Protecting our Peninsula

21 Feb 2018

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) — I rise this morning to make some comments on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Distinctive Areas and Landscapes) Bill 2017.

This is not quite the bill as described in the second-reading speech, although it does bear a passing resemblance to it. I think, though, some of the claims in the second-reading speech about the impact of the bill and the protections it will provide are putting the best-case scenario on it.

I certainly have some concerns about a number of things that are not in the bill. The provisions with regard to the urban growth boundary in the Macedon Ranges council area are fine. The proposed protection for declared areas is equally fine. As I said, superficially it is okay.

The difficulty I have with the bill is the extent of the discretion that is permitted to the Minister for Planning and the extent of the discretion that is effectively allowed to the government of the day to cherrypick the areas they choose to protect. If we are serious about protecting the peri-urban areas for future generations, if we are serious about managing the growth that is occurring in those areas and managing it in an effective way, then we need, as a Parliament, to be far more prescriptive about where those areas apply and indeed how they are applied.

Indeed there is a long history of this Parliament, over a number of decades, being involved in actively protecting those areas. I would suggest that to say that simply because the bill has been brought in it is in fact a landmark in the management of the peri-urban areas is overstating the case to a very great extent.

The second-reading speech talks about the Macedon area and it talks about protecting other areas, but it is not at all prescriptive with regard to other areas. Perhaps that is because the track record of this government in particular and successive Labor governments in general is not as good as it should be in  protecting sensitive areas.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.(Question Time)

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) — As I was saying before question time, the track record of the Labor Party and particularly the track record of this government in  protecting peri-urban areas is certainly very patchy.

I now want to turn particularly to the Mornington Peninsula, as a case study, to support that proposition. Planning, and particularly good planning, on the Mornington Peninsula has a very long history. Indeed the former Council of the Shire of Mornington, which I had the pleasure of serving on, was, back in the 1950s, the first non-urban municipality in the state to put in place a planning scheme.

Of course in the seventies we had on the peninsula Statements of Planning policy 1 and 2. Statement of Planning Policy 1 set out the development of the Port of Hastings and Statement of Planning Policy 2, which was complementary and very important, set out the conservation area and the protection of the balance of the peninsula that was not to be developed for the port.

If we look through the period of the Hamer, Thompson, Cain, Kirner and Kennett governments, they were all supportive of protecting the peninsula, and there was very much a bipartisan approach. I served for a number of years on the Western Port Regional Planning and Coordination Committee, there were a wide range of interests there and a wide range of political allegiances, but despite those differences the Committee had no difficulty pursuing policies to protect the peninsula.

That all changed of course under the Bracks government. I do not think it was intentional at first — it was more accidental — and then of course later in the Government we had planning minister Hulls, who was simply belligerent and determined to force the peninsula into the metropolitan area.

With the Bracks government, the first chink — and this is why I say it was unwitting — was to impose the green wedge zone on the peninsula. I do not argue that it was not a big improvement in many places around Melbourne , but unfortunately it weakened the existing planning controls, so the area, for example, between Mornington and Mount Eliza which was protected by the interurban landscape protection zone, specifically designed to protect the landscape. That was replaced by the green wedge zone, and unfortunately in that translation the controls were weakened. We then had a series of battles on other issues.

Prior to the 2010 election the opposition had made a commitment to develop a local planning statement for the Mornington Peninsula. When the Baillieu government took office I had the privilege of chairing that process, strongly supported by the then planning minister, now Leader of the Opposition, and strongly supported by the mayor, councillors and executive of the Mornington Peninsula shire. Together we developed what became another first for the peninsula: the Mornington Peninsula Localised Planning Statement in July 2014.

I will not quote from it extensively, but it makes the point very clearly that the peninsula is an area that is adjacent to but distinct from the metropolitan area. It is peri-urban in the purest sense, and we need to protect that. We need to provide for a clear separation of the Mornington Peninsula from the metropolitan area, and we need to have expressed different planning priorities for that area and for the metropolitan area. That distinction is played out in a number of sub-propositions, but particularly in the context of this discussion, protecting the character and the role of settlements, of towns and of villages to ensure that the development, whether residential or commercial, is of a type and of a scale that maintains the character or supports the change to a preferred future character.

The policy is not just about the residents; it is about the visitors, and of course that is a significant number of people for a place like the peninsula.

There is also a strong emphasis in the planning statement on protecting landscape and cultural values, including areas of special character, beauty and significance.

Unfortunately the current government has effectively set this document aside. They pay it virtually no attention at all. In fact the application of VC110 to the Mornington Peninsula and the incredible damage that it not only has the potential to do, but is in fact starting to do, to the character of the townships is clear testament to this government’s view that the peninsula should simply become urban from Mount Eliza to Portsea — simply an extension of the metropolitan area.

The other aspect I wanted to touch on is the impact of ignoring this statement and the risks. There is a property in Mount Eliza formerly owned by Sir Reginald Ansett that is now currently being marketed as a 'truly stunning landmark waterfront property', and it absolutely is — it is green wedge. The intention has been for decades that that landscape be protected, yet the sale material, which I have a copy of here, talks about:

Potential for redevelopment and incorporation of a range of uses, including commercial, leisure, hospitality, health care, education ….

All of these are entirely inconsistent with the intention of the green wedge zone and utterly inconsistent with the notion of protecting the landscape. Yet the current arrangements that are in place for the Mornington Peninsula permit that sort of ad to be run, and they permit that sort of use to perhaps occur despite it not conforming with the expressed policy intent.

There is a real problem with the controls that are in place and there is a real problem with the attitude of the government.

That is why the opposition has put forward the proposed amendments not just for the Mornington Peninsula but for the Bellarine Peninsula and the Yarra Ranges area — and is absolutely in support of their extension to the Macedon Ranges as well. The proposed amendments would extend the influence of localised planning statements, which, as I have indicated, for the Mornington Peninsula is a very balanced document. It picks up the development of the port, and it picks up future development.

It is not a matter of 'lock the gate and don't let anyone else in'; it is a matter of how we protect these areas while simultaneously dealing with development.

That document exists for the peninsula, and documents exist for other areas. They need to be treated with respect. They need to be identified and incorporated in planning policies and planning schemes and in legislation, recognising the value of the work that has been done in preparing them.

The opposition is proposing that localised planning statements should be incorporated into this act, as were the old statements of planning policy. They were effectively statutory documents. That is what we are seeking for the localised planning statements, and we are also seeking to respect the development of these areas and set aside the insidious and disastrous impact of VC110, which will change forever the character not just of the Mornington Peninsula but of each of the affected areas.

I support the amendments strongly.

Legislative Assembly 21 February 2018