Nillumbik’s first GWMP was adopted in 2010 and was intended to serve as a basis until 2025. For reasons never explained the current Nillumbik Council decided to prepare a replacement, which after a year-long project was formally adopted by Council at its November meeting, amid scenes of protest. The gallery was packed and the Council divided, but the motion to adopt the Plan was passed along the now familiar 4-3 lines. Crs Clarke, Rankine, Ashton and Mayor Egan voted in favour of adoption, and Crs Brooker, Dumaresq and Perkins voted against.

This new GWMP shifts the focus away from the natural environment and towards the expectations of some resident landowners, as expressed in the phrase ‘Living in the Landscape’, the title of the current Council Plan. It is a document of only 26 pages which is more like notes towards a plan rather than an actual plan. As a pamphlet or discussion document it is better than the published draft, but it is insubstantial.

A reference to ‘buffer zones’, a concept which featured in the draft, designed to allow more subdivision in the vicinity of the urban growth boundary, and which attracted massive community criticism, has been removed – a distinct improvement
But the idea that some areas of the Shire zoned Rural Conservation should be rezoned remains, although it truly does not look like becoming a serious proposal. The document suggests that there is ‘land dotted throughout the RCZ that is already cleared for agriculture’, and which should be rezoned Green Wedge Zone (GWZ) so that land owners can engage in agriculture without getting a permit. To create a rezoning proposal would require significant effort but there does not appear to be any intention to embark on such a project.  Furthermore, if the intention is to allow agriculture to proceed on suitable land it is entirely within the Council’s control to expedite permit assessments – so why bother with the idea of rezoning? Sustaining agriculture on agricultural land in the green wedges is a challenging issue, but this rezoning idea probably has more to do with satisfying the Council’s small  ‘less regulation’ constituency  than with promoting agriculture.

The green wedge townships are important elements in the Shire. They need to work as attractive gateways to the green wedge for visitors as well as providing amenity for residents. The Plan recognizes also that they will need to be the focus of additional ageing-in-place facilities for Shire residents, as well as for increasing population. So action A1.5 sounds relevant:

  • Create a place-making service for the townships to strengthen their identities and attractiveness as service, population, tourism, community and cultural centres

This concept was not mentioned in the draft. According to Wikipedia, ‘Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces.’ Sounds impressive, but what resources would be required, and what time frame is envisaged? And a service? To be offered to whom, the mayor of Diamond Creek? In the absence of any further reference to organization, resource requirements or timing it is no more than a thought bubble.

The State Government mandates that green wedge councils must prepare a ‘green wedge management plan’. This requirement is not legislated but has been described in Departmental documentation  as follows:

  • The development of Green Wedge Management Plans is designed to fully embrace a long-term land and resource management plan for the various areas and issues in the Green Wedges and how such plans will be implemented

The creation, protection and ongoing management of green wedges is a complex and significantly technical business, which is reflected in ‘Planning Practice Note 31: Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan’, the Department’s guide to the process of preparing one. But this ‘GWMP’ appears to have been planned as a public relations exercise. The focus of the project was a community consultation program culminating in a ‘Community Panel’, which made recommendations to Council. Then came the publication of a draft and the hearing of community submissions on the draft. The total cost of the project has not been made public, but if all internal costs as well as consultant charges are included it is probably in the vicinity of $500,000.

As was pointed out in several of the submissions on the draft, PPN31 was not followed, contrary to Cr Clarke’s claim at the Council meeting. No Steering Committee was established and no formal collaboration with relevant bodies was embraced. Management of the program appears to have been overseen by an external consultant without a planning background, and in the face of the loss of long term Council planning staff.

One clear outcome of the community consultation program was to confirm that the Shire overwhelmingly values the environment and in principle supports the planning scheme. Only a very few survey respondents complained of too much regulation. So it was surprising that the draft GWMP contained significant elements which did not respect this. The adopted GWMP is less offensive, but at the conclusion of the project what have we got for all that expense and effort?

This has been a Council is intent on change. Its cavalier treatment of two development applications in 2017 and its apparent attack on its own organization makes this plain. It is believed that Council staff turnover in 2017/18 exceeded 25%, and eventually included all senior planning staff.  To replace the substantial, previous GWMP with this brief document has the appearance of a political act.

The most positive outcome of the entire program has been community involvement. There were 688 responses to an online survey and 181 people attended community workshops. There were a total of 746 submissions in response to the draft, mostly critical. Many Shire residents have an increased understanding of how our green wedge works.

But to spend $500,000 on this project was outrageous.