Questions raised over ‘strategic’ look at land use

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A PUBLIC meeting in Mornington late last month to discuss the “tightening of controls to better protect Melbourne’s green wedges against overdevelopment” may have had more sinister overtones, according to a Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor.

The meeting, held at Currawong Community Hall, Currawong Street, on 28 March, and attended by 66 people, was promoted by Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes as being part of strategic review of future land use.

Those invited to attend were residents, councillors, farmers and representatives of agricultural industries.

The context of the meeting – one of five held in regional areas around Melbourne – was to discuss “identifying and protecting vital food production and agricultural land” from inroads by developers as Melbourne grows.

The focus was on “protecting strategic agricultural land to secure Melbourne’s food production for the future and give greater certainty to agricultural businesses to support long term growth, investment and innovation”.

“We’ve seen great turn out at the sessions and want to thank everyone for getting involved,” Department of Environment Land Water and Planning spokesperson Ewan Cook said.

“The Mornington workshop went well with good attendance and participation. While there were diverse views, there was a general feeling of understanding of the need to protect and support agriculture in these areas.”  

Mr Cook said submissions can be made via Engage Victoria until Tuesday 23 April.

Cr Hugh Fraser said there might be more at play than simply protecting the peninsula’s agricultural areas. 

“The dangerous corollary of this state government defining in our planning scheme what is ‘strategic’ agricultural land is this: What is to become of the rest of the agricultural and other green wedge land which is not ‘strategic’ but [which is] rich in biodiversity, landscape and green wedge values?”

“Spring Street has been slow to act on protecting in our planning scheme the unique qualities of the peninsula – our housing and settlement strategy lies on the minister’s desk scandalously unattended and unapproved for over a year.

“By defining what land is ‘strategic’ and, by definition, what is not [strategic] in our planning scheme – creating a primary and secondary importance of our agricultural and other land – will be yet an another state government juggernaut to open up our green wedge land, which is not strategic agricultural land, to inappropriate development destructive to the green wedge values of this shire.” 

Mr Wynne said the workshops would deliver on Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. “The government has been undertaking technical work in partnership with Agriculture Victoria and Deakin University to provide an evidence base and inform criteria for identifying strategic agricultural land,” he said.

Under the plan not all agricultural land will be identified as strategic agricultural land, rather “it will depend on the nature, extent and significance of the land as assessed against a common set of criteria”.

Notes presented before the meeting acknowledged that agricultural land “may still be locally significant even if it is does not meet the criteria to be considered strategic agricultural land”. 

“These areas will not be turned over to residential development, the notes said. “Existing planning controls that apply will remain in place and not be weakened.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 16 April 2019

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