Nillumbik Council planners are recommending the approval of an application to build a restaurant   at 103 Bannons Lane, on land zoned Rural Conservation in Yarrambat.  Cr Grant Brooker has ‘called it in’, meaning Council itself will consider the application – at its ‘Future Nillumbik Committee’ meeting next Tuesday evening.

‘Restaurant’ is a prohibited land use in the green wedge, unless it is

  • used in conjunction with Agriculture, Natural systems, Outdoor recreation facility, Rural industry or Winery. (51.02)

‘in conjunction’ means that ‘there must be an essential association between the two uses’ and that the two uses must have a ‘genuine, close and continuing functional relationship’.(64.02) If the condition is satisfied, a permit will only be issued if it in other ways complies with the requirements of the zone – in this case the Rural Conservation Zone.

The land at 103 Bannons Lane is 8.7 ha. No agriculture is currently taking place there. The proposal is to plant 66 olive trees, 16 lemon trees and a few herbs on half of it. This doesn’t just fall short of satisfying the in conjunction condition, it’s almost a joke.

The Council officers’ report sternly requires that the Restaurant use may not commence until the trees are planted. There is not even any requirement for production, let alone sales. This is at best a garden setting for the restaurant, not agriculture. It’s a cardboard replica of a land use. The officers have it wrong, the in conjunction test is not satisfied.

The officer report also includes a long list of conditions, specifying for instance that signage should be floodlit, not internally lit and not flashing, and that an acoustic engineer  must investigate ‘noise emissions’, which probably just means noise. All these conditions do is highlight the inappropriate nature of the application.

In support of the application the officers’ report quotes the Shire’s draft Economic strategy – which is itself a joke. Remember it focused on a completely mythical entity called the ‘economy of Nillumbik’, which supposedly suffers when we locals eat in Carlton or shop in Greensborough – that’s ‘lost revenue’! On that thinking, the ‘economy’ of industrial areas like Brooklyn are in terrific shape, while North Balwyn and North Warrandyte are basket cases!

And speaking of economic factors, agricultural land close to Melbourne is recognized as strategically important. This proposal makes this property unavailable for actual agriculture.

The report says that ‘conservation values and environmental sensitivity ‘needs to be balanced against the strong focus of both State and local policies for economic development. In the green wedge!!!!

Anyhow, it seems that the economic benefits of this restaurant count, while somehow violating the green wedge is just business. Brings to mind a comment by a submitter to Manningham’s C117 Planning Panel. You may recall that Manningham Council wanted to do away with the ‘in conjunction’ test. She said that she was ‘not in favour of sacrificing our green wedge in the interests of a dining experience for people from Northcote’. Hear,  hear.

It’s interesting to reflect on what’s happened in the three plus years of this Council – in which it has been dominated by the group of four pro-development, anti-regulation Councillors, Cr Clarke, Mayor Egan, Cr Ranken and Cr Ashton, who on green wedge protection issues operate as a voting bloc, prevailing over Crs Brooker, Perkins and Dumaresq.

Remember the Pigeon Bank Road campaign? The current Council nailed its colours to the mast when it overrode its own officers’ decision to reject an application to cut down 746 trees and build a house on a ridge line in the Rural Conservation Zone in North Warrandyte. It was left to the community, VCAT and the Supreme Court to put things right. We hadn’t adopted the brilliant ‘WedgeTales’ moniker then, but that was the beginning of the website. Our first story was called Council Issues Planning Permit – rejects officer recommendations.

A major change wrought by this Council has been a hollowing out of the professional organization. None of the officers responsible for properly recommending against the Pigeon Bank application are still in employment at Nillumbik, which leads us to the current situation, with a new team predictably and inevitably falling into line with the dominant clique’s position  – leaving it to Cr Brooker to ‘call in’ the application for decision at next Tuesday night’s ‘Future Nillumbik Committee’ meeting of Council.

This application is so lacking in merit that if Council manages to uphold the officer’s recommendations it will almost certainly fail subsequently when it is taken to VCAT by the community.