The Green Wedge is protected by a legal framework that starts with the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and includes the Victoria Planning Provisions and also local planning schemes. All development takes place within this framework. Municipal Councils must assess development applications in accordance with these rules. Disputes between applicants, Councils and the community may be resolved at VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Green Wedge Councils are required by the State Government to prepare a Green Wedge Management Plan and to review it periodically. The current Nillumbik GWMP dates from 2011. It is a substantial document in two parts. The first part contains a wealth of data about the Nillumbik Green Wedge and also strategic and descriptive statements about the Wedge. It could be described as an expanded management guideline, as well as a non-legal communication with the community. It also lists actions which the Council plans to take – 113 of them, including, for example ‘People and Communities, Action 1.1’, which was to ‘Prepare a concise paper on small lot development to recommend actions to discourage the further rural residential development of small lots in the Green Wedge’. Both parts of the current plan can be downloaded from here and here.
In 2015 the then Council commissioned Glossop Town Planners to review the GWMP, which they did with the help of Council Officers and a committee which included Councillors and community members. It reviewed the entire list of actions, acknowledging those completed, assessing some as impractical and reconfiguring others, in short bringing the GWMP up to date. No mention was made of the small lots exercise, presumably indicating it was unchanged and outstanding. This report was received by Council but never made public, and nor was the GWMP itself updated to reflect the review. If you’re interested you can read the Glossop report here.
Earlier this year the current Council launched its own GWMP review. The initial and a major component of the project is a community consultation phase, including a randomly selected community panel, meetings with ‘landowners’, a community survey and a several community group workshops. An overall description and a timeline for the project are on the Council’s website here.
The Green Wedges are always under development pressure, but there are signs that the threats are increasing, including from our own Council, as witnessed by their actions in relation to 2 Pigeon Bank Road, North Warrandyte, and their current plan, which removes the reference to their own Green Wedge as a ‘strategic focus’. The Green Wedges are protected by the planning provisions, not by the GWMPs. Nevertheless, it is possible that a GWMP review could give rise to proposed planning scheme amendments which would then be considered at State Government level.
One high profile issue may be the so-called ‘small lots’ in the Wege. The Planning Provisions specify minimum lot sizes, meaning that no subdivision will be allowed to create lots below this minimum. There may be several hundred of these small lots in Nillumbik, having been created before the current rules came into effect. These lots have been referred to as ‘stranded assets’, implying that the owners are caught with a property which they cannot enjoy. But the Green Wedge was established as a concept and in law in 1971, over 46 years ago, so if anyone is regarding these assets as ‘stranded’ then it has been self-inflicted, not imposed by regulations.
Another significant issue concerns what is sometimes referred to as the ‘economic viability’ of the Green Wedge. Manningham Council is currently proposing an amendment to their planning scheme, C117, the general thrust of which is to acknowledge a decline of agriculture in their Green Wedge and to propose in response the encouragement of a range of mainly tourism related commercial activities. Unless the developments are properly controlled they will reduce rather than increase the amenity of the Wedge. This issue is relevant to all Green Wedges, including Nillumbik.
If we want Green Wedge protections to be strengthened rather than eroded, we should make sure our thoughts and views are known by participating in the Council’s community consultation process.