth that is out of step with the direction the State government says it is taking us in.  Error-ridden and cobbled together, indeed.  Macedon Ranges doesn't seem to have moved any further forward than where it was over a decade ago.  History has clearly taught us nothing. 


The last round of changes to the Settlement Strategy primarily removed things that should never have been in it in the first place, but much that will damage the place remains.  While it's a better document than the May iteration - with the key exception of Woodend - it is not the ground-breaking strategic document Macedon Ranges so desperately needed. There is no excellence here, and for that there can be no excuses. 


Whether it's Councillors, staff or consultants, this place never seems to get sufficient people who love it enough to see its fragility, to want to nurture and conserve it, to draw strength and pride from protecting its uniqueness.  Macedon Ranges has instead been allowed to drift to where it is seen by too many as a helpless, tantalizing bauble, ready to be plucked for profit.


The Department of Planning and Community Development, consultants CPG, Council staff and Councillors must all take responsibility for the Settlement Strategy.  MRRA could pat all Councillors on the head for making those late changes, and does (especially those who drove those changes), but even with those changes what are we left with?  


The Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy:


A document that instead of soaring, as it needed to, will limp across the years.


A set of loose objectives that Council will implement or ignore as it chooses. 


A strategy that doesn't provide clarity but instead muddies the waters. 


An incomplete Context Report, with unforgivable omissions. 


An unusable Moving Towards Sustainable Communities document, if relevance and reliability count. 


Far from a document of excellence, the Settlement Strategy succeeds only in perpetuating the mediocrity that has so plagued - characterises -  Macedon Ranges Shire.  It could and should have been so different. 


The Settlement Strategy isn't just the work of the current Council, its flaws derive from all Councils that have gone before. They didn't get it right either. It's the legacy of years of lacklustre players, of government neglect, of development agendas, of power plays, of an abhorrent Council culture and yes, of community apathy.  All present last Wednesday night saw which Councillors wanted to make a difference (an elephant stamp and gold star for that).  But there just weren't enough of them.


Council has already shown a lack of leadership and responsibility on planning matters by closing the Planning Committee meetings and granting officers more delegated powers. As accountability and transparency wane, planning begins to retreat - again - behind closed doors.  It has been there before, and it's not healthy.


Community confidence and satisfaction with planning was already falling, even before the McDonald's decision in Gisborne that alienated thousands, and Council's debacle of a public meeting and betrayal of the Woodend community over the Settlement Strategy.


We the people still have Council's decision on Villawood's gross amendment application to look forward to. With that vulture circling, Macedon Ranges needs a Council that does know the difference between 'no greenfields' and 'greenfields can be approved'. 


A change of mindset is needed, a new way of thinking, higher standards, more consistency.  Principles do matter, and so does listening to community. Having decision-makers who 'get' all of this may just see Macedon Ranges take its first shaky step away from mediocrity towards magnificence. 


We dare Council to inspire us.


Council To Make 30 Year Decision on Settlement Strategy On Wednesday 27 July

(26/7/11 - P) Latest Settlement Strategy still favours mysterious growth agendas for Woodend, Gisborne, Clarkefield and Riddells Creek.  Is someone still doing Villawood, individual landowners and the Committee for Melbourne a favour?


Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy, a document which is supposed to set out a 30 year growth path for the Shire's towns, is up for approval at the Ordinary Council Meeting at Kyneton on Wednesday 27 July, 7.00pm.  BE THERE! 


Some changes in the latest version of the Settlement Strategy (available from Council's website improve the document, but changes not made highlight a stubborn refusal to eliminate illogical and unjustified growth for Woodend, Gisborne, Riddells Creek and Clarkefield.


 "What's going on?" doesn't stop there.

The decision Council makes on Wednesday will affect everyone in the Shire until 2036.  It's all of our futures being decided.

Be there - Kyneton Town Hall, Wednesday 27 July, 7.00pm.


Email Councillors with your views.  Here are contact details for Ward Councillors, and the main towns they represent:


West Ward:  Woodend, Kyneton, Malmsbury  5422 6754  0400 025 309  5422 3887  0400 647 445  5427 3089  0400 026 241


South Ward: Gisborne, Macedon, Mt. Macedon  5428 2916  0401 682 364  5428 8941  0418 348 497  5426 4754  0418 398 856


East Ward:  Riddells Creek, Romsey, Lancefield ** 5426 1535  0400 034 956 *  -  0400 028 507  5429 3614  0400 025 455

*  Mayor  ** Deputy Mayor


MRRA Says:


What's happening at Woodend is unfathomable, and doesn't it make Council look inept and hypocritical...  How can anybody have confidence that the Settlement Strategy delivers what the community has asked for?


The solid persistence of high growth intentions at Gisborne, Riddells Creek and Clarkefield really does smack of someone implementing the Committee for Melbourne's 2010 'put southern Macedon Ranges in the metro area' plan. See Archive  That may have been the previous State government's intention, but the State government has changed and the current government's policy is to protect Macedon Ranges, not suburbanize it.


We've said it before, and we will say it again: time to get the agendas out of the Settlement Strategy, and put the logical and strategically justified planning principles back in.  The document must be able to be held up to the light, and currently it can't be. Wednesday night is the last opportunity to do this. 


Councillors are supposed to set policy and strategy. Wednesday night will give residents a chance to see whether it's Council officers, or Councillors, driving the Settlement Strategy in its current deficient form.  Residents will see:

Who understands planning, and who doesn't.

Who supports growth compatible with protecting Macedon Ranges from urbanization, and who doesn't.

Who supports agendas, and who doesn't. 

Who supports the community, and who doesn't. 

Very useful information indeed considering the November 2012 Council election is galloping towards us.


When's A Public Meeting Not A Public Meeting?  When It's In Macedon Ranges Shire...

(15/7/11 - P)  At a public meeting last Wednesday on the Settlement Strategy, Mayor tells public 'you can't speak, can't ask questions', but an emphatic community message gets through in the end

Update (16/7/11):  

Two acknowledgements were overlooked in this article.  MRRA apologizes for this.  For completeness:

On Wednesday night in icy cold Woodend, it was standing room only as 200 - 250 people filled St. Ambrose's Hall for a public meeting organised by Macedon Ranges Shire Council.  The meeting flowed from Cr. Neil Manning's 25th May motion, that Council report back to the community at a public meeting on July 13 after its own meeting with Planning Minister Matthew Guy on June 22.


Mayor Henry McLaughlin addressed the crowd, and announced Council's format for the meeting: people were not allowed to speak or ask questions, nor would Councillors speak or take questions. This stunning announcement was met with instant protests but despite clear community expectations of a dialogue, the Mayor held firm.


Through the Mayor and the Director of Planning and Environment, Sophie Segafredo, Council voiced its views amidst various comments made in defiance of Council's 'cone of silence', then the Mayor announced the meeting was over and everyone could mingle.  A woman in the crowd said "nobody move", and they didn't. 


Local resident John Shaw then stood and put a motion from the floor, even though Council had apparently indicated it couldn't be entertained.  That motion was: 


"This meeting supports low growth, no rezoning and no expansion of the town boundary at Woodend, and expects Council to support and respect the community’s wishes by rejecting the higher growth scenario and re-instating the exhibited low growth scenario for Woodend."  


While acknowledging that responses would indicate the mood of the meeting only, Mr. Shaw's call for a show of hands saw an estimated 97% for the motion, and about 6 people against it.  People then wanted to know if Council would take notice of the 97%, and were told Council had a copy of the motion.   All nine Councillors attended. Representatives of Villawood Properties P/L were also present.


Ms. Segafredo advised that the Settlement Strategy has been revised yet again, removing the lately included recommendations that Clarkefield become a metropolitan growth centre, which she said had not been supported by the Minister for Planning. 


As for Woodend, she said the lately-included higher growth figure of 5,000 within the existing town was about right [it also corresponds with the Department of Planning and Community Development's 'suggested' growth figure].   It wasn't explained why someone thinks Woodend will grow twice as fast over the next 30 years as it has over the past 15 years.


The higher 5,000 growth figure is apparently considered appropriate because it responds to about 9 submissions Council received supporting higher growth (3) or Villawood (6). On the other hand, hundreds of submissions supporting the exhibited low growth scenario (4,400 people in 2036) were received by Council. 


You can now access the re-revised (110714) version of the Settlement Strategy by going to Council's website ( and clicking on Draft Settlement Strategy.  This is the document Council will consider for approval at its 27 July meeting.


MRRA Says:


What a public relations disaster!  Especially for a Council that has already taken a tumble on Community Engagement in the recent 2011 Community Satisfaction Survey. 


The meeting was referred to as a public meeting or worse, a community meeting (we note Council calls it a 'public' meeting on its updated draft Settlement Strategy website page). That raises expectations, as someone pointed out, that there would actually be a conversation between Council and community.  The meeting instead had the characteristics of a lecture, with Council taking no prisoners in telling people what they would have.  Arrogance came across, as if Council is interpreting the Minister's advice - that Council (and community) would make the decisions on the Settlement Strategy - as 'Council can do whatever it likes'.  It can't.  Council's attitude was offensive and disenfranchising, and many left saying Council didn't want to hear, wasn't listening.  Others asked when the next election was due.


The day before the meeting, MRRA met (at Council's invitation) with the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Planning and Environment and was advised the meeting would consist of tables with a Councillor at each where people could express their views individually to the individual councillors.  This was seen as allowing people to 'have their say'.  Eyebrows aloft, we said we didn't think people would go for it, that there was an obvious expectation of a public meeting, public questions and answers, and interaction with Council.  Although the originally-proposed tables were dispensed with on the night, Council ploughed on with a meeting format that was always doomed to fail. 


As for the latest Settlement Strategy iteration for Woodend, if democracy and hard evidence counts there is surely something wrong when Council says there are 'mixed' views in the town.  All the vast majority of residents want is for Woodend to continue to grow as it has for the past 15 years within its existing boundaries.  There are some 520 - 1,230 potential lots available in existing residential zones, and no-one except those who appear to have a vested interest wants any more created, particularly not the despised 'Villawood' proposal.  The Woodend community is not saying no growth, it's saying protect the character and community feel of the town we love and let us hand that on to future generations.  Not rocket science by any stretch.  Why does Council seem to have so much difficulty understanding that?


Villawood Properties P/L and Davies Hill P/L continued their moronic fear and awe tactics by sending a flyer around to households immediately before the meeting misleadingly depicting landmark sites in the town as victims of infill development if their 550 acres of rural land outside the town boundary isn't transformed into suburban utopia.  We hear the companies see Wednesday's meeting as Council missing the opportunity to put aside everyone's fears about 'Villawood', as if 'Villawood' is the centre of the universe.  They patently don't understand Woodend.


Two events after the motion from the floor was put and staunchly supported left an impression.

Time to get back on the same bus as the community, Council!


Some Councillors have referred to the Settlement Strategy as a document of excellence.  It should be, but isn't near that yet.  A document of excellence is owned by the broad community (has strong community support), and never responds to - or even appears to respond to - unjustified agendas and vested interests.  A Settlement Strategy is about a collective, agreed, long-term vision, and excellence is when people look back in 25 years and still applaud the objectivity, wisdom and far-sightedness of decision-makers of the day. 


If Council thinks being in step with the community it represents is as important as the community thinks it is, there is no doubt that Council now has some huge bridges to mend.


First, have the courage to eat some humble pie: acknowledge the major short-comings of Wednesday's meeting, and pledge to not go there again.  Even a large mea culpa may not be enough wash away the anger, cynicism and loss of confidence, but it would signal that Council recognizes the offence, and may recoup some respect for being big enough to admit the mistake. 


Second, take the 'unjustifieds' that are making so many people unhappy out of the Settlement Strategy - for example, the out-of-the-blue doubling of population at Riddells Creek; the surreptitious and inappropriate support for increased Rural Living zone opportunities* in advance of undertaking a Rural Living Strategy; the extra 1,300 people in Rural Living zones slid into Gisborne on top of the Gisborne Outline Development Plan's thumping population increase; higher growth in Woodend and anything that can be interpreted as doing Villawood Properties P/L a favour; and rezoning Rural Conservation to commercial at Mt. Macedon. 


And be mindful that with Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 about to become State policy again, the Settlement Strategy - and growth levels - must be compatible with that policy's objectives of protecting this place from over-development.  Click here to see MRRA's list of problems in the Settlement Strategy.


There is still an opportunity for Council to make amends and get back on track with the community and the Settlement Strategy.  Will Council take up the challenge? 


*  MRRA has been told these opportunities are justified by the Gisborne and Romsey Outline Development Plans.  All we can say is they weren't in the ODPs we read.


Community Meeting On Settlement Strategy, 7.30pm 13 July, Woodend: BE THERE

(11/7/11 - P)  Council to report back to community on its meeting with Planning Minister Matthew Guy

Macedon Ranges Council will hold a community meeting next Wednesday, 13 July at St. Ambrose Hall, Templeton Street, Woodend, from 7.30 - 9.00 pm.  Council will report back to the community, as per its 25 May resolution, on the outcomes of Council's meeting with Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, on June 22. 


A key issue is the Minister's response to substantial changes made to the draft Macedon Ranges' Settlement Strategy at the request of the Department of Planning and Community Development, subsequently supported by Council officers and included in the revised Strategy which went to Council on 25 May 2011:

Woodend residents expressed substantial support for the original Low growth/no rezoning scenario which was exhibited from November 2010 to January 2011. Woodend residents are now demanding to know why these changes were made, and see them as catering for the detested 650 - 1,000 lot Villawood subdivision proposal at Golf Course Hill. 


The Minister for Planning made it clear to Council (and MRRA at its meeting with the Minister on the same day as Council) that what was in or out of the Settlement Strategy was a matter for Council - and the community - to decide.  In other words, the Department's changes can be removed from the Strategy.


Local residents, WRAP and MRRA are urging Woodend residents to attend Wednesday's meeting and make it clear that the Woodend community supports the originally exhibited Low growth scenario. 


Residents are urged to attend the community meeting on July 13th at Woodend (St. Ambrose Hall, Templeton Street, 7.30pm).


The Settlement Strategy will come before Council for adoption on Wednesday 27 July at Kyneton Town Hall, 7.0pm. Residents are again urged to attend this meeting, and to forward emails and letters supporting a Low growth scenario to Councillors beforehand.  Click here for Councillors' contact details.


MRRA Says:


This is your chance, Woodend, to get the future you want for the town.  Not the future Villawood Properties P/L and Davies Hill P/L want, not the future the Department wants - the future YOU want.


How critical the wording is in the final Settlement Strategy is underlined by the appalling behaviour being engaged in by those with the most to lose if the town simply continues to grow as it has for the past 15 years (the Low growth scenario): Villawood Properties P/L / Davies Hill P/L


With mega-buck splashes on full page colour ads in the local press continuing - some not even identified as advertisements - the amount of money - and lies - being thrown at Woodend residents by those companies confirms the revised (May 2011) Strategy advantages them. 


How totally over-the-top is the recent claim that it's "Villawood or infill" for Woodend?  That's just another a big, fat lie that builds on others, like promising hundreds of acres of public open space when that's not even in the application to rezone the land.


The facts are that the choices for Woodend are: 

  1. infill (development in existing residential zones within the existing town boundary)  OR
  2. infill (development in existing residential zones within the existing town boundary) AND Villawood

How could anyone now believe a single word Villawood Properties P/L and Davies Hill P/L say?


Villawood's gross development proposal won't stop on-going infill development in existing residential zones in the town, but it might lead to "planning blight" where an over-supply of land crashes everyone's property values.  The Settlement Strategy itself says there is ample land available in Woodend for on-going growth. That land has been there for 30 years, so why make more? 


The meeting on Wednesday is Council reporting to and getting feedback from the community.  And although the Woodend community has said what it wants over and over, it's time to do it yet again, and in a way which can't be be missed by Councillors, or misrepresented by those whose interests lie elsewhere.  Council needs to hear what YOU want.


There's a rumour that Villawood Properties P/L / Davies Hill P/L expect "equal time", as if the meeting is a debate and they have some standing.  Makes you wonder just where Villawood and Davies Hill get off. 


VILLAWOOD PROPERTIES P/L AND DAVIES HILL P/L ARE NOT COMMUNITY, they are development companies.  These companies never were, and never will be, COMMUNITY. 


MRRA believes a Low growth scenario for Woodend within the existing town boundaries is compatible with Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 [SPP8].  As SPP8 will imminently become State policy, the Settlement Strategy needs to deliver that outcome. 


The Minister for Planning made it clear to MRRA that Clarkefield is not being considered for and will not become a part of the metropolitan area or absorb metro growth, so the new references to this happening in the Settlement Strategy have no support and in MRRA's view, must be deleted, as must the ad hoc recommendations relating to more Rural Living development and growth. 


Woodend Betrayed By Changes To Settlement Strategy

(22/5/11 - P)  Revised Settlement Strategy goes before Council on Wednesday 25 May: stamp your foot Woodend - tell councillors to reject unjustified and unjustifiable changes.   See also NoVillaWoodend Facebook Page  Please note revised Facebook address.


See MRRA Letter To The Editor 240511


Settlement Strategy Changed To Put More Growth In Woodend - More People, New Rezoning

Cr. Neil Manning's Notice of Motion

What The Department of Planning and Community Development Said

What You Can Do

Additional Community Information


MRRA Says:


The Process

The Villawood Amendment

Conflict of Interest?

Other Problems With The Settlement Strategy



Settlement Strategy Changed To Put More Growth In Woodend - More People, New Rezoning


There is something really wrong with what's going down with Woodend in the Macedon Ranges Shire's Settlement Strategy.  Under pressure from Villawood's rampant marketing campaign pushing its large Golf Course Hill development (which has been going on since January), Woodend residents rallied against the urban development company and supported a Low growth scenario in the draft Settlement Strategy exhibited over Christmas.  Some 255 submissions and a petition with hundreds of signatures supported a Low growth scenario, which put a population of 4,400 (or an additional 700 people) in Woodend in 2036, and essentially shut Villawood's speculative 650+ lot development proposal out of Woodend's future. 


In March, Villawood applied for an amendment to the Macedon Ranges planning scheme to rezone around half (Avenue of Honour side) of its 550 acres of land  to Residential 1 zone.  The application didn't seek to change the zoning of the other (Tylden Road) half, which remains Farming zone, and consequently the amendment will not deliver the vast public open space areas touted by Villawood as a key feature of the proposal.  Villawood's amendment application requested that the Settlement Strategy be changed from Low to a Moderate growth scenario to accommodate the growth represented by its development. And that's essentially what has happened.

What's not being said is that the revised Settlement Strategy now contains 'lower' and 'upper' lot availability counts in towns.

Woodend, for example, has a range between 520 - 1,230 new lots available, but only the lower 520 figure is used. 


Another critical factor not being taken into account is what's known as the 'churn' rate.  Woodend (and the Shire generally) has around a 50% 'churn' rate.  This means 50% of the population lived at a different address 5 years ago, and it indicates a high turnover of population rather than growth in terms of additional residents.  While some residents move address within a town or the Shire, the bulk of the 'churn' are new residents coming into the Shire/Town and replacing those who are moving out.  It's an important characteristic because  - contrary to developer arguments that existing residents are selfishly shutting others out by resisting wholesale subdivision - it means people do have opportunities to come here, without endlessly building new houses.


A letter recently sent to submitters by Council officers muddies the water by claiming the exhibited Strategy had a Low/Moderate growth scenario for Woodend, and that this gained strong support from residents.  This isn't correct.  Residents supported the exhibited Low growth scenario of 4,400 people in 2036.  The revised Strategy puts 5,100 people in the town in 2036, twice the growth that was exhibited.  Consequently the Council letter, which indicates Council officers support the changes, misrepresents both what was exhibited, and what the people of Woodend said. 


These substantial changes, which introduce a quite different future direction for Woodend, are occurring after exhibition of the Settlement Strategy, and there is no known proposal to take them back to the community for comment before adoption.  The same practice was applied to Amendment C62, which in 2008 saw the Department tell Council to take Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 out of the planning scheme after C62 was exhibited - that is, between exhibition and approval, side-stepping community consultation on the changes. 


West Ward Councillor, Neil Manning, has lodged a Notice Of Motion in response to the changes made to Woodend (see below).


The revised Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy will come before Council on 25th May, at Kyneton.  It can be downloaded from Council's website:



Cr. Neil Manning's Notice Of Motion


According to a Notice of Motion put forward by Councillor Neil Manning, also to be considered at Council's May 25th meeting, the changes for Woodend respond to a Department of Planning and Community Development [DPCD] requirement that more growth and 'greenfields' * rezoning be included in the Settlement Strategy for Woodend. 


Cr. Manning says the inference is that if Council doesn't make the changes the Department wants, DPCD won't allow the Settlement Strategy to move forward, a tactic also used by the Department on the Gisborne ODP, which didn't go forward until Council accepted substantially higher growth than originally recommended. 


* 'greenfields' rezoning is rezoning of rural land for residential development.


Cr. Manning's motion is that Council call a public meeting, and demand Damian Kennedy (apparently the DPCD officer who issued instructions to Council) come to Woodend and justify the changes wanted by the Department to the community. 


Cr. Manning's motion also calls on Council to organise a plebiscite of Woodend residents asking what level of growth they support for the town, and for the Minister for Planning to immediately clarify the government's and department's positions.


What The Department Of Planning and Community Development Said To Council


A copy of an email forwarded to MRRA by residents (the email is apparently circulating in Woodend) from the Department of Planning and Community Development, dated Tuesday, 19 April 2011 relates to the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy.  Click here to see the email. 


The email confirms an officer at DPCD gave directions that the Settlement Strategy be changed, months after exhibition, to increase population growth in Woodend "to reach at least 5,000 by 2036", and also include "some additional greenfield expansion and infill development to respond to a greater level of demand than currently proposed in the strategy.  Reliance on infill opportunities alone would be an unsafe and inflexible option." 


The letter from Council to submitters repeated part of the DPCD edict, but not the part where Council is also told to include 'greenfields' rezoning for Woodend.


There are also comments about services and infrastructure in the DPCD email, where it is implied that Woodend will lose access to services, facilities and infrastructure if it doesn't take the additional growth DPCD wants.  This claim isn't supported by any evidence, and sounds more like intimidation than fact.  The reality is that even though towns like Kyneton and Woodend have experienced  low growth over the last 15 years (with Kyneton experiencing an earlier population loss), neither town has lost services or infrastructure over that time.


The DPCD email also refers to an adjustment being made to the Urban Development Program, and that peri urban areas will be included within the UDP in 2011.  The Urban Development Program was the former Premier's (John Brumby) 'bible'.  It's what is used to justify pushing growth and suburbanization into outlying areas, and developers and their representatives have traditionally had a strong influence over the document (the public usually aren't consulted).  Why is the UDP relevant to Macedon Ranges?  Is the Department saying it has plans to put Macedon Ranges into the Melbourne metropolitan area?  To suburbanize Macedon Ranges?  The revised Settlement Strategy takes up the Department's advice in recommendations newly included for Clarkefield.


Council officers have accepted and already included these DPCD requirements into the revised Settlement Strategy, regardless of the 200+ submissions and petition received from Woodend residents during the recent consultation that supported the low growth, no rezoning scenario in the exhibited Strategy.  



What You Can Do:


With Council officers now backing the Department's changes, Woodend's future is in the hands of our Councillors, who will make a decision at the Council meeting on 25 May (next Wednesday). 


Residents who support a Low growth scenario are urged to:

Click here for contact details for Councillors and the Minister for Planning, Macedon MLA Joanne Duncan and Upper House member for the Northern Victoria Region, Donna Petrovich.

Major issues with the changes are that they:

There is also talk that Council has to do what the Department wants.  Most residents expect Council to do what the community wants. 


Tell Councillors you want them to:

Additional Community Information


Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy - Community & WRAP Inc initiatives - what you can do, what you should know.


How the community would like to see the revised Settlement Strategy for Woodend changed

Community Flyer

WRAP email to residents


Click here for more discussion of the changes, provided by a local Woodend resident, and click here to see how a Woodend resident so eloquently has their say.  


MRRA Says:


The Process


The Settlement Strategy itself, at page 69, says there was overwhelming support for the exhibited low growth scenario.  The letter from Council says there were few submissions wanting higher growth.  So how does the Strategy get to be changed the way it has?


Our understanding is that as the State government provided around half the funding for the Settlement Strategy, the Department has been involved in its evolution since inception.  Now, suddenly, it seems an officer of the Department, based in Melbourne, says what was exhibited for Woodend is all wrong.  Worse - this person says jump, and Council officers seem to ask 'how high'...  What Council has to resist is being brow-beaten (some might suggest something stronger) into compliance with what appears to be one person's wishes, under threat of the Department not approving any of the Settlement Strategy unless Woodend takes a fall in Villawood's direction.


This approach doesn't even come close to what the Association would consider to be 'good' process.  MRRA holds deep concerns about the standards and objectives (and objectivity) of the process used to arrive at higher growth for Woodend.  In fact, we would ask, is it a process, or a deviation of process?  We would like to see where it is written that the 'process' being engaged in is acceptable or best practice.


The Villawood Amendment


Villawood lodged an application to amend the Macedon Ranges planning scheme to enable its development to proceed in March 2011.  A copy of the amendment application and the Master Plan that underpins it are available from the NoVillaWoodend Facebook Page  Villawood's land is currently in Farming and Rural Conservation zones, which both prohibit suburban subdivision, so the amendment seeks 'greenfields' (conversion from rural to residential) rezoning. If the land isn't rezoned, the subdivision can't proceed.


The amendment doesn't deliver what Villawood has been promising the good folk of Woodend. 


It asks that half the land (the Avenue of Honour end) be rezoned to Residential 1 - the same zone that applies to Carlton or Coburg, which doesn't have a minimum lot size and allows high and medium density housing development.  No rural residential here - just stock standard metro residential zoning.  Then it asks for the Rural Conservation Zone on top of Golf Course Hill to be wound back a bit and replaced with - wait for it - Residential 1.


The amendment also wants an Urban Floodway zone over parts of Five Mile Creek to identify the floodway, but not an overlay to identify all of the floodplain. 


Next up, the amendment asks for a Development Plan overlay. We all know what that means - the developer gets to write their own ticket, while the rest of us have no rights to even know about or be party to decisions on the Development Plan.  This Development Plan Overlay is tied to a Master Plan produced by Villawood in 2010.  That date means the Master Plan doesn't include any of the things Villawood has told the community it would do because the Plan existed well before Villawood began promising.


The other thing about the Master Plan...  Remember all of those expensive, full colour, full page ads Villawood have been running in local papers?  The ones that show the Sewerage Treatment Plant as the bluest of lakes?  The ones that showed just one "Neighbourhoods" area near the Avenue of Honour?   The Master Plan shows that and several more, including one at the top of Golf Course Hill.  If the lone "Neighbourhoods" area in the ads held 650 lots, just how many lots is the Master Plan proposing?


A really big broken promise is that the amendment won't deliver all that public open space that has been marketed to residents as a huge selling point for the subdivision.  All of that land remains a Farming zone, which makes MRRA wonder if Villawood actually owns it.  Even if the amendment went through, which is unlikely, Woodend wouldn't be getting 290 acres of new open space, because it's not even being asked for.


There's another problem with the amendment.  Villawood wants Residential 1 zoning everywhere, including the Braemar sites.  At the same time, the Braemar amendment (Amendment C45) for a second school campus wants Special Use zoning for the Golf Course Hill site.  That means, if Council accepts the Villawood amendment, there will be two amendments running at the same time for the same land but wanting different outcomes.  Can that happen?


One thing is clear.  An amendment to a planning scheme has its own legislated process, quite separate to preparation of a Settlement Strategy.  Now that Villawood has taken the path of applying for an amendment, the whole situation changes.  The application cannot with propriety be regarded as a submission to the Settlement Strategy or, as there has been no consultation or process yet for the amendment, be allowed to influence it.


Conflict of Interest?


The amendment application lodged by Villawood in March 2011 referred to studies it had done in support of the amendment application to rezone its land, and the consultants who had done those studies.


It turns out that the consultants preparing the Settlement Strategy for Council, CPG, are also consultants for Villawood.  CPG has done a flora and fauna assessment for Villawood.


So if the Department of Planning and Community Development persists with changing the Settlement Strategy for Woodend in a way that is seen to advantage Villawood, wouldn't that create a conflict of interest for CPG?  Under those circumstances, could the Settlement Strategy fall over?


Other Problems With The Settlement Strategy


The Association made an 80 page submission in response to the exhibited Settlement Strategy.  The Strategy, along with its supporting documents, was found to be riddled with errors, omissions, anomalies and inconsistencies, and failed to recognize the State level significance of Macedon Ranges. 


We note that a number of improvements have been made to the revised version, not least provision of information about lot counts. 


However, there are still key anomalies, and inconsistencies between different parts of the document.  For example, the Study Areas used as 'town populations' in the Strategy are in fact the population of the towns themselves PLUS the population in Rural Living zones.  This means the town populations used aren't an accurate reflection of and over-state the starting number of people in each town, and blurs the true extent of population increases being put forward.  Another example is that the Strategy says Rural Living zones are Residential zones, when they are part of the State suite of Rural zones.  These and other issues still need to be resolved.


In addition to what is happening to Woodend, the Association is highly concerned with the outcomes in the Settlement Strategy for Gisborne, where an additional 1,300+ people are arbitrarily added to already ample 2036 Outline Development Plan population levels, because the Strategy promotes increased Rural Living Zone development.  Not only is this in conflict with State policy, giving arbitrary support to changing Rural Living zones through a Settlement Strategy (i.e. a Strategy for the towns) is not on.  It lacks rationale and justification, and severely pre-empts any form of strategic assessment and public consultation on Rural Living zones.  Romsey is also subjected to a 'rural living experience'.  


Riddells Creek is slaughtered, with the Settlement Strategy forecasting Riddell will be bigger than Romsey in 2036.  This entails not only almost doubling the population of the town, but extensive 'greenfields' rezoning to create enough lots to accommodate that growth.  At the same time, the Settlement Strategy admits Riddells Creek doesn't have the infrastructure needed to support such growth (doesn't even have enough for the existing population) - but it has a railway station.  This takes the concept of putting people near public transport to laughable limits.  Surely there's need to look at other factors...  The impression MRRA gained was that poor old Riddells Creek copped the 'leftover' population targets for the Shire. There just isn't another logical reason for doing what's being done to Riddells Creek.


Another major concern is the belated change of role for Clarkefield in the revised Settlement Strategy.  With support from the Department of Planning and Community Development (see email), Clarkefield is now included in the revised Settlement Strategy as, potentially, a place to absorb metropolitan growth ('an urban node'), with a view to including it within the metropolitan area and Melbourne's urban growth boundary in future.  What a nonsense!  The recently extended urban growth boundary is uncomfortably and unjustifiably close to Clarkefield, and with this type of premature and speculation-inducing reference in the Settlement Strategy, it seems time to insist that the new State government move the urban growth boundary away from Macedon Ranges.


PLEASE, can all of the self-serving agendas be taken out of the Settlement Strategy?  This important document should be about respecting and preserving the values we all love, not forcing rampant growth and development on us that damages those values.  Some growth perhaps but not this much, and definitely not this way.


URGENT UPDATE  Opposition Grows To Villawood's Invasion Of Woodend

(1/2/11 - P)  Residents get organised - Facebook page established


Opposition to including the Davies Hill 550 acre development proposal in the draft Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy is growing in Woodend as more and more residents and people outside the town voice their objection to the 'high growth' scenario the giant proposal represents.  There is strong support for the Strategy's current 'low growth scenario.  The developers' actions in campaigning for support in the town has alerted all residents to the proposal and the community is taking concerted action, with Facebook, letterdrops, emails and a petition. 


Keep sending those objections to the proposal / support for low growth to Council, councillors and the Minister for Planning.  Council will not be making a decision on this at this exact moment, so keep going.

NoVillaWoodend Facebook Page


A "No VillaWoodend" Facebook page has also been set up by local residents. 


For those already on Facebook, click the following link or search for No VillaWoodend. 


You can join in the Facebook discussion by sending your comments on 


If you are not yet on Facebook it is a fairly painless process to become a member, just go to Facebook and then click on Sign up for Facebook

WIN TV Coverage

There will be a story on this issue on tonight's (1/2/11) WIN TV.

Revised Flyer

MRRA has received a revised NoVillaWoodend flyer and you can access this by clicking here

Sign The Petition

The petition opposing Davies Hill being included in the Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy and supporting a low growth scenario for Woodend is available in some Woodend shops.  Sorry, but you will have to 'shop' around to find them.  You can also download a sheet from this website and collect signatures in your street.


Email Alert:  Stop Villawood At Golf Course Hill, Woodend

(29/1/11 - P)  Support a low growth scenario for Woodend


Here's an email alert MRRA has sent to its network, with a request for those people to send it on to their contacts:


As you know there is a hard sell campaign going on at the moment by the developers behind the huge Davies (Golf Course) Hill development trying to get support in the town for the 650 – 1000 lot proposal (it’s 650 at the moment but started at 1000 lots).  They are in the town centre again today.


MRRA has openly opposed the development for a number of years.


We have received a message that a group of Woodend residents have started an email petition and email campaign to get residents to tell council they oppose the Davies Hill proposal being included in the Shire’s draft Settlement Strategy.   We are forwarding this message (below) on to our email contacts, WITH A REQUEST THAT YOU FORWARD IT TO ALL OF YOUR CONTACTS.  Let’s make this email viral, it doesn’t matter how many times you receive it.   Well done to those residents, they’ve done a great job.


In addition to sending an email to Council’s Strategic Planning Department , you might also want to send your views to all of our councillors, and to the Minister for Planning.  Here are the email addresses for them:




Planning Minister:


Short letters to the editors of local papers will also help get the message across.




Thanks for everything you do.


What You Can Do About Villawood's Invasion Of Woodend And Hard Sell Of Huge Subdivision To Woodend Residents

(29/1/11 - P)  Email message received from Woodend residents


Villawood / Davies Hill developers launch massive publicity campaign trying to drum up support for 650 - 1000 lot subdivision on Golf Course Hill, Woodend, to persuade Macedon Ranges Council to include their proposal in the draft Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy. 


Here's action you can take to let Council know you oppose this over-development on farming land, and its inclusion in the draft Settlement Strategy.


Click here to see the Villawood 'hard sell' glossy brochure

Click here to see the Summary of Macedon Ranges' draft Settlement Strategy

Click here to see the revised NO VILLAWOOD flyer

Click here to see the Villawood petition (petition against Villawood)


Villawoodend (Villawood’s Davies Hill development) is a very real prospect!  A 650 home  Hoppers Crossing “community” on our doorstep!


This is linked in with the finalisation of the “Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy” which has been out in draft form for community consultation which cut’s off Monday at 5pm.


Macedon Ranges Mayor, Henry McLaughlin, yesterday said in relation to the proposed Villawood “Davies Hill” development that “if the final settlement strategy identified low growth for Woodend, then the area would be unable to accommodate the Villawood proposal. On the flip side of that is that if a low-growth proposal is contrary to the desires of the community of Woodend, then I’m sure we would hear about it in the submissions received, and that is the purpose of community consultation”.


Villawood have people all over Woodend drumming up “supportive submissions” to submit to council Monday.


Do we want a 650 home site development on the edge of our township? If you say NO then we need to counter NOW!


Attached is the Villawood brochure for the development ... looks lovely doesn’t it?


Also attached is our ‘flyer’ + some info on the draft Settlement Strategy + a petition form.


What you can do:


(1) get names on the petition and drop the petition sheets back to a council service centre or scan them and email them to by Monday night, or alternatively


(2) get whoever you can to email council by 5pm Monday clearly stating that:


“I oppose the Villawood Properties ‘Davies Hill’ development” and also if they are comfortable


“I support the recommendations of the Macedon Ranges draft Settlement Strategy for low growth for Woodend to maintain our landscape, environmental & lifestyle qualities and preserve Woodend as a tourism destination.”


Please ask husband’s / wives etc to email separately ... we need numbers.


Email the Manager Planning and Development, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, (email: )


Thanks ... fingers crossed we can make an impression & save Woodend!


Council's Settlement Strategy: Submissions Extended Until End Of January 2011

(23/12/10 - P)  There's still time to tell them to do it again...

Macedon Ranges Shire Council has extended the time to make submissions on the draft Settlement Strategy, from December 17 until t'the end of January 2011'.  No date is given.  For more information, check out Council's website


MRRA Says:

The bad feeling in our water didn't any better after reading the draft - it confirms someone doesn't know much about Macedon Ranges, and makes some fairly horrific assumptions.


Macedon Ranges' Settlement Strategy Out For Consultation Until December 17th

(14/11/10 - P)   Don't be fooled into thinking this is either about, or good for, Macedon Ranges.  And once again, all we are getting is over 477 pages of information, and crap consultation processes, just before Christmas.  Now that's usually a sign something's wrong...


The  draft Macedon Ranges' Settlement Strategy and supporting documents are on exhibition and you can comment until 5.0pm on December 17th (just before Christmas).  The supporting documents are:

Here are direct links to the relevant documents, or you can go to Council's website,  NB  These are LARGE files, over 20mb all up.


Download: MRSC_Draft_Settlement_Strategy.pdf  (6.4mb)  (104 pages)

Download: MRSCContextReport_030910Part1.pdf  (4.6mb)  (100 pages)

Download: MRSC_ContextReport_030910Part2.pdf  (3.7mb)  (133 pages)

Download: 100903_SustainableCommunitiesReport.pdf  (6.6mb)  (140 pages)


You can also view the hard copies (477 pages) at Council Services Centres (although if you want to take a copy away with you, we hear you may have to pay $30 for some of the documents).


Meagre consultation is proposed with only one public meeting, on Thursday 9 December, 7 - 9pm, at Riddells Creek Senior Citizens Centre, 74 - 76 Main Road, Riddells Creek.


‘Listening posts’ (street stalls) will also be held:



Written submissions can be sent to Manager Planning and Development, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, PO Box 151, Kyneton 3444, or emailed to


MRRA Says:


What a great way to stop people knowing what's proposed for where they live - just go and stand outside supermarkets for an hour or so, and Bob's your Uncle - consultation done. 


It is really offensive for someone to keep claiming there has been (and is) substantial consultation on the draft Settlement Strategy.  Who has been substantially consulted?  It hasn't been the community


The latest round of consultation proposed is pathetic. ONE public meeting, in Riddells Creek (i.e. none in the major towns where most of the excessive growth is being shoved in), and 'listening posts' over two days.  Yeah, right, people will be really focussed on the issues as they race about shopping with the kids.  Maybe tourists will have more time?  The time put into these dickey listening posts could as easily have been devoted to meetings.


We all need to understand that the draft Settlement Strategy is, in reality, the State government's document and is an attempt to squeeze a pre-ordained number of people into Macedon Ranges.  Us residents aren't deciding how many, that decision was made well before the Settlement Strategy came into existence.  No, the Settlement Strategy is about how those numbers are divvied up - where they go. 


It doesn't really matter if population growth will damage the fragile values of the Shire or there are constraints against growth - some of those aren't even recognized.  The mantra is, the State government's growth agenda will be implemented come hell or high water.


That means this isn't an exercise in strategic planning at all.  It's number crunching, and because the consultation is so deficient, it's number crunching someone doesn't want most of us to know about or understand.  The draft Settlement Strategy, contrary to the spin surrounding it, does not allow Council (or community for that matter) to take some control over population growth.  Nup, this is about forcing the government's Victoria In Future population growth projections into Macedon Ranges.


Those Victoria In Future projections are based on what has been happening, not what should happen.  All those units, those horrible subdivisions, that the community has been powerless to stop are the foundation for the Victoria In Future figures (i.e. you had XX then, so you will have XXX in future), and what happens in Macedon Ranges in future.


The draft Settlement Strategy comes across as if nothing much has happened here until now, as if there is no past. Maybe that's why someone doesn't seem to be aware of the importance of the Rural Living 1 zone... 


The Strategy relies to a great degree on what's in our current planning scheme as a basis for identifying constraints.  Mmm, interesting concept, considering our planning scheme is still mainly at the 'interim' stage it was back when it was approved in 2000, and there are probably more constraints missing than are in it.


You will need to start reading now if you want to get through all of the documentation, make a submission, AND have time to prepare for Christmas. 


By all means, please go to the single meeting being held at Riddells Creek, or try to remember to sidle up to the "listening posts" (you might want to take the day off work to get to the Gisborne, Kyneton and Lancefield listening posts - all are on a Friday), or put in some comments by post or email. 


Tell them this isn't acceptable.  Tell them they haven't consulted.  Tell them Macedon Ranges isn't the slop bucket for sopping up Melbourne's population overflow.  Tell them what they are doing would be a whopper of a joke except it's not funny because it's our future, our community, our environment and potentially even our lives that are being so flippantly and carelessly played with.  


Tell 'em to go back and do it again, and this time do it in a way that's realistic and right for Macedon Ranges.  Oh, and start listening to the community for a change.



State Govt's Regional Strategic Plan Puts Growth Agenda In Place For Macedon Ranges: Council Endorses Plan Without Community Consultation

(13/8/10 - P)  That puts around another 20,000 people and 7,000 houses in the Shire by 2036.  And the State government's VC66 amendment has been put in place (also sans consultation) to implement it.  Hello suburbia!  

This week's Midland Express carries a front page story where Macedon Ranges' CEO, Peter Johnston, says Council has endorsed a Regional Strategic Plan (Loddon Mallee Southern Region) that maps out growth for the next 20 years.  The Regional Strategic Plan flows from the Victorian government's new "Regional Blueprint" framework for rural and regional Victoria, and is therefore the State government's plan for this area.


The State government has already changed the Victoria Planning Provisions to make the Regional Strategic Plan the plan that applies to Macedon Ranges. 


On the 27th July, the State government approved amendment VC66, a State amendment to all planning schemes in Victoria. 


On the one hand VC66 belatedly stops the 'urban' elements of Melbourne 2030 being applied to rural and regional areas.  These 'urban' elements are the planning provisions and standards that apply to metropolitan Melbourne that have until now also been applied to places outside the metro area, like Macedon Ranges, with diabolically suburban results. 


On the other hand, VC66 (at Clause 12.03) says the future of rural and regional Victoria is what is writ in the Regional Strategic Plans for each region.  That is, our planning scheme now says that what's in the Regional Strategic Plan endorsed by council for Macedon Ranges is what has to happen. 


There's more...


The Midland Express article quotes Mr. Johnston as saying "There's been quite a bit of input (from council) on a regular basis to that document [i.e. 'our' Regional Strategic Plan]... Council is working closely with Regional Development Victoria..." 


Yet the Plan isn't even available to the public.


As with the Bendigo Corridor Plan before it, which was supposed to have been pulled up in response to Melbourne 2030 (from 2002) but was never publicly released, this new Regional Strategic Plan has never been sighted by the Macedon Ranges community.  There has never been any community consultation on the Shire's future at this Regional level.  That future has now been decided by a distant hand,  and it will see substantial growth in one of the State's most environmentally sensitive and bushfire-prone areas. 


The unbelievable part is that Macedon Ranges Council thought it could make such a momentous decision to go along with the State government's agenda without consulting its community.  Shame on you.


MRRA Says:


We all knew a plan to push Melbourne's excess population growth into Macedon Ranges was coming, and now it's here, courtesy of the Brumby government and a council that either doesn't know or doesn't care (or both). 


MRRA takes no satisfaction from having predicted this outcome.  After all, the State government's behaviour has flagged its intentions for several years.  Think about it...


First off, we had the State government's promise to protect the Macedon Ranges.  Then came the denials that there was even a problem here, and now, hey presto! as night follows day, the secretly prepared agenda for high growth and development is very quietly dropped on us.  No wonder they didn't want to tell us about it - that would have taken courage and integrity.


MRRA has heard from various sources that the Regional Strategic Plan that Council has just endorsed delivers the 2008 Victoria In Future [VIF] population projections, and that it places 'growth corridor' status on Macedon Ranges.  


Victoria In Future figures are projections or forward estimates of future population growth.  They are prepared by the Department of Planning and Community Development in what appears to be just a number-crunching exercise.  They are primarily based upon what has been happening; they are not a considered approach to should happen.  There is no policy (e.g. Statement of Planning Policy No. 8) or strategy (e.g. how many can be accommodated without damaging other values) applied to them.  They are just projections, just numbers.  They are what is predicted to happen, if nothing changes. 


We hear that the State government is insisting these days that Councils deliver these 'magic' numbers, regardless of an area's capacity to do it.


The 2008 VIF projections for Macedon Ranges put another 14,130 people in Macedon Ranges over the 20 years between 2006 and 2026. 


That means Macedon Ranges' 2006 population of 39,989 people is projected to rise to 54,119 in 2026, at 1.4% annual growth from 2006 - 2011, 1.5% from 2011 - 2016, and 1.6% from 2016 to 2026.  54,119 is a 35.3% increase over 2006 and equates to an average annual growth rate of 1.76% every year for 20 years.


The Macedon Ranges Settlement Strategy, currently under preparation (a document significantly funded by the State government), also deals with future population growth, but it has a 30 year horizon (2006 - 2036).   That means a direct comparison can't be made between the Regional Strategic Plan and the Settlement Strategy because they are using different criteria. 


We decided to see what happens if the VIF figures are extended out to 2036.  We used a 1.6% annual (compounding) growth rate (VIF 2016 - 2026 also used 1.6%) to extrapolate the projections to 2036.  On this basis the VIF projections would see a total Shire population of 63,429 in 2036, or an additional 23,000 people.


We then looked at what the Macedon Ranges' Settlement Strategy is doing in 2036.  We have already criticized the consultancy working on the Settlement Strategy for appearing to take an approach of just coming in here and rolling out the State government's growth projections and agenda. 


The Settlement Strategy will specifically define how much and where growth occurs in the Shire.  It will contain the detail in which the devil is often found.  Last seen, the Settlement Strategy seems to be upping the population and growth ante even higher than the broader-based Regional Strategic Plan. 


At meetings held in Macedon Ranges last May, population scenarios for 9 towns were put up at the meetings in a Power Point presentation.  There was a 'LOW' growth scenario, and a 'HIGH' growth scenario. 


The 'LOW' growth scenario would see population IN 9 TOWNS grow from 24,700 in 2006 to 41,500 in 2036, a rise of almost 17,000.  This would put more people in the nine towns than there were in the entire Shire in 2006.


The 'HIGH' growth scenario would see almost 23,000 additional people just in the 9 towns.  NB  The Settlement Strategy has so far not addressed population in rural areas of the Shire. 


We think these figures make our 20,000 look conservative.


Either way, or as a consequence of both, with these non-strategic and rampant growth levels that are being forced on us, the rural, beautiful Macedon Ranges that Victorians and locals love will assuredly be lost to over-population and over-development as the Ranges are transformed into just another suburb of Melbourne. 


There are a couple of other points to be made:


It seems the State government isn't satisfied that it has just taken a huge, huge chunk out of the Green Wedges through the "it-will-never-happen" expansion of Melbourne's urban growth boundary, and is attempting to turn Melbourne into high-rise Hong Kong on Port Phillip Bay, it also has to do over environmentally significant areas that have more importance to the State's future than just being concreted, industrialized and suburbanized.  That's an obsession with growth, growth, growth - at any cost.  It's a 1950's style 'vision' that doesn't extend any further than the expedient and unthinking.  


MRRA last year asked for a meeting with Victorian Planning Minister, Justin Madden, but did not receive a reply.


Who is prepared to protect this place?  At the 2006 State election, MRRA asked all candidates in the Macedon Ranges Shire their views.  We had a spectacular and spectacularly supportive response, with the knockout exception being the Victorian Labor party/government.  Click here to see those responses.


In the absence of any interest or protection from the current Victorian government, MRRA has turned to the Federal arena, asking all lower house candidates in the Bendigo and McEwen electorates what they would do, at a Federal level, to provide the protection Macedon Ranges needs.  Click here to see their answers.



MR Settlement Strategy: Is Macedon Ranges Making The Decisions, Or The State Government?

(29/6/10 - P)  Meagre consultation, shabby process, a whiff of State government agenda and heaps of population growth should be ringing LOUD alarm bells


Four workshops have been held recently in Macedon Ranges - Kyneton, Gisborne, Romsey and Woodend - in the first round of community consultation on the Shire's Settlement Strategy.  These attracted reasonable attendances by residents, with the usual array of real estate agents, developers and others with specific interests, as well as residents. 


The Gisborne and Woodend meetings made it clear growth is not welcome, particularly the type of 'accelerated' growth presented by the consultants.  The consultants, CPG, seemed unable to explain where these extravagant population numbers came from or what areas had been counted to arrive at final figures they presented.  The figures seems to move around almost at will, but the objective seems to be to almost double Macedon Ranges' population in 30 years.  In numeric terms, that's going from 39,000 in 2006 to around 55,000 to 60,000 by 2036. Unfortunately, the whole thing is still at the 'pick a number' stage, although one thing seems certain is that the consultants are on board with the State government's intention to make Macedon Ranges an outlying suburb of Melbourne.


MRRA Says:


Sounds like someone's got an agenda to (at least) double the size of our main towns.  And where are all these people going to live?  We need to keep in mind that the number of people in each household is dropping, so a higher number of houses will be needed to accommodate the same number of people it took less houses to accommodate a few years ago. Where are they to go, without destroying our small towns and communities, without reaching out into rural land, without metro-style 'units' everywhere?


Where's the water to come from?  Where do we get twice as much water to service towns twice as big?


How do we stop twice as many people being killed and properties lost in a bushfire?  HAS THE GOVERNMENT LEARNT NOTHING?


In our experience, competent and comprehensive major strategic projects don't usually start with presenting the community with soaring population growth numbers and asking which towns that growth should go in.  In fact, there was an audible gasp at the Woodend meeting when CPG informed the gathering that Macedon Ranges has the best road and rail infrastructure in the State.  Now that's starting to sound like a sell job to us.


Why do we get the feeling that the CPG consultants seem to have come in here armed with the government's 'suburbanization' population targets, and blurt about how good it is, and the only thing being asked of the community is how and where are all these people to be squeezed in?  Who are the consultants working for - the government, or us? 


Consultation to date is a teensy bit of a joke - during the consultants' presentation, up on the screen "extensive community consultation" flashed by, but hang on, up until then, there had only been some erratic appearances by the consultants outside shops and supermarkets.  That's EXTENSIVE??  Who have the consultants been talking to?


Consultation on a major strategic project doesn't usually start with rolling out numbers, either - how about some public consultation on Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats - SWOT.  About community values?  About the community experience with infrastructure?  About over-population and the damage it is already doing to the special values of Macedon Ranges?


It also seems unbelievably courageous (in a Sir Humphrey sort of way) for CPG to lob up and rely only on overlays in our current under-done planning scheme to identify environmental constraints, and then to call that strategic.  Someone tried that with the infamous Amendment C8 Residential and Industrial Review in the early 2000s, and that amendment fell over monumentally (and embarrassingly) when it was abandoned, on the advice of a Ministerial Advisory Committee, because it lacked strategic justification.  Hmm, could lightning be about to strike twice?   Or will any amendment be assisted by a Ministerial hand helping to overcome difficulties - like what most of us want - to deliver a manic growth agenda?


There's also a big, big problem with the way that whatever is being planned for the 'rural balance' of the Shire seems to be a whopping secret.  That's right, CPG said it will be done later.  Hey, guys, a Settlement Strategy is supposed to be integrated.  The fact that this one doesn't seems to suggest Plan B is for the rural areas to sop up whatever isn't squashed into the towns.  And on that note, the bush telegraph is alive with rumours of wholesale rural living development is about to roll out.  Oops, didn't Melbourne 2030 say that's NOT to happen?


What about fire?  No problem apparently, the consultants are waiting for the Royal Commission's report on Black Saturday to work out whether Macedon and Mt. Macedon are too big a fire risk for further growth.  Wonder if they've ever heard of Ash Wednesday?   Does it count that Woodend is one of the 50 worst fire risk towns in Victoria?   Not yet, it seems...


And poor Statement of Planning Policy No.8.  CPG told the Woodend meeting they had deleted it as a key policy just before that meeting because...  someone at the Gisborne meeting said it didn't count anymore. 


As for the consultants, CPG (formerly Coomes), from their website it seems they've worked on a lot of very large subdivision developments like Hillcroft Estate, South Morang; Caroline Springs Estate, Melton; Aurora Estate, Epping North; Roxburgh Park Estate; Cairnlea Estate, Deer Park, etc.


We would like to know what their experience (if any) is in Settlement Strategies for rural, environmentally-sensitive areas because in our mind, they certainly aren't off to a good start in the credibility or strategic stakes with what they've done so far.  It's so NOT impressive to look like all you've come here with is the government's growth figures! 


The word "underwhelmed" springs to mind... and if we think about it, we will probably be able to come up with some more.



Public Meetings Next Week On Macedon Ranges' 'Settlement Strategy'

(22/5/10 - P)  If you want Macedon Ranges to stay rural, there's only one meeting to go to this year, and this is it! 

Council will be holding meetings in 4 towns next week to get feedback on the Shire's Settlement Strategy, currently under preparation.  This is a critical document which will set down strategies for population growth in the next 20 - 30 years - how much, where and when.  It will underpin all planning decisions. 


Macedon Ranges' residents will need to be on guard for any attempt to hijack this process and push suburban-style growth upon us.


MRRA has issued a media release 'red alert' urging residents to attend these meetings and make sure their views are expressed and heard. 


Meetings will be held at:

Kyneton Town Hall, 129 Mollison Street, 7 – 9 pm, Wednesday 26 May

Gisborne Shire Offices. 40 Robertson Street, 7 – 9 pm, Thursday 27 May

Romsey Community Hub, 96 – 100 Main Street, 10 am – 12 noon, Saturday, 29 May

Woodend Community Centre, cnr Forest and High streets, 1.30 – 3.30 pm, Saturday 29 May


Click here to see MRRA's media release.


MRRA Says:


So far, community 'consultation' has consisted of consultants briefly appearing outside shops and supermarkets.


We've been hearing some whispers that those preparing this document seem to have an impression that our community wants lots of growth and development.  That makes us wonder who they've been talking to... because our experience is most people in this Shire DON'T want that.


There's also something else that doesn't sit comfortably, and that is that it seems the State government is paying in part for the Settlement Strategy, and the State government, through the Department of Planning and Community Development, will expect a lot of say in OUR Settlement Strategy. 


Hmm... The same State government which promised protection, then didn't deliver, and now says it can't be done?  The same Department that said take Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 out of our planning scheme, and which has removed the reference to Macedon Ranges' State level significance from State policy in its review of the State Planning Policy Framework?  Yep.


The question is, does anybody trust them to do the right thing by Macedon Ranges?  Excuse us a moment while we just tick the NO box on that one... 


How important is the Settlement Strategy?  Very.  If we get this wrong, all is lost. That's how important this document is, and those who want a suburbanized and industrialized Macedon Ranges know it too. 


We already know that the Department (and State government) are attempting to push suburban growth into Gisborne with those bizarre and ever-increasing growth figures they keep insisting on in the Gisborne ODP - see how they run!!!


The Settlement Strategy has the ability to push it everywhere.  It's a document that needs strong community ownership, so be prepared to fight - really fight - for a rural Macedon Ranges.


MRRA Makes Submission On Braemar Amendment

(21/8/09 - P)  It's worse than we thought... 

MRRA last week made a formal submission to Macedon Ranges Council about the C45 Braemar amendment, which was recently on exhibition. 

The Association has requested that the amendment be abandoned.  Grounds for this include lack of a strategic planning justification, the amendment is poorly thought through and is not supported by State and local policy. 


Other matters uncovered included:  several trees in the Avenue of Honour will be (at a minimum) compromised by road widening works, leaving one tree stranded in a traffic island;  a tree will be removed from the Avenue by a second access point to the school site - the location is close to or may directly impact upon the only tree planted in the Avenue to honour a woman (Nurse Nellie Horan);  the "Master Plan" bears no resemblance to the plan recommended by landscape consultants;  the site straddles or affects some 8 existing lots, leaving at least one lot landlocked;  the proposal is put forward as viable on the basis of population increases in Macedon Ranges and Sunbury, when Sunbury is a designated metropolitan growth area;  the proposal is about the school, not the community.


The Association also expressed its disappointment that an amendment of poor standard had been approved for exhibition.


UPDATE:  Urgent Action Required  Tacky Braemar Rezone: 1,000 Lots On Way At Woodend As 7  5 Councillors Say Yes

(10/7/09 - P)  Most Councillors put school's interests before the town's interests - submissions in by 14 August  


At the Council meeting in Romsey on 24 June, the Braemar amendment (C45) got the nod to go forward to exhibition on a 5 to 3 vote. 


Those who supported this tacky amendment moving forward were:  Crs. Letchford, McLaughlin, Relph, Benson and Jukes. 


Those who opposed were: Crs. Manning, Guthrie and Donovan (well done).  Morabito was absent. 


An interesting feature of the vote was Cr. Roger Jukes declaring an interest because his children attend Braemar, but this is apparently seen as only giving Cr. Jukes the same interest in the matter as the rest of the community.  Cr. Jukes did not leave the room while the vote was taken. 


The amendment is now on exhibition and submissions can be made until August 14.  Go to it.  For more information on the amendment, check Council's website


MRRA Says:


Sharpen your pencils and make a submission registering an objection, not least because the amendment pre-empts the Woodend Outline Development Plan, a strategic plan for the town's future.   If this amendment gets through next up will be the 1000 lot proposal.


Keep in mind that this school proposal started life as a joint school / 1000 lot subdivision.  The land the school is proposed on still belongs to those behind the 1000 lots, we believe, and won't be purchased until or unless the development clears approval hurdles.  The school proposal straddles several existing lots which would need to be "excised" from the rest of the land before they can be purchased for the school.


Another quirk is that the amendment not only will rezone the land, but also apply a Development Plan Overlay.  That means once a development plan is approved for the site (not the same thing as the bigger Woodend ODP), you lose your rights to be notified, to object to, and to appeal against any future development or subdivision of the school site.


It's difficult to understand how Cr. Jukes could share the same interest in this matter as everyone else in the Shire - relatively speaking, very few other residents have children at Braemar (many of the college's students come from outside the Shire).  It's puzzling how his interest could be seen as the same.  A Councillor with children at the school voting on a controversial proposal that benefits the school?  Some may say it's not a good look at all.  Is it enough to render the decision void?


1,000 Lots On Way At Woodend As 7 Councillors Move Tacky Braemar Rezone Forward

(21/6/09 - P)  But there's still time to ask our Councillors to put the town's interests before the school's 

At the Planning Committee meeting in Gisborne on June 10th, Councillors voted 7 to 2 to move the Braemar amendment [C45], for a school on the slopes of iconic Golf Course Hill in Woodend, forward to exhibition.  The school proposal is linked with a larger proposal to turn what was the Davies' farm into a 1,000 lot "Braemar Estate".  The thinking is that if Braemar can convince Councillors to establish a beachhead by supporting the school, by the time the 1000 lot invasion comes along, it will be too late for anyone to stop it. 


Council has still to ratify the 7 to 2 decision to put the amendment on exhibition, and will do so at its ordinary meeting in Romsey on Wednesday 24 June. The meeting starts at 7.00pm, and will be held in the Romsey Community Hub, 96-100 Main Street, Romsey.


The vote on moving the Braemar amendment forward on June 10 was: 


For:          Crs. John Letchford, Helen Relph, Roger Jukes, Henryka Benson, Joan Donovan, Joe Morabito, Henry McLaughlin.


Against:  Crs. Rob Guthrie, and Neil Manning.


MRRA Says:


The amendment has to date always been found wanting, not only in the amount and standard of information provided but in its abject lack of a strategic basis.  Apart from zoning and environmental issues, and possible impacts on Woodend's Avenue of Honour, Woodend township's population has stayed almost static for the past 10 years, so where will all these people come from to fill these 1000 lots?  From outside, we suspect, just as so many of Braemar's students come from Sunbury and other places outside the Shire.  And as there has been no strategic studies done in Woodend since 1974, it would be logical to wait for the Woodend Outline Development Plan to at least start before doubling the town's residential area.


Disturbingly, there are plenty of reports coming in that Braemar seems supremely confident that approval at State level is in the bag.  Apparently Braemar has been lobbying hard at Spring Street, and is reportedly claiming contacts in (variously) the Minister's office, the Department of Planning and Community Development and the Major Projects office. In other words, a foregone conclusion.  If that's the case, seems Councillors aren't the only ones being suckered here. 


This threat to Woodend's integrity might not have arisen in the first place if Braemar had stayed with the high ethical, conservation and community values it used to be known for instead of appearing ready sell its soul to get cheap land.  This is the college's second distasteful attempt to get something for almost nothing - last time round it didn't baulk at being party to an illegal subdivision.  The attitude loud and clear is Woodend is to be 'done over' to suit Braemar, and be damned what damage that does to the community and town - the same community and town from which, ironically, the school asks for support. There are other, more appropriate, less damaging sites around that could accommodate the school... Ah, but then Braemar would have to pay fair market value for its land, and who would want to do that when it seems a nod's as good as a wink and turning a blind eye ruffles no ethical feathers. 


If you don't want 1000 new lots on Golf Course Hill, start calling, faxing and emailing councillors and ask those who supported Braemar and the 1000 lots on June 10 to change their mind.  Get along to the Council meeting in Romsey as well..  Click here for councillor contact details.  Click here to see the Braemar archive


Braemar - 'The Trojan Horse' Comes To Woodend

(16/7/08 - P)  Seems to be a strange confidence this proposal will get up - it's enough to make you wonder if due process is being followed


MRRA Says:


There's nothing like a small country town for hot 'goss'.   And the goss around Woodend is that supporters of the Braemar campus proposal on Golf Course Hill seem to be confident of an easy ride getting approval for an amendment to the planning scheme, needed for the proposal to go ahead.  


Tales we've heard include something about a friend of a friend in the Department of Planning and Community Development, and perhaps a Ministerial amendment, where the Minister makes a decision without normal consultation processes...


It's enough to make anyone's antenna vibrate, and ours isn't slow to move!


Surely there's a proper process going on?   Or is there?


MRRA has heard a whisper that there has already been an rather odd Departmental approval for the still half-done amendment to be exhibited.  If true, well, we've never come across that one before!


Click here to see the clever "Braemar: Trojan Horse" pencil sketch someone recently sent MRRA.  It's about right too, because there are 1,000 residential lots that come with Braemar if it's approved.  That's why we call it the "Braemar Estate".


If you have any info about this, we'd love to hear it.  Email us at


Growing Exodus From "Unhappy" Braemar As People Vote With Their Feet

(7/8/07 - P)  Reports keep coming of teachers walking out, and pupils and parents not happy with college's administration and direction

What's going on?  Not many weeks pass these days without another report of teachers resigning or of concern from pupils and parents about the way Braemar College is being run.  And if any of the reports MRRA has heard - some deeply disturbing - have any truth in them, the trickle is about to become a flood.  Braemar used to have a reputation for being a fairly happy and stable place, so we say again, what's going on?


MRRA Says:

We've also had questions about Braemar hosting seminars and functions, such as the upcoming Tourism and Small Business Seminar and Regional Dinner.  The comments made to us related to how does a school also operate as a function centre, then cry poor about space and facilities for students?  We pass it on for your information...


No Surprises - None At All - As Council Approves Braemar C45 Amendment

(12/7/07 - P)   On a wild, stormy night, our 'dummy' Council does it again as it gropes in the dark for a reason to exist.  Was the weather an omen of the tempest yet to come over this appalling planning decision?

There isn't much to report really.  At its Council meeting on 27th June, Council's Strategic Planner's recommendation was (again) Say No. Council again ignored that advice and instead went with an alternative recommendation from Ms Veronica Schilling, Director of Sustainable Development, which over-rode the Strategic Planner's recommendation and advised Council to give in-principle support to a completely under-prepared amendment.  Braemar has yet to do the work needed for the amendment to even be considered for authorization to exhibit by the Minister for Planning.  C45 has become just another example of the approve-it-now, fix-it-up later decision-making that this Council seems intent on indulging itself in, and which has seen this Council come a few 'gutzers' in the past.  Frankly, this looks like it might be the next one... 


By the way, it seems Cr. Tom Gyorffy was again the only Councillor with a conflict of interest to walk out of the room.  Crs. Henry Bleeck and John Letchford, who also have children at the school, both stayed and voted.


MRRA Says:


Ah, there's many a slip... as they say.  


Braemar told MRRA it had a new planning consultant, and we did think this would result in a new assessment and report on the proposal being delivered to Council.  Well.... it seems Braemar did claim it had a new report but if the three page "report" that came with the agenda papers is IT, we can only hope Braemar isn't paying its new consultants a lot of money just to say the previous consultant got it right!  For all that, there was some critical information on those three pages, the nature and importance of which we think we will keep to ourselves, for the time being.


We understand former Councillor Donna Petrovich was present at the Council Chamber for this decision.  Now a Liberal member of the State Parliament Upper House, Donna, when on Council, was formerly a Fellow of the school, which her children also attended.  She successfully moved motions in 2005 to have Council approve an ill-fated amendment for the school at a site on the east of the Calder Freeway at Woodend.  That amendment proposal fell over when it was realized that to achieve the rezoning for Braemar, Council would need to approve an illegal subdivision.  Given the integration of the Braemar proposal with the 1,000 lot subdivision proposal (if you get Braemar, you get 1,000 lots), it is confusing and a little disturbing to see such undisguised support from a State level representative for a proposal which will result in 1,000 new residential lots on Golf Course Hill.  After all, in the 2006 State election, MRRA had Donna down as a 'good guy', a candidate  who supported protecting Macedon Ranges.  Putting 1,000 lots on Golf Course Hill isn't "protecting" in MRRA's, or we suspect anyone's, book...


Braemar 1:  Proposal Bobs Up Again: To Council Next Week?

(21/6/07 - P)  Also: MRRA meets with Braemar, cautions that Association will oppose application on planning grounds

Residents need to be alert on this one - if reports circulating around Woodend are correct an attempt will be made to pressure Council into agreeing to rezone part of Golf Course Hill at the next ordinary Council meeting on 27 June (8.00pm Kyneton).  The amendment (which Council's Strategic Planner has recommended be refused) is needed to get around the fact that a school is prohibited in the Farming and Rural Conservation zones currently applied to the land at Golf Course Hill.


MRRA Says:


MRRA recently met with Braemar and while it was an amicable meeting, differences weren't resolved.  MRRA's view is that the proposal will not ultimately be successful.  MRRA advised Braemar it will oppose the amendment as inappropriate on planning grounds, and absolutely unacceptable in terms of the 1000 lot subdivision which approval of the Braemar proposal will spawn. 


Despite Braemar's recent Woodend Star PR 'sell' story, which seemed an attempt to lead people to look favourably on the proposal, Braemar does not yet own the land on Golf Course Hill.  And - better late than never - Braemar has now disassociated itself from Tomkinson's, the firm which prepared the rezoning application.  That relationship created perceptions of conflict of interest as Mr. Paul Tomkinson is a member of the consortium behind the 1,000 lot subdivision proposal that is also selling the land to Braemar. 


In MRRA's view, Braemar's rezoning application has leap-frogged the first steps of an amendment process, including finding strategic justification for what it wants.  Just saying it suits Braemar isn't enough.  There are major planning issues and significant disbenefits that didn't get a run in Braemar's PR blurb, and Braemar will continue to ignore them at its own peril.


From what we've heard and seen, the proposal seems focussed rather more on expanding sporting than educational facilities.  In reaching this conclusion, MRRA gave weight to the fact that the sports facilities seem to be in the first stage of the development while the school expansion will occur over time, and also to the limitations the extent of proposed sporting facilities places on finding suitable sites.


We talked of some of the dozens of sites Braemar claims to have investigated, and a sense of there having been some ill-fated decisions, and opportunities lost, in the past 5 years hung over the discussion.  MRRA did suggest a site which had not been considered and may have presented far fewer overall constraints than the current site, particularly if it had been looked at a couple of years ago.  The asking price for perhaps the most suitable site of all is apparently prohibitive, no doubt courtesy of speculators with (unrealistic) expectations of yet more rural land - additional to 1000 lots on Golf Course Hill - being rezoned in the near future for intense residential development.  Braemar said it preferred not to locate outside Woodend, one reason being the time it would take to transport students to and from its new sporting fields. 


Council has publicly stated it would be difficult to justify another primary school in Woodend (although 1000 new lots next door would certainly create demand for new school facilities!).  And with 4 - 5 busloads of kids coming from Sunbury each day, we wonder if over-crowding at the current Braemar facility might not be influenced as much by policy as lack of room.  Some local residents aren't happy at not being able to get their offspring into Braemar - couldn't places go to local children first?


Braemar strongly rejected it has any direct association with the anticipated application for 1000 lots but, as MRRA pointed out, that's not how a lot of people see it.  It's too late to say Braemar and the 1000 lots aren't intrinsically linked - the Braemar proposal is seen as the 'foot in the door' for mega-development that will almost double the size of, and ruin, Woodend.  There may be some community support for a new school, but feedback MRRA has had suggests almost 100% opposition to the 1000 lot "Braemar Estate".


Council can say 'no' to this application and stop future pain right now.  It won't be doing either Braemar or the Woodend community (or Council itself) a favour if it agrees to move this damaging, unjustifiable and threatening proposal forward.  The plans speculators have for Golf Course Hill will destroy the Woodend we all know and love.  And if successful, through association Braemar will inevitably be seen as setting that destruction in train.  There are surely better legacies Braemar can bestow on the town.


Braemar 2:  To Council Next Week?  Which "Conflicted" Councillors Will Leave The Room This Time?

(21/6/07 - P)  So far only 1 of 3 has.  Why haven't the others?

It's an odd situation.  Three Macedon Ranges' Councillors (Tom Gyorffy, Henry Bleeck and John Letchford) have all publicly declared they have children at Braemar.  Only Tom Gyorffy sees that as creating a conflict of interest and leaves the room while Braemar issues are discussed and voted on.  The others, with the same 'problem', don't. They only declare an interest, not a conflict of interest. They have in fact between them moved and voted on Braemar issues.  Henry Bleeck is perhaps worst placed of all three, because he is also Council's representative with Braemar - a Fellow - giving him multiple 'interests'.  


How is it then that only one Councillor has a conflict of interest, and the other two don't?  The test is whether it could be reasonably perceived that a 'person' with whom the Councillors is closely associated receives a direct or indirect pecuniary or non-pecuniary benefit by their not walking out of the room. 


Assuming you are a reasonable person, dear reader, would you so perceive?  Yes?  Not sure?  If you answered either of these, then Councillors Letchford and Bleeck should be joining Cr. Gyorffy outside the chamber.  Only if no-one could reasonably think these dads might be doing their child's school a favour, should they stay in the room and vote.  We aren't saying they are doing any favours, but then again it doesn't have to happen, all it takes is the possibility that someone might think it is, and those Councillors should be outta there, pronto!   To pinch and modify someone else's line:  It's all about perceptions, stupid...


Eeny, meeny, miney, mo - ah, which way will they go?


Bummer For Braemar - Instead Of Voting To Look For An Alternative Site To Golf Course Hill, Council Votes To Look For Strategic Justification

(28/4/07 - P)  Which means there isn't any.  MRRA predicts there will be "tears before bedtime" on this one...

At the Council meeting in Woodend on 18th April, a large gallery heard representatives of Braemar make a rather impassioned pitch as they tried to convince Councillors to agree to an amendment to rezone land for a new school on top of Golf Course Hill in Woodend. The reps told the meeting that a second campus was something that had been worked on for 5 years and a new school was of strategic importance to Braemar; that Braemar had looked at 43 or 46 sites around Woodend (each rep used a different figure); the Golf Course Hill site best meets Braemar's criteria and no other site will come close to it, it is ideal, it is close to the town centre; and Braemar is not a subset of any other application in the future.


Veronica Schilling, Council's Director of Sustainable Development, earlier advised that Council's Strategic Planner had raised concerns with the proposal, and there are some issues to be addressed, particularly with regard to the MSS. 


Cr. Rob Guthrie (South ward) said there was no issue about the need for a second campus, but there were conflicting statements in documentation about whether Braemar actually owned the land, and he asked if the school was in fact the owner. Braemar reps advised the school has not yet bought the land but intends to buy it.  Cr. Guthrie (South) also asked if another large property in Woodend had been considered, and was told that it had, but 'the heritage constraints imposed a lot of additional burdens'.


Part of the 'sell' put forward by Braemar were extensive sporting facilities proposed on the site.  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) asked if sports grounds were possible on other sites, and would the community be able to use them?  Braemar reps said such facilities were possible on other sites but more could be built on this site, and the school would explore the possibility of shared use of facilities.  Cr. Bleeck added, what happens if this proposal doesn't go ahead - the response was that Braemar preferred to not think about it.


In the end it was agreed to defer making a decision while, as an officer was heard to say, the search begins for some strategic justification for the proposal.  Cr. John Letchford (South) moved Part A of the officer's recommendation - to defer making a decision - but not Part B, that Council help Braemar find another site.  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) seconded, and the dissected motion was carried.


There were a couple of outstanding examples of different standards being applied at this meeting.


Braemar representatives alone were allowed to address Council.  Mayor, Helen Relph, made it crystal clear that no-one else would be allowed to do so.  This ban was also extended to a permit applicant who had attended the previous week's planning committee meeting but saw his application deferred before he had a chance to utilise the time he had been allocated to address the Planning Committee.


The second example relates to the roller-coaster ride of Councillors' declarations of interests.  Cr. John Letchford (South) declared 1 of his children attended Braemar and so he had an interest in the matter.  Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) declared that with his 3 children attending Braemar and his being a Fellow of the school, he too had an interest.  In contrast, Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) declared that 2 of his children attend the school but saw this as creating a conflict of interest.  Cr. Gyorffy alone left the room before the discussion began, and didn't return until the matter was concluded. 


There was also a good question submitted on the night - don't playing fields and sports facilities need flat ground, and what works would be involved in flattening the sloping, rolling sides of Golf Course Hill?  CE Ian Morris said he would ask for full information on that matter from Braemar.


MRRA Says:


MRRA can remember Braemar arguing in 2005 that a site it had selected east of the Calder Freeway was ideal, not least because it was in close proximity to the existing school and would enable radio contact between the two facilities. It seems those advantages aren't critical anymore...


There was a lot to be learnt from what was said at the meeting.  Recognition by even Council that the proposal doesn't have any strategic justification should start the alarm bells ringing for Braemar, because historically, Council hasn't done well in recognizing that planning proposals - particularly amendments - must have strategic justification. That's the first hurdle this proposal has to get over, and it isn't looking good.  Unfortunately, the site being of strategic importance to Braemar doesn't mean the proposal is strategically justified in terms of the bigger picture planning i.e. the whole town and the Shire.  There may well be a clear need for a school - although perhaps not the expansive vision put forward by Braemar - but that need doesn't automatically generate rights to destroy or damage things other people value and which are important in their own right.


Until someone can come up with a decent reason why a State significant geomorphological feature which is the icon of the town should be butchered and farmland sacrificed (not to mention servicing, traffic and other issues) just to accommodate a school which could go elsewhere - well, as one of our members is wont to say, 'there will be tears before bedtime' for this proposal.  We refer to other recent examples of 'tears' for proponents e.g. Macedon Lodge and panel reports for Amendments C40, C47 and C49, not to mention the infamous (and now abandoned) Amendment C8. 


We could say "it's your money Ralph", but it's not Braemar's money per se, is it?  It's parents' and students' (and possibly taxpayers') money, and it would be sad to see any more of it wasted pursuing something that should be seen as out of reach, will consume time and even bigger bucketloads of money and, for all that, may well never eventuate.


As for the mystery property whose heritage imposes "too many burdens", our guess is that it is Shirley Park, a large property on the Romsey Road east of Woodend, next to the Calder Freeway interchange.  Shirley Park was rezoned to a Rural Living zone by Amendment C48 in 2006.  A school is a use which can be applied for under that zone, without the need for a planning scheme amendment to change the zone.  We would have thought an institution like Braemar might have seen the property's heritage values as an opportunity, rather than a burden.  On the other hand, it is interesting that Braemar doesn't seem to regard the towering scientific, landscape, heritage, agricultural and cultural values of Golf Course Hill as a constraint - perhaps because it doesn't seem to be considering them at all.


MRRA is pleased so many in the gallery saw first-hand Council's version of equity and equal access.  Given that several Councillors declared that they had had contact with those involved in the Braemar proposal, the decision to exclude all others from speaking at the meeting was an insult to democracy.  It's not the first time this has happened, either.  MRRA recalls proponents of another potentially 'tears' proposal, Macedon House, being given an opportunity to speak to Council last September.  Yet when an objector demanded equal time, she was threatened with being removed from the meeting.  Allowing developers/proponents privileges but not equally extending them to the community you are supposed to represent smacks of skewed priorities, and is not a good look, Council.


As for the knotty question of interests v conflicts of interest, not only didn't Crs. Letchford and Bleeck see themselves as having a conflict of interest, they went so far as to move and second (respectively) the motion to defer.   As someone in the gallery observed, do conflicts of interest only apply to people with an even number of children attending the school?


ALERT   Who Is Behind The Massive Development Push At Woodend's Iconic Golf Course Hill?

(17/4/07 - P)  MRRA looks at who is behind Davies Hill Pty Ltd - the company selling land to Braemar and no doubt looking in future to rezone the current Farming zone clear the way for massive residential development  It turns out that Woodend local lawyer Mr. HEP (Chinka) Steel, and local development consultant Paul Tomkinson are major players...

Details of a Dunn and Bradstreet company search conducted last month shed some light on who is pushing for wholesale urban development on Woodend's Golf Course Hill.  The company that owns the Davies' farm is Davies Hill Pty. Ltd. and it has three Directors:  Rory Costelloe (Villawood), Robert Leslie Taber, and HEP (Chinka) Steel of Woodend (residents may recall Mr. Steel has been in the local news recently through his activities associated with the winding up of the Macedon Ranges Animal Aid Society).


In the Dunn & Bradstreet report MRRA received for Davies Hill Pty. Ltd., Mr. Steel is listed as currently being on two other boards, and as having previously been on another 153 boards. 


There are only two shareholders in Davies Hill Pty. Ltd.: Devlot5 Pty. Ltd., and Woodend At Heart Pty. Ltd. 


Woodend At Heart Pty. Ltd. has as its Directors HEP Steel; Paul Tomkinson of New Gisborne; Mr. Mark O'Brien of Warrandyte; and Mr. Christopher Dance of Ivanhoe (landscape consultant who has previously done work within Macedon Ranges Shire).


Mr. Paul Tomkinson has an office in Woodend, and many residents will remember the numerous planning applications put forward by Tomkinson Surveyors Pty. Ltd. in Macedon Ranges Shire in recent years.


There are 5 shares in Woodend At Heart Pty. Ltd. and the shareholders are Morris Point Pty. Ltd. (1 share); County Cavan Pty. Ltd. as trustee for County Cavan Investment Trust (1); Tomkinson Surveyors Pty. Ltd. (1); HEP & ME Steel (1); and 1 share is jointly owned by Paul Tomkinson, Christopher Dance, HEP Steel and Mark O'Brien. 


Click here to see an overview of the company searches.


MRRA Says:


If anyone can help with information about Morris Point Pty. Ltd. and County Cavan Pty. Ltd., MRRA sure would be pleased to hear from you.


It's not the first time Mr. Steel has had an involvement in companies looking for approval for major development approvals in Woodend.  One which springs to mind is Toltack Pty. Ltd., a company of which Mr. Steel was at one stage a Director, and which was associated with a retirement village that never eventuated on the north side of Mt. Macedon Road.  Mr. Steel was a Director of Toltack Pty. Ltd. at the time the company bought the land from Hilton Nicholas (former owner of Shirley Park) for $145,000 and a planning application was made for a 128 unit retirement village proposal.  Mr. Steel left Toltack Pty. Ltd. some months prior to the development application being approved by the Shire of Newham and Woodend on 4th December 1990 but from historical documentation appears to have continued to act for the company, which was deregistered on 8th December 1992. 


Shortly after the retirement village planning permit was approved, Toltack Pty. Ltd. appears to have sold the land to New Life Retirement Villages Woodend Pty. Ltd. for some $800,000.  Works started, but not long after New Life Retirement Villages Woodend Pty. Ltd. went into receivership and the proposal did not proceed.  Subsequently, Victorian and Federal police reportedly investigated a director of New Life Retirement Villages and it was also understood the same director was under investigation by a US Senate committee examining a scam involving an insurance company. 


The land was eventually sold by Woodend real estate agent John Keating for $202,000 in December 1992 after earlier being passed in at auction for $150,000.


It's Crunch Time:  Will Woodend's Iconic Golf Course Hill Survive The Development Onslaught - and Macedon Ranges Council?

(17/4/07 - P)   First step towards suburbia taken as application to rezone for Braemar School comes before Council on Wednesday 18th April. Many in the community say no, Council's officer report says no - but will our 'cowboy' Councillors listen?

A big question will be answered at Wednesday's (April 18) Council meeting in Woodend: is Macedon Ranges Council so dysfunctional when it comes to planning that it is time to call for it to be suspended and investigated?


This application, for a planning scheme amendment to rezone Farming and Rural Conservation zones to allow a school to be built on top of Golf Course Hill, was originally scheduled to come before Council on the 14th of March, but on the night Council deferred the matter.  Now it's back, and it is make or break time. 


The Braemar school proposal is the forerunner to an application to rezone the rest of Davies' farm (currently a Farming zone), outside the Woodend town boundary, to allow up to 1000 residential lots on Golf Course Hill.  While being submitted separately, the Braemar and the 1000 lot applications are intrinsically linked - if you have one, you also have the other.  Council's officer report recognises there is a connection, saying that the two proposals should be considered together. 


Crunch time will come when our pro-development Council votes.  Will Council apply the 'good idea, lovely people, nice spot' principle - again?  Will it overturn the officer's recommendation - again?  Or will it just plough on regardless because enough Councillors think it's OK to ignore policy, good planning, the planning scheme and the community? 


We'll see at Wednesday's Council meeting in Woodend...


UPDATE  Massive Residential Development  Planned For Golf Course Hill In Woodend

(14/10/06 - P)  There's movement at the station, or so the stories go

Hot rumours circulating in Woodend suggest the developers who are dreaming of turning Farming zoned land and Woodend icon Golf Course Hill into a 750 - 1000 lot housing estate - and putting a new Braemar School next to the sewerage treatment plant - have now purchased the Davies' 300-odd acre farm, and it will be vacated by early next year.


MRRA Says:

Judging by the number of calls we are getting from Woodend residents angry with and opposed to this development, there will be a monumental fight over this application when it - or the Braemar application - finally comes in.  We hear the Braemar application isn't too far away.  Is it too cynical to suggest the Braemar application is going first in an attempt to justify all of those new lots?  


There will inevitably be support for the Braemar proposal.  What supporters need to understand is that to get the school, they also have to take the houses.  By the way, 750 - 1000 new lots will almost double the number of houses inside the town today.


Massive Residential Development  Planned For Golf Course Hill In Woodend

(27/2/06 - P)  "Suburb" proposal on State significant geomorphological feature said to be linked to Braemar expansion

It seems like its about to happen again.  Braemar College is looking to expand but just can't seem to find the right spot.  After running into trouble last year with a proposal for a highly sensitive piece of land on the other side of town, this time reports are linking the school to a massive development proposal (reportedly some 750 lots) on Golf Course Hill, on the north-western edge of Woodend.  The property this development is proposed for has been owned and farmed by the Davies family since around 1850, making it one of the oldest, relatively intact operating farms in Woodend.  Golf Course Hill is of course a Woodend icon and a major landscape feature from all directions.  It will be interesting to see how this one pans out because the land would need to be 'spot' rezoned to accommodate this 'create a suburb' proposal, and of course, the Minister for Planning has just signed off on a Farming zone being the right choice for this land in Amendment C48.  Then there's the high quality agi soils, substantial drainage problems, the State significant Avenue of Honour...


6/2 Council Vote Pushes Controversial “Braemar” Amendment Forward

(31/3/05 - P) Could be ‘horse trading’, but it’s ‘good for the community’…

In what could be seen as another trip to ‘the ditch’, on March 23rd Council voted 6 to 2 to go ahead with the controversial ‘Braemar’ subdivision and rezoning amendment.  Councillors Bleeck, Connor, Evans, Gee, Petrovich, and Relph voted for the amendment, Councillors Dunn and Todd voted against (Note: Cr. Guthrie was absent).   Both Cr. Petrovich (Fellow of Braemar College Ltd and children attend Braemar) and Cr. Bleeck (children attend Braemar) declared an interest in the matter.  From our notes taken at the meeting:


Cr. Petrovich moved the motion to send the amendment to exhibition saying she’d had calls of support and it would be remiss of her not to support her constituency.  She added that with this expansion Braemar would accommodate 1000 students and that was a fair proportion of her 3,500 constituents.  Seconder Cr. Evans spoke for the amendment, commenting that while it could look as if there was a bit of horse trading going on, as the Shire grows it will face a lot more rezonings.  Zones are changing and if some areas wish to grow, we would have to change the rules; it was good for the community.


Cr. Todd spoke against the motion saying the amendment and subdivision was wrong 2 weeks ago, it was wrong today and it would still be wrong next year.   The subdivision was perhaps rather grubby looking and the amendment didn’t look right; he’d like some planning issues addressed, not just business.  Cr. Bleeck supported the expansion of Braemar but was very concerned about the subdivision creating an extra lot.  Cr. Dunn opposed saying it appeared as if a deal was being done, and would Council do this for anyone else.  She couldn’t understand why the Council report and Councillors were saying it was OK, and felt the amendment won’t get past an independent Panel.  She added that if this was the way planning would go in future, Council might as well give the planning scheme away.   Cr. Petrovich, in her closing remarks, said the amendment was not ad hoc because Braemar had looked at 42 sites and this was the most suitable one; there was nothing underhanded or wrong about looking at the amendment; and as an advocate for the community it would be remiss of her to stop it.  The planning scheme was a document Council had to adhere to but it didn’t always get it right, it wasn’t explicit to our community; her responsibility was to make a recommendation for the amendment to proceed to give the highest standards for the community.


Note: the land in question is currently an Environmental Rural Zone with a minimum lot size of  40ha. The amendment, supported by Council, rezones 20ha of the land to Special Use Zone for Braemar, and creates another 2 lots of approx 21ha and 44ha which the original owner retains as two separate lots, a total of 3 lots.  The planning scheme allows a total of only two lots to be created.


MRRA Says:


Councillors, you aren’t empowered to make planning rules on the run!  This amendment is about more than getting new school facilities.  It’s about principles, and cuts to the heart of what’s important in Macedon Ranges.  It’s about whether or not Macedon Ranges has a plan, and whether the same rules will be applied equally to everyone.  Disappointingly, some Councillors just don’t seem to be able to get their heads around the concepts of ‘broad community interest’, ’environment’, and ‘one rule for everyone’, or what ‘having a plan’ means.   MRRA’s view is that this would not be happening if the State government had protected Macedon Ranges when it promised to.  Quo vardis (whither thou goest), Macedon Ranges?