AFTER more than 10 years of reports, community consultations, two independent panel hearings and intense lobbying, the shire council last week voted to send the Woodland planning amendment to Planning Minister Matthew Guy for his approval.
But it was a close-run thing – Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Lynn Bowden used her casting vote to get the amendment, known as C162, over the line after councillors were locked at 5-all.
The Woodland amendment is the shire’s attempt to create the planning muscle to restrict subdivision to protect “neighbourhood character” in the area of Mt Eliza bounded by Nepean Highway, Humphries Rd, Moorooduc Highway and Canadian Bay Rd.
The precinct consists of 1700 blocks of about 2600 square metres (two-thirds of an acre in the old measure) with some up to 5000sqm.
If approved by Mr Guy, Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme Amendment C162 will limit block sizes to 2500sqm in two parts of Woodland and 2000sqm in the two other sections.
Other rules will govern the distance new houses can be set back from fence lines and streets, the size of new houses and vegetation removal.
Woodland has created lots of heat since the shire received the first application to subdivide a property in late 2002.
Residents who cherish their big, leafy blocks were horrified to find there was no planning law restricting subdivision. Those seeking to protect the area from subdivision formed the Mt Eliza Woodland Residents Association in 2004 and have been lobbying the shire, councillors and MPs.
The “no subdivision” movement has had the public support of Mornington MP David Morris, a Mt Eliza resident.
He supported the shire’s first attempt to get subdivision controls, known as Amendment C87, when in Opposition.
In late 2009, C87 was rejected by then Labor Planning Minister Justin Madden.
It had sat on his desk for more than two years.
Mr Madden said he agreed with the shire that Woodland should be protected, but the amendment was too strict with its clause of no blocks smaller than 2500sqm.
The shire restarted the process in 2011, buoyed by the change of government in late 2010 when Labor was defeated by the Liberal-Nationals Coalition.
In 2011, Mr Morris told the Parliament that Woodland still needed protection and called on his colleague Mr Guy to “commence the process to amend the … planning scheme to protect the Mt Eliza Woodlands and to deliver on another Coalition election commitment”.
“The proposal has an incredible amount of community support. It has support right across the spectrum. It has the full support of the council, it has the support of the wider community and, most particularly, it has the very enthusiastic support of almost all the people who live in the Mt Eliza Woodland:.
“In December 2008 I presented a petition to the house, which contained 1770 signatures in support of the amendment.
“Little has changed in the intervening period. We have lost a few blocks, but it is still a salvageable position.
“When I first raised the issue in October 2007, there were some 1582 out of 1600 lots that were capable of subdivision. Quite a few of those have now been subdivided, but overall the integrity of the area is still intact, and if we take action reasonably soon there is the opportunity to resolve the problem.”
Opposed to the subdivision restrictions is a group called Growing Our Community.
At the council meeting last Tuesday, its president Per Carlsen hinted at the group’s next step when he asked shire CEO Michael Kennedy what provisions had been made in the budget “to cover the potential $720 million class action” from some Woodland residents.
Mr Carlsen’s figure was based on 1708 properties in Woodland, 95 per cent potential claims for loss of income due to C187 coming into force, and potential subdivided block values of $444,000 (1622 x $444,000).
Dr Kennedy said the shire “carried a range of insurances including public liability and professional indemnity, however advice will be sought” and a more complete answer would be posted on the shire’s website.
Growing Our Community says C162 will not protect Woodland.
It argues Woodland residents should be allowed to subdivide to ensure Mt Eliza “remains a sustainable community for future generations”.
“This can be achieved by supporting young families to have access to large, family-sized allotments.
“This will also enable families to have the benefit of accessing good schools, early childhood services, medical services, shops and beautiful natural reserves.”
Deborah Haydon of Mt Eliza Woodland Residents Association told The News she was happy C87 “was progressing to the next stage”.
The association has long argued that Woodland is not a suitable place for medium-density housing.
“Once the environment and all it makes possible for residents, flora and fauna is destroyed, it is gone forever,” the association said.
Former Mt Eliza area councillor Leigh Eustace, who was at the meeting last week, said he was “very happy the council had passed C162”.
“There has been a great deal of community consultation over many years and the shire’s planning officers have done a marvellous job.”
Councillors who voted to send the amendment to Mr Guy were Lynn Bowden, Bev Colomb, Tim Rodgers, High Fraser and Graham Pittock.
Against were Ann Shaw, Andrew Dixon, Frank Martin, Antonella Celi and David Gibb. Cr Bowden used her casting vote to support the amendment.