We previously reported that the C117 Planning Panel properly supported the essential purposes of the green wedge in its treatment of the threat posed by Manningham Council’s amendment. The Panel rejected the problematic part of the amendment, namely the revised MSS, clause 21.07, which aimed to increase the likely success of applications to develop so-called tourist-related uses such as a 49 room hotel in Brumbys Road, South Warrandyte – recently proposed and rejected at VCAT.

But unfortunately the saga continues. At next Tuesday’s meeting Manningham Council will consider their officers’ recommendation as to what action the Council should take in response to the Panel’s recommendation. And that recommendation is…to ask the Minister to approve their 21.07 pretty much as originally proposed.

The Officers’ ‘Consideration of Panel Report’ runs to 13 pages and is similar in quality to the proposed C117. What is quite clear here is that Manningham Council has a vision for the green wedge which is at variance with the planning scheme. In their view the green wedge is an opportunity for economic development, by which they mean that Council should be free to allow commercial developments currently not permitted by the Planning Scheme. Although C117 itself was quite opaque in its wording, necessarily since its intent was at variance with the controls on the green wedge zones, its aims are clearly expressed in a March 2017 letter to the Minister, which complained that

The existing RCZ provides limited autonomy for the operation of tourism and related uses due to the overriding restrictions contained in Clause 57.

Clause 57, now renumbered as Clause 51.02, contains the ‘in conjunction’ condition, which requires that a range of uses, including restaurants, residential hotels and function centres, 

Must be used in conjunction with Agriculture, Natural systems, Outdoor recreation facility, Rural industry or Winery

The clear intention here is that such uses must relate to the essential purposes of the green wedge. The pro-development lobby doesn’t like this condition so it’s always under pressure. For example, then Liberal Planning Minister Matthew Guy made a number of development-friendly changes to the Planning Scheme in 2013, with his amendment VC103, including the removal of the in conjunction condition from the RCZ. However, and fortunately, he overlooked the fact that the condition continued to apply to all green wedge zones, including the RCZ, because of Clause 57.

What we have here is an ideological battle. On the one hand the green wedge, legislated over forty years ago to contain the urban sprawl by creating a series of green wedges between growth corridors, to be the ‘lungs of Melbourne’, where the focus would be on conservation and agriculture. On the other, people to whom the green wedge is vacant land to exploit for financial gain.

The use of the word ‘autonomy’ in the Council’s letter to the Minister is revealing – and extraordinary. Their idea of autonomy is evidently to be free of the restrictions of the State Planning Scheme – without which Melbourne would have no green wedges.

The Council officers’ report starts by acknowledging the purpose of the proposed Clause 21.07:

Change the Municipal Strategic Statement to give greater support to tourism in the Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ)

This is significant because the Council’s original ‘Explanatory Report’ was not so clear, saying only that it proposed to

Amend the Municipal Strategic Statement at Clause 21.07 to improve guidance around what types of land use and developments are appropriate in Manningham’s rural areas

So at least the intent of the amendment is now explicitly acknowledged. However, the rest of the officer’s report amounts more to advocacy than argument. For example, the ‘Officer’s (sic) response’ at 2.19 says

Clause 21.07 provides Council and applicants with clear direction on how to assess planning applications within the context of the RCZ.

Firstly, that was not what they said C117 was aiming to do, which was to support tourism. Secondly, no-one would object to the provision of clear direction in principle, but we don’t believe that C117 did that, and neither did the Panel. For this report merely to make this as a general claim, without even an attempt at supporting argument,  is unconvincing.

The officers’ report is significantly wordy and confused. Consider this from Para 2.32:

There is often tension between policies and zoning provisions in the planning scheme. Having an overarching strategic framework to guide the interpretation of often competing policy and zone objectives is imperative if a balanced outcome is to be achieved.

If there is tension between different parts of the planning scheme then this is a shortcoming, a drafting problem. To add an ‘overarching strategic framework’ to guide ‘interpretation’ is not a good idea. But of course, since C117 wants to encourage uses that are not allowed by the RCZ controls, an increase in tension is what C117 proposed – as the Panel pointed out. But..the officers go on to say

The Panel’s argument that the proposed policy at clause 21.07 will exacerbate the tension between policy and zone controls is not supported.

They are claiming, apparently, that their amendment pressing for allowing developments not allowed by the RCZ controls won’t increase tension? And black is white?

C117 was a threat to the green wedge. The Planning Panel did a first class job of identifying its problems and flaws. The officers’ report continues to push it, in a wordy document the intent of which is clear but the arguments not. We will find out at the next Council meeting how the Councillors respond. Does the Council support the green wedge concept, or is development the key to happiness?