MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council’s pending decision on the controversial RACV Cape Schanck resort expansion has been thrown into disarray over potential conflict of interest.
The shire’s governance department cancelled last Wednesday’s meeting about the resort application just hours before it was due to start.
Advice from the shire’s legal adviser had previously given councillors who are RACV members the all-clear to discuss and decide on the proposed $135 million resort but advice seen by The News disagreed. Governance took the conservative approach and stopped the meeting in Mornington.
The issue hangs on members of RACV roadside assistance being entitled to discounts of up to 25 per cent at club resorts throughout Victoria as well as discounted insurance.
The shire is remaining tight-lipped over the matter and issued a two-paragraph statement to The News: “The [development assessment committee] meeting scheduled for May 20 was postponed to enable council to seek clarification from the Minister for Local Government on the potential for a conflict of interest for councillors who are members of the RACV. The meeting will be rescheduled as soon as council receives the advice from the minister.”
Councillors and the governance department have been more aware of potential conflicts since Cr Graham Pittock was fined $4000 plus massive costs in September 2014 after the Local Government Inspectorate took legal action in 2012 over him voting on Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre (SPA) matters in 2012. SPA was to have a gym and Cr Pittock owns a gym in Dromana.
It appears councillors will not be able to vote on the RACV resort unless they are given an exemption by the Minister for Local Government.
One council watcher said it would be better if the council asked for the minister to “call in” the RACV matter, taking it out of the council’s hands.
On Friday, local state MP Martin Dixon criticised the council over the issue: “I am very disappointed that councillors cannot seem to organise themselves coherently and as such are causing even more unexplained delays in yet another important local project.”
Mr Dixon said the majority of residents in the Cape Schanck estate “have always supported the proposal for a redevelopment of the RACV resort and as such I requested the previous planning minister [Matthew Guy] to get on with making a decision on the proposed [planning] amendment [to facilitate the redevelopment] as quickly as possible”.
“The minister eventually approved the amendment, which then enabled council to advertise the proposal and commence the planning process…”
Asked if he was an RACV member, Mr Dixon said it was irrelevant. “The decision to approve the [planning] amendment was the minister’s and the decision to approve the design is for councillors.”
Opponents of the planned resort have consistently said they supported the concept initially but then saw plans for a building of five storeys that will be almost 30 metres high. They are concerned about increased traffic and noise, too.
The RACV wants to demolish the existing clubhouse and construct a building to accommodate 650 conference delegates, up from the existing 250 limit. It will have 120 rooms, a restaurant for 140 people and a cafe for 44 people.
Opponents claim there have been “breaches of process”. “We are not seeking to stop the development – we just expect compromise to ensure it meets all requirements of the Incorporated Document [the precinct’s separate planning scheme,” spokeswoman Irene Wyld said.