(Posted 15/12/05)




The ‘Keating’s Meeting’:

Woodend Public Forum About Permits For Dwellings on Rural Lots


Inaccurate information, mixed messages and misinterpretation of planning schemes is causing heaps of confusion


Around 160 – 180 people (121 were seated) attended the public forum organized by Keating’s Real Estate in Woodend on 12th December, including several Councillors, Council officers, a couple of State election candidates, lawyers, film crews and Keating staff.   The meeting was professionally organized and ran smoothly, and the precaution taken by the organizers of alerting police proved unnecessary.  Keating’s Real Estate invited MRRA to attend, the only community group acknowledged as having been so invited.


It was stated at the outset that an aim of the meeting was to give Council a shellacking for changing the ‘rules’ and not telling anyone.  A problem with that claim is that Council hasn’t actually changed the ‘rules’ – it has just finally started implementing planning policy for rural land (A understands around 8 of some 68 applications for dwellings have been refused).   As the evening progressed it was increasingly apparent that information people have who own or are looking to purchase or sell rural lots for residential use isn’t entirely correct or complete.    There also seemed to be considerable misinterpretation of new format (VPP) planning schemes, with little awareness that zones are no longer a primary (or sole) consideration in planning decisions, or that policy should also play a major role in decision-making.  Most present didn’t appear to understand what sustainability means and no-one seemed to know of the State government’s recent introduction of the rural residential development policy objective: “To control development in rural areas by…discouraging development of isolated small lots in rural zones from use for rural living or other incompatible uses.”.   Most people were confused about State rural zones and Amendment C21 (e.g. various elements of each, and what they do, were often ascribed to the others), and didn’t seem to understand that the translation of new State rural zones into planning schemes is a State government initiative, whereas the Macedon Ranges’ Rural Land Review (2002) and its associated Amendment C21 are separate Council initiatives.


An example of specific inaccuracies was provided when Mr. John Keating told MRRA Secretary Christine Pruneau her property was included in a 1975 report on ‘old and inappropriate subdivisions’, the implication being that she lived on the same type of block for which others aren’t getting permits for dwellings.   Unfortunately the report Mr Keating referred to actually addresses and is titled “Non-conforming Subdivisions and Hobby Farms” and, for example, includes land that had been subdivided in residential areas.  And even though he told the meeting he knew all parts of the Shire, Mr. Keating seemed to have forgotten (or perhaps didn’t know) the Secretary’s property is part of a residential subdivision in a residential zone, not one of the existing lots in rural zones that were the subject of the meeting.


The confused and inaccurate information base that prevails is producing deep community misunderstandings of planning requirements, and misconceptions about landholders ‘rights’.   Clause 65 of all planning schemes makes it plain that >“because a permit can be granted does not imply a permit should or will be granted”.


Mr Keating called for dwellings on rural lots to be made as-of-right (no permit required), and said that if current planning controls had been in place in previous years all that would be here is trees and hills; the gardens and houses that give Macedon Ranges character wouldn’t exist.   He also claimed there had not been an objective study in 35 years where it said houses shouldn’t go on existing lots.p>


Yet the need to limit development in Macedon Ranges and in particular in proclaimed drinking water catchments has been recognized for more than 30 years.   Macedon Ranges’ previous planning scheme, in place until 2000, had much tougher controls than those that exist today or any that are proposed (and that’s one reason why has been calling for the State government to re-instate the protections – and certainty – we had in the past).


MRRA expressed surprise at Mr. Keating’s comments because he had in 1976 participated in a process for the implementation of Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 (a then State government planning policy specific to and providing protection for Macedon Ranges).  That Statement says that having houses on all lots would have a significant detrimental effect on the area.   Mr. Keating told the meeting on Monday night that he stood by what he had said in 1976.  MRRA has the 1976 report in which Mr. Keating’s comments are recorded and is confused by the mixed messages Mr. Keating’s statements on Monday night send.  For example in 1976 Mr. Keating said:

Most of those who spoke at the meeting seemed to want to sell their land for residential purposes, or viewed the ability to put houses on rural lots as integral to keeping the farm/family going or as ‘superannuation’, or had been refused permits, or wanted to address issues outside those defined as relevant to the meeting.

It was an interesting meeting which closed without resolutions, any further action being left to those in attendance to organise.


Much of the contention seemed to arise from confusion, misinterpretation and misunderstanding – the amount of incorrect information being put forward was quite astonishing.  Some comments came across as timidatory or vaguely threatening, and pressure seemed to be being exerted on the new Macedon Ranges Council to go back to where it had been on planning decisions several years ago, or at least to uphold applications for houses on existing rural lots.  There was however one issue upon which there seemed to be consensus – there needs to be more certainty in planning.   MRRA has raised this issue with the State government several times.


MRRA calls once again on the Bracks government to improve certainty and clarity:

MRRA also again calls upon the Minister for Planning to move the new State rural zone translation and Amendment C21 forward.