By Caitlin Caldwell, Catherine Brennan and Jared Brown.
A 43-hectare amusement park is being considered by Chinese developers on land zoned “green wedge” near Dandenong, according to the local mayor, sparking concerns about development of the environmentally sensitive land.
The $5.3 million purchase of the site in August by Meixin Australia has alarmed environmentalists, who want to turn development of Melbourne’s “green wedges” – land put aside in 1971 by premier Sir Rupert Hamer for farming and open space – into a state election issue.
Meixin Australia, registered by two Chinese-born residents in July just before the land purchase was made, could not be reached for comment.
But Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti, who was among those on a recent council trade trip to China, has indicated the company planned to turn the land into a theme park. Cr Memeti did not return calls, but was quoted last month in a local paper floating the idea. Fellow councillor Roz Blades said the council was expecting a report on the proposal soon.
But opponents of the green wedge land being used for a theme park or other uses warned it set a dangerous precedent.
“The green wedge is being sold to the development wolves,” claimed Alex Breskin, a Greens candidate for the seat of the Mordialloc, which requires a 1.5 per cent swing to Labor to unseat the Liberal Party’s Lorraine Wreford.
Local residents and campaigners have called on all parties to reinforce their commitment to protecting the south-eastern green wedge, which covers about 93 square kilometres across the four marginal electorates of Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc and Cranbourne.
Julia Hamer, daughter of Sir Rupert, described Melbourne’s green wedges as “one of my father’s greatest legacies” and warned of growing threats to their survival.
Barry Ross, the secretary of the Defenders of the South East Green Wedge, warned that “dangerous precedents” had been set by recent development approvals in the area.
Brian Tee, the opposition’s planning spokesman, said the green wedge was being “nibbled away” by rezonings and subdivision. “We have got to stop the incursions,” he said.
Mr Tee and Planning Minister Matthew Guy are competing to be seen as more pro-green wedge than each other.
Caitlin Caldwell, Catherine Brennan and Jared Brown are journalism students at Swinburne University.