THE southbound freeway service centre on Peninsula Link at Baxter is scheduled to open on Thursday.
It will end controversy that has lasted more than five years and saw Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors butt heads with the well-connected developer AA Holdings as well as former roads minister Terry Mulder and former planning minister Matthew Guy, who approved an amendment to the shire’s planning scheme to enable the centres to be built and ignored the shire council’s desire to stop commercial buildings in the green wedge.
The southbound servo is a “twin” and its northbound version will likely open in December. The two centres are costing the developer about $30 million including two new lanes on a freeway bridge as well as on and off ramps.
The project is costing AA Holdings more than first anticipated as the freeway builder, the Southern Way consortium and its construction contractor Abigroup, built a four-lane bridge at Baxter even though the service centres were in the original plan. Southern Way was under enormous financial and political pressure to complete the freeway on time and had lost crucial weeks due to wet weather.
State government agency Linking Melbourne Authority kicked off the service centres controversy in mid-2010 when it sought a company to build and operate the twin outlets. LMA managed the construction of Peninsula Link, which started in February 2010 and was finished in January 2013. The service centres were due to open at the same time as the freeway.
In June 2010, LMA chief executive Ken Mathers said the centres were expected to create up to 400 permanent local jobs and would “give drivers the chance to refresh and overcome the dangerous effects of fatigue”, a claim that was rejected by shire councillors who pointed out that it was less than an hour from Melbourne to the freeway’s end at Rosebud (or just 20 minutes between Rosebud and the northbound service centre).
In its submission to the Peninsula Link environmental effects statement process in December 2008, the shire told LMA it “would continue to discourage the development of service centres within the green wedge zone … to avoid further impacts on the landscape or agricultural land”.
In late 2011, the council knocked back the proposal, stating the centres would have unacceptable environmental impacts on the Moorooduc flood plain, were too big, and would adversely impact residential neighbours.
AA Holdings appealed the decision in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in June 2012. The tribunal confirmed the council’s decision and stated key reasons for its refusal included insufficient traffic to justify the servos, loss of green wedge farmland, and the potential impact on breeding grounds of the threatened dwarf galaxia native fish.
AA Holdings went back to the drawing board and submitted a scaled-down version with each FSC building reduced from about 3000 square metres to 1600 sqm and fewer retail outlets.
This was the proposal effectively approved by Mr Guy before the council could comment last year. The council had called for an investigation into the exit to the freeway from the southbound FSC, which objectors and shire officers said was not long enough for trucks and towing vehicles to attain a safe speed to rejoin the freeway.
The council wanted a path so pedestrians walking to the FSCs were not tempted to cross the freeway. It also wanted “adequate noise protection, control of litter, and security for the directly adjoining landowners”.
Mr Guy said he wrote to the council on 31 August 2013 and received no reply. He approved the scaled-down version of the FSCs in February 2014, just days before the council discussed the matter at its 24 February meeting.
Mr Guy said the council had had since August to comment and that the scaled-down proposal “had the support of shire officers”. He dealt with the matter under a planning law known as A20 part 5 intervention.
The council said the servos would “adversely impact the economic vitality of other activity centres on the Mornington Peninsula” as the proposed retail part of the servos was “equivalent to the size of a local activity centre [that] would typically serve a population up to 5000 people”.
Last Thursday a spokesman for AA Holdings told The News the southbound centre had three food outlets – McDonald’s, Oporto, and Oliver’s Real Food as well as a Calvino Coffee shop and a 50-square metre tourism information centre, which will be operated by the shire.
“There are fuelling points for 26 cars, three trucks and two for electric vehicles,” he said.
Other features include a toilet for people with disabilities, “truckies’ lounge” with showers and toilets, energy saving lights, tanks for collecting rainwater that will be used for irrigation and flushing toilets, solar panels for hot water, a fuel pump vapour recovery system, and electronic detectors for leaks.
The spokesman said landscaping was still to be completed at the southbound centre as well as a clean up. “The trees are growing at a nursery,” he said.