Archive:  Development in Rural Zones

 Last Updated 22/12/15


See Report on Council Meeting 16 December 2015 for update




See also Amendment C21 & C48 File



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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


MRRA Says:


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


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



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

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

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


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


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


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


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


The application for 4 houses now goes back to VCAT.


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


MRRA Says:


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


But will anyone act?



Housing Approvals On Rural Land And In Water Catchments

(4/12/07 - P)  It appears Council is considered to have an exemplary record

At last month's Planning Committee meeting, a member of the house-hungry Macedon Ranges' Landholders' group is reported as having congratulated Council on its fantastic effort in approving permits for houses on rural land and in water catchments:  44 applications in the last 12 months, and according to the Landholders' group, Council approved every one of them.


MRRA Says:

Hmm.  Great example of yesterday's thinkers - with values about land use straight out of the 1950s.  Do we need any of them anymore?  Aren't they now just getting in the way of the rest of us who are demanding sustainability and ensuring a real future for the next generation?



VCAT Taken To The Supreme Court Over Approval Of 4 Houses At Ashbourne In A Drinking Water Catchment

(20/11/07 - P)  Western Water and now Macedon Ranges Council are to take VCAT on, on points of law  - with, we hear, some encouragement from Justin Madden, Minister for Planning

You may remember our earlier story on VCAT's 24 September decision to overturn a Council refusal of a 'job-lot' application for 4 houses at Ashbourne (VCAT ordered a permit to issue for 4 houses on some 70 hectares, in a Rural Conservation zone, just upstream of the Woodend reservoir).  To say a lot has happened since then is an understatement!


First, a correction.  MRRA's earlier story said that Western Water had objected to the application.  We were half right.  In something of a comedy of errors, Council referred the application to the wrong water authority: Goulburn Murray Water instead of Western (Southern) Water.  GMW did not object to the application, but requested conditions on any permit issued.  It seems it was not until the applicant had taken the matter to VCAT that Western Water - the relevant referral authority - heard about the application, and objected to the proposal.  Western Water and Council were both represented at the VCAT hearing which preceded VCAT's decision that a permit must be granted.


Western Water has now decided to challenge VCAT's decision in the Supreme Court, and asked Macedon Ranges Shire Council to come on board.  The matter came before last Wednesday night's General Purposes meeting, where Council dealt with a request by Western Water for Council’s support in the appeal (and got it - on a unanimous vote).  What’s interesting are the comments of Ms. Veronica Schilling, Council’s Director of Sustainable Development, made in response to questions from Cr. Tom Gyorffy at the meeting.  Apparently, the Minister for Planning is upset with the VCAT decision and is driving the Supreme Court appeal.  The Department of Sustainability and Environment has been pushing Council to get on board.  Another comment attributed to the Minister was that water authorities are avoiding their responsibilities, and something about, shouldn’t be approving permits with conditions, should be saying no.  


Click here to see the grounds Western Water is putting forward in support of its appeal.


MRRA Says: sweet it is.  The sound - the too rare sound - of a Minister, referral authority and Council saying drinking water catchments come first.  How long we have waited...  Well done, all round.  Can this level of concern about what's happening in water catchments become permanent?  Please?  Pretty please?



VCAT Approves "job Lot" of 4 houses in Drinking water catchment & Conservation Zone at Ashbourne

(29/10/07 - P)  Not only didn't State and Local policy stop it, VCAT 'shredded' the Minister's Guidelines for Open Water Catchments into the bargain

Where is Victoria going?  This application for 4 dwellings, in a Rural Conservation zone, in a drinking water catchment and just kilometres upstream of Woodend's Campaspe Reservoir, sets a horrid State-wide precedent.  Refused by Macedon Ranges Council, objected to by Western Water, supposedly a non-starter under State policy, and way out of step with the Minister's Interim Guidelines for Open Potable Catchments...yet VCAT approved it.  Why?


MRRA Says:


MRRA has always supported the principle of having a body to review local government planning decisions as insurance against incompetent or corrupt Council decision-making.  This decision flies so far in the face of reason, steps so far outside good practice, stretches so far to approve a job lot of 4 houses, we are left to conclude VCAT really has lost touch with the real world and no longer offers the type of insurance we seek. This is a dangerous and arrogant decision, for all Victorians. Is it time to shut Vociated buildings and works at Lot 1 TP 531404A Romsey Road, Springfield on the following grounds:

  1. The proposal does not provide enough justification for the dwelling to be ‘reasonably required for the operation of the agricultural activity conducted on the land’.
  2. The proposal will lead to a concentration of dwellings in the locale, which is contrary to the ‘orderly planning of the area’.
  3. The proposal will, if approved, create an undesirable precedent for the approval of new dwellings on small rural lots.
  4. The proposed dwelling does not provide acceptable outcomes in terms of the State and Local Planning Policy Frameworks and the purpose and decision guidelines of the Farming Zone."

It's fairly clear that - on planning grounds - the permit should not have issued, which leaves us facing the conclusion that it was approved for political reasons.  You might want to note that all three East ward Councillors went with it.


How much longer will this be allowed to continue?  Until every lot has a house on it?  Until our water catchments are so choked with houses and dams and tanks they don't produce drinking water for public supplies any more?  Until there's no land left for farming?  Until our rural landscapes look like a gaudy tart, a glittering hodge-podge of ghastly individual aspirations? 


When watching these decisions being made, a person doesn't know whether to laugh or cry as so many decision-makers fall for the sob story of 'hard-done-by' inevitably put forward by many applicants, and for the at times bizarre 'rural' enterprises and excuses many applicants come up with in an attempt to persuade decision-makers it's 'agriculture' so approve it. 


Who's going to stop it?  Any takers?


Is anyone watching how many of these applicants actually build and live in the houses that are being approved for them? 


If you think Macedon Ranges doesn't have a problem, think again.  On just one page of this week's Telegraph (p37), 7 of 16 properties advertized for sale are unoccupied rural land, totalling 10 lots, of which 6 already have permits for houses and another (advertized with two-lot subdivision potential), wouldn't need a permit for two more dwellings.  And another on another page. 


Lots Land Size
Features Permit For House? Asking Price
1 202 Can be subdivided (i.e.100 acre minimum lot size) Permit not needed for dwelling on land greater than 100 acres $6,000 per acre ($1,212,000)
1 10 Power and Phone at property Not stated $185,000
1 100   Yes $550,000
1 55 Quality soil Not stated $400,000
1 6   Yes $259,000
4 70 - 90 each   Yes, for all 4 lots $445,000 - $485,000 each
1 71   Yes, extended to 2010 Auction


What is it that one of our local real estate agents says?  A rural lot is worth ten times more with a house permit?


Profitable?  Yes. 


Sustainable?  Never.  We are giving away our children's future.


So, we say again, who's going to stop it?  Any takers?



VCAT Puts Another House On A Small Rural Zoned Lot

(22/8/07 - P)    "Not in conflict with State or local policy"

VCAT delivered another blow to Victoria's and Macedon Ranges' rural economy and rural land last week when it decided putting another house on a small lot in a Farming zone to keep horses (i.e. the house was necessary to do this) wasn't contrary to State or local policy (VCAT P1037/2007).  The property in question was in Goldie, in a high quality agricultural soil area.  It's perhaps fair to say the land could be put to a higher agricultural use than the residential one VCAT has endorsed.


MRRA Says:

Doesn't anyone care that Victoria's rural land, which could grow food, is increasingly being consumed by (and wasted on) houses and hobby farms?  This is one that Council itself approved against the planning officer's recommendation to refuse.  At the time we said "we can only wonder what drives them [councillors] to keep overturning the officers' recommendations on rural land and keep on approving house after house".  After a decision like this one, it's fairly obvious these applications keep getting approved because, clearly, policy just doesn't count - and it sure as hell doesn't work.


Confused Mayor Relph Supports Another House In A Rural Zone As Cr. Tom Gyorffy Tells Council It Is Undermining State Policy And It's Only A Matter Of Time Before The Minister Sacks Council

(17/4/07 - C/P)  Crs. McGregor, Connor, Relph and Neil think it's a good idea to use rich red dirt for residential purposes

There were some fireworks at last Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting when a previously deferred application for a 2 storey house in a Farming Zone east of Lancefield came up for decision.  It was said often during submissions and the debate that the 13 hectares of land in question had high quality agricultural soils (the type State policy says should be protected from non-farming uses).  Note:  Cr. Noel Harvey (West ward) was absent.


The objectors, while recognising that a house was against the planning scheme, offered an alternative proposal to site the house more sympathetically within the landscape.  The officer's report said 'refuse' the application. 


But Cr. Geoff Neil (East) wasn't having any of it. He came to the table armed (as he so often does) with an alternative motion to approve (moved Geoff Neil, seconded John Connor).  He said housing sits with the strategy for the area, that Council has an obligation to support agriculture in Shire but even though this is red dirt, it is only used for grazing which gives an idea of what the land really is.  He is sick of the negativity every time something like this comes before Council (a comment which seemed to be aimed at those opposing approval of more houses in rural zones). 


Cr. John Letchford (South) spoke against the motion, citing the detrimental effects of incremental change, and Farming zone purposes. 


Cr. Rob Guthrie (South) also pointed to the Farming zone purposes, which support farming not residential, and said the application was just rural living development which isn't encouraged in the Farming zone.  The proposal isn't what the zone or State policy want. 


Even Cr. Henry Bleeck wouldn't support it (in its current location).  


Cr. John Connor (West), however, said he head heard all the strange talk about zoning and told other Councillors they were forgetting something - that Council has discretion.  He was more concerned about what would happen if Council didn't approve - what about stewardship?  Council should be encouraging people to come into the Shire, and the proposal was worthwhile. 


Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) told his fellow Councillors that policy is aimed at protecting farming land, and this was one of the best pieces of farming land in the area.  He said this was the 13th decision of its type in the last 12 months, and Council had gone against the officer's recommendation (to refuse) on 11 occasions. Exasperated, he then thundered that Council was undermining State policy every time it made a decision and it was only a matter of time before the Minister comes in and kicks Council out.  Cr. Geoff Neil's response was to close the debate by saying, "While we are still here..."


The motion was put to the vote and resulted in a tie: 4 votes for (McGregor, Relph, Neil, Connor), and 4 votes against (Guthrie, Letchford, Bleeck, Gyorffy).  The Mayor, Cr. Helen Relph (South) declared the motion lost.  However, a division was called and it was then that the Mayor suddenly remembered she had a casting vote which she promptly exercised in favour of the house being approved. In the blink of an eye, 'motion lost' became 'motion carried'.  The objectors made it clear (before the decision) that they had expert advice that the house should not be approved and would contest Council's decision at VCAT.  Cr. Neil responded saying what happens after Council's decision was not his concern, if someone wants to take it to VCAT, fine, but he does not bow to 'VCAT pressure'.


MRRA Says:

It's getting worse, isn't it?  MRRA wonders what Council will do once the whole Shire is changed to rural residential...


We have often wished the Minister would kick most of these Councillors out.  The arguments from those who supported this motion were just...  unbelievably and comprehensively wrong.  We can only wonder what drives them to keep overturning the officers' recommendations on rural land and keep on approving house after house. 


MRRA has said it before, but we'll say it again.  Can someone who knows the difference please come and explain planning to this Council, using nothing bigger than 3 letter words?



Cr. Geoff Neil Says Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme Is 'A Load Of Cobblers'

(28/3/07 - P)  East Ward Councillor demands to know what it will take for some Councillors to approve houses on rural land

It's a little while ago now but at Council's 14 February Planning Committee meeting there were some noteworthy comments made by some Councillors in debates over applications for permits for yet more houses on small lots in rural zones.  There were three applications before Council (two in drinking water catchments), all with officer recommendations to refuse. 


Cr. John Connor put forward an alternative motion to approve the first application, in a Farming zone in Fagan's Lane, Goldie, but Council deferred making a decision pending negotiations between the applicant, Council and objectors (Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and Noel Harvey opposed).  Crs. Noel Harvey and John Connor put forward an alternative motion to approve the second application, in a Farming zone east of Malmsbury, which saw the application approved against the officer's recommendation (Crs. Tom Gyorffy, Rob Guthrie and John Letchford opposed).  The third, in a Rural Conservation zone at Hickey Road Woodend (next to Campaspe Reservoir) was again the subject of an alternative motion to approve put forward by Cr. John Connor.  However the application was deferred off for some further negotiation between Council and the applicant. The motion carried by Council was moved Cr. John Connor and seconded by Cr. John Letchford that "the matter be deferred to the next Ordinary Council meeting and Officers be requested to bring forward conditions to enable Council to consider approval of the permit". (Note: this third application was subsequently refused by Council at its 28th February meeting).


The noteworthy part comes from the fact that both Crs. Noel Harvey and John Connor admitted in debate that they knew approval of the applications wasn't supported by the planning scheme, with Cr. Connor adding, re the third application, that planning should be about people, especially people who have done the right thing.  Cr. Geoff Neil's frustration with planning controls was visible when he said after the first application was deferred that he had "heard all the words about how the proposal is contrary to the scheme" - he then pointed to the notice paper in front of him and said "these statements [from the scheme] are a load of cobblers".  His frustration become blatant when he stood after the second application was approved and said he would like to know what it would take for those who oppose to support houses on rural land.


MRRA Says:

It perhaps hasn't occurred to Cr. Geoff, Cr. Noel, Cr. John C. and others that there are people out there wondering what it's going to take to get some of our Councillors to start treating the planning scheme as the legally binding document it actually is.  What is it going to take for some Councillors to not approve every application for a house on a rural lot, particularly in drinking water catchments where every new house is another nail in the coffin as far as having catchments that produce lots of clean water go. 


What some Councillors don't seem to understand is that the three applications before them for refusal constituted only a small proportion of the total applications made, the rest of which were presumably approved. 


It's not unusual at planning committee meetings for at least one ('wanting to approve') Councillor to say 'we (i.e. Councillors) have discretion'.   MRRA would desperately like someone who knows the difference between discretion and open slather to explain to these people that approving everything that comes across the desk is NOT exercising discretion... to explain that just because something isn't prohibited doesn't give it an automatic right to be approved...  to explain that "the applicants are nice people" isn't a sound or acceptable basis for giving someone a planning permit.  We don't let people drive on the wrong side of the road because they are 'nice'.  Why then do some of our Councillors think they can run their own show and make their own rules - and exceptions - when it comes to planning?



Another House In Cobaw Rural Conservation Zone - "Lovely People, Nice Spot" Gets Six Votes

(19/8/06 - P)  Council applies its whacko-jacko Rural Policy to justify saying 'yes'

At Council's Planning Committee meeting on 9 August, almost everyone agreed: the applicant was keeping the weeds down and 'doing a good job' looking after the undeveloped 2.2 hectare lot in a Rural Conservation zone. But was that a good enough reason to simply ignore State policy, which says: "To control development in rural areas to protect agriculture and avoid inappropriate rural residential development by... discouraging development of isolated small lots in rural zones from use for rural living or other incompatible uses" and "encouraging consolidation of existing isolated small lots in rural zones."  


Neighbour Mr. Barry Sutton (who has been a member of Council's Audit Committee) appeared in support of the application saying the Cobaw area needed more people to help the CFA and improve the well-being of that "important little community".  He pointed out there were other houses in the area, a point taken on board by most Councillors.  Cr. John Connor (West ward) knew of the applicant's role in organising trail rides and said he could vouch for him.  Cr. John Letchford (South) asked if stables were proposed (the applicant said he had Arabian horses and they didn't need stabling). Cr. Sandra McGregor (East) said that as she was a Landcare person, there was no way she wouldn't approve the application, the Shire needed more people like the applicant. Cr. Helen Relph (South) said Landcare was the most important issue in the Shire, the applicant had done a wonderful job on the land and it would make the Shire a good place to be. 


Cr. Tom Gyorffy (West) opposed the application, saying Council had a thorough (officer's) report based on planning scheme requirements that said it was not an appropriate development; he added he believed the concept to be applied was consolidation of small lots, not approving dwellings.  Cr. Noel Harvey (West) also opposed, saying the planning scheme's Biolink policy that applied was very important, and while he would love to support the development, with conscience, he couldn't.   Cr. Henry Bleeck (East) said not approving would see Brer Rabbit, blackberries and gorse take over.  Mayor Geoff Neil (East) said the Biolink wasn't about stopping people from living there, it was there to get animals crossing to assist native vegetation and fauna to thrive.   Crs. Neil, Bleeck and McGregor (all East), Letchford and Relph (both South) and Connor (West) supported the application.  Crs. Gyorffy and Harvey (both West) opposed.  Note.  Cr. Guthrie (South) was absent.


MRRA Says:

Well done, Crs. Gyorffy and Harvey, for looking beyond personalities and personal preferences and sticking with the planning scheme. 


The dangerous (and potentially expensive) combination of operating with an incomplete planning scheme, and putting development all over the place, comes into focus with this application.  The northern part of the land seems to be within an area identified in the former Shire of Newham and Woodend's Strategy Plan as prone to severe flooding (even worse, the 'lovely little house' Mr. Sutton referred to, across the road from the subject site, seems to be entirely within the severe flooding area).   Macedon Ranges planning scheme doesn't yet have flood overlays on this and other already-identified floodprone and severely floodprone areas.  This in turn raises the question of who might be liable if development Council approves, floods.  Always a tricky thing, flooding, where there is potential for individual decision-makers to personally wear the financial ramifications of not being careful enough, and just plain old getting it wrong.



Macedon Ranges Councillors Defy Planning Scheme Again To Get House Approved In Farming Zone

(19/4/06 - P) Cr. Noel Harvey admits he knows the officer's recommendation to refuse is right, but says yes to development anyway

Macedon Ranges' planning woes continued at last Wednesday's Planning Committee meeting when most of our Councillors again went for another house in a rural zone, in a drinking water catchment.  This time the application came from a relative of a Council staffer (see earlier story).  The officer's report said 'refuse'.  But... working on the nice people, good idea, lovely spot principle - how could anyone refuse?  Cr. Noel Harvey even admitted the proposal was contrary to the Farming zoning, and the officer was quite right in saying not to approve, but that didn't stop him supporting the proposal in the proclaimed Lake Eppalock drinking water catchment, notwithstanding his membership of the North Central Catchment Management Authority and Coliban Water Boards.  The only opposition came from Councillor Tom Gyorffy who, faced with the applicants' arguments about their financial situation, said money was not a good enough reason to overturn the planning scheme.  Note:  Cr. Guthrie was absent.


Macedon Ranges Doomed?  C48 Isn't Enough - We Need State Level Protection

(10/3/06 - P)  What's the point of having Local Policy?  C48 was only 4 days old when VCAT bowled it over

Many people have probably heard by now that VCAT has overturned a decision by our previous Council to refuse a permit for a house in a rural zone near Carlsruhe.   VCAT member Laurie Hewet overturned Council's refusal just 4 days after Amendment C48 was gazetted.  In reaching his decision, Member Hewet said that the new Agricultural Landscapes Local Policy, which says "construction of a dwelling is contrary to the continued use of the land for productive, sustainable agriculture", should not be used as a de facto prohibition and in essence, it was set aside.


MRRA Says:

It would have been interesting to know what decision Member Hewet might have reached had he indicated as much note had been taken of Clause 12.03 Rural Residential (State Policy), the Minister's Guidelines for Open Potable Water Catchments (State Guidelines) and the newly introduced Clause 22.19 Northern Catchments Local Policy, and a 40ha minimum lot size (all of which also apply to this land), as was taken of Clause 22.20 Agricultural Landscapes Policy.  Yes, the land is within an open water catchment, and in the Bendigo Transport Corridor - aren't they two places where State policy says rural residential development should be controlled?


So much for Minister Hulls telling MRRA local policy is law, and anyone not implementing local policy is breaking the law.  Not working Minister - we need State level policy protection, as Yarra Ranges has.


And so much for Amendment C48 - this VCAT decision tells us our brand new local policies for rural land aren't likely to work at VCAT.  And so much for the new State rural zones, so far they're not helping us get the outcomes we need either.


Is it yet another  case of more Macedon Ranges' ratepayers money having been wasted on an incompetent or impotent amendment?  We say again, where's the Department of Sustainability and Environment's quality control?


We also note that the policy statement Member Hewet had so much difficulty accepting, "construction of a dwelling is contrary to the continued use of the land for productive, sustainable agriculture", was changed, without consultation, between exhibition of the C21 amendment and the Minister's approval of it.



Macedon Ranges' Planning Scheme Goes "Clunk" As Council Drops All The Balls On C48

(10/3/06 - P)  Applications for houses in rural conservation zone don't comply, but what the hell, give 'em a permit anyway

What a comedy of errors Wednesday night's Planning Committee meeting produced as Council considered two applications for houses on small lots in rural zones.  Both applications were on land immediately upstream of Campaspe Reservoir, which produces Woodend's drinking water. First off, neither application had been referred to Western Water, the relevant authority for the Campaspe Reservoir catchment.  Then, for one application Council wanted 4 lots consolidated into one lot of 37ha before it would approve a house, yet it didn't want the 3 lots in the other application likewise consolidated (into a 32ha lot) before approving.  Perhaps that was because this application wanted TWO houses approved (same house plan), one each on lots 1 and 3, in addition to the existing dwelling on lot 2.


Three Councillors declared an interest in the '2 house' application (Gyorffy, Guthrie and Relph) because the applicant was a Council staff member, known by all 9 Councillors - the other six Councillors (Harvey, Connor, Letchford, McGregor, Neil and Bleeck) did not declare an interest.  The assessing officer recommended refusal of the 2 house application as it did not meet planning scheme requirements introduced under Amendment C48.  But the report also included a recommendation to approve.  A planning officer present at the meeting was asked to clarify if the 2 house application did in fact meet C48 and policy requirements, and advised the Committee it did not. 


Compliance with planning scheme and policy requirements not being a noted strength of our Council, 7 Councillors then voted to have an officer approve both applications under delegation when comments are received from Western Water.  Crs. John Connor moved and Helen Relph seconded the 4 lot application.  Crs. John Letchford moved and John Connor seconded the 2 house application (Crs. Tom Gyorffy and Rob Guthrie opposed).


MRRA Says:

Could it be that Macedon Ranges has done it again by electing a majority of Councillors who neither know nor care about planning processes, or the planning scheme?


We'd be grateful if anyone can tell us the name of the process Council engaged in (i.e. approving applications before a referral authority has commented and leaving it up to a planning officer to sort it out after the fact).  Wasn't a deferral indicated until all of the pieces needed to make an informed decision were available?  What happens if Western Water vetoes the applications?  Will our poor Councillors then have to make another 'cracker-jack' decision?


We know Cr. Guthrie seems to take his planning scheme everywhere he goes, and note Cr. Gyorffy has brought his copy to a few meetings, but we wonder if any other Councillors have even opened it, or as importantly, understand what it says we want here in Macedon Ranges...  Do they understand that a planning scheme is a legally binding document?


Apparently most of our Councillors are floundering with the concept of having the same rules for everyone, of sticking to what the planning scheme requires, and of getting outcomes that are right for Macedon Ranges.  MRRA has previously noted the prevalence of 'good idea', 'lovely people' and 'nice spot' planning 'principles' in Council's decision-making.  The fact that the 2 house proposal didn't meet planning scheme requirements seemed to 'click' with only 2 Councillors - the ones who have shown an interest in our planning scheme.  Based on a local real estate agency's press releases, the granting of the permits has just increased the value of the land by some 80% - 90%.  Quite a windfall.


MRRA has complained for years of poor standards within Council's planning department.  Those standards have been raised to the point where much (but not all) of the work done by officers is of reasonably good quality, and occasionally of very good quality.  What hasn't changed is the 'political overlay' that hangs over our planning decisions. 


A 'variable' Council such as ours provides quite some justification to those promoting Centralized Planning - a system where Councils are stripped of their planning powers and all decisions are made by a regional planning authority.  This is being strongly pushed in some quarters, and we hear it may be gaining support within the State government.  Is that where our inept Council is going to take us - a regional version of VCAT?   Our reading is that most in the community would prefer decisions to made locally, if only we had Councillors who were capable of understanding planning isn't about how you feel on the day, or making decisions based on whether you know/feel sorry for/dislike applicants, or any other whim.  Planning is about delivering a plan, and that plan is in the planning scheme. 


A Council that has no vision and hasn't a clue what it is doing (but thinks it does) would be the result MRRA feared, and predicted, after the Council election last November.  Didn't these same people, as candidates, put up those (increasingly empty-sounding) promises of fresh starts, standing up for our environment, fixing planning, protecting Macedon Ranges, providing leadership and - let's not forget the most popular one - 'listening to the community'?  


MRRA's representative's opinion after this meeting was: hypocrisy was laying about a foot thick across the floor.  Maybe MRRA could give ignorance, arrogance and stupidity a run at the next meeting as well...



Council Defers Officer’s Refusal of House In Rural Zone / Water Catchment (Bowyers Road, Woodend)

(14/6/05 – P) What harm can one more do?

At Council’s June 8 Planning Committee meeting, the same familiar faces voted to defer a recommendation to refuse another house in a rural zone and water catchment area.  Oddly, only some of the Councillors seemed aware that the applicant had requested a deferral. In moving the motion to defer, Cr. Petrovich said there were issues around land use in the area, and seemed to suggest the land may not be appropriately zoned.  Cr. Evans wanted to allow further discussion between the applicant and Council officers.  Cr. Guthrie expressed surprise that Cr. Petrovich wasn’t asking for another planning scheme amendment to change the zoning of the land, and said there was only one option in planning terms: refusal.  In summing up Cr. Petrovich seemed to think the land was part of a review study. Cr. Dunn pointed out that the land has just been reviewed in Amendment C21 [which changed the land’s zoning from Rural to Environmental Rural] and wasn’t part of any further study.  In closing Cr. Petrovich said Council needed a clear view of what’s happening in that area, and should keep the big lots, not stuff that’s already messed up.


MRRA Says:

The blind again seem to be leading the blind.  One of the reasons why any rural land gets ‘messed up’ is because decisions like these are made for reasons like these by people who really don’t seem to have an understanding of planning or planning processes.  As someone said at the Committee meeting, we need to find Councillor Rafferty so he can explain his rules.