By Tim Carroll.
A developer has promised to pay Frankston Council about $450,000 to approve an increase in housing developments alongside an environmentally sensitive area earmarked for a reserve, according to a contract released under a Freedom of Information search.
Local environmentalists said developers would help pay for development, rehabilitation and long-term maintenance of the 52-hectare site if the council agrees to recommend the project and obtains state government approval.
‘The council has a serious conflict of interest in this matter in that it involves the payment of a substantial amount of money in return for a favourable decision,’ said Barry Ross, secretary of the Defenders of the South East Green Wedge.
Individual Frankston councillors, such as Glen Aitken, said they were unaware of the development meeting prior to a meeting earlier this month that sent a request to the state government to seek public views.
The 11-page contract was drawn up by leading law firm Maddocks and includes an offer from P & A Burdett Enterprises to pay $450,000 to the council upon it agreeing to increase residential lots from 25 to 36.
Development potential of the area increased after a 2006 announcement by the Victorian state government that 50 hectares of bush at the former Burdett’s Quarry site in Langwarrin would be protected.
Under the arrangement, the land was rezoned into a rural conservation area within the South-East Green Wedge and removed planning controls that allowed extractive industries, such as quarrying.
It included a land swamp where more than eight hectares of remnant bushland now zoned residential will be included in the Green Wedge. It is currently zoned residential and at risk of being cleared for development.
In exchange, another part of the site has been rezoned residential and included in the Urban Growth Bourndary.
The changes mean about 50 hectares of the quarry site, including the remnant bush, will become part of the Green Wedge.
Under the original plans, the vegetation was to be protected and the rest of the Green Wedge used for low-density rural residential living, with no more than 25 lots.
‘Time wasted because of the developer’s bid to seek a better deal has resulted in additional degradation of the land,’ Mr Ross said.
‘The existence of this offer makes it difficult for the council to be, and be seen as, objective and impartial in its decision making and involvement in the application.’
All political parties contesting seats in south-east Melbourne at Saturday’s state election have promised to protect the Green Wedge.
But the lack of detailed planning policies has frustrated local councils attempting to implement planning rules allowing development and preserving natural heritage.
‘We need to keep that balance,’ said Labor Party candidate for Mordialloc Tim Richardson. ‘Once it is gone, it’s gone. We need to protect the green wedge.’
Tim Carroll is a Journalism student at Swinburne University