Panel backs South East Water

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Last chance to see: South East Water’s decommissioned reservoir in Mt Eliza is a step closer to becoming housing with no provision for a nature reserve following a report from a panel that ignored calls for more open space in the area. Picture: Yanni

Last chance to see: South East Water’s decommissioned reservoir in Mt Eliza is a step closer to becoming housing with no provision for a nature reserve following a report from a panel that ignored calls for more open space in the area. Picture: Yanni

STATE government utility South East Water is one giant step closer to selling off a disused reservoir in Mt Eliza for housing.

A planning panel has ruled in favour of the 2.8-hectare reservoir on the corner of Barmah and Kanya roads being used for houses and rejected calls for it to become a conservation reserve.

A submission to set aside two lots for public housing was also rejected as was a request by Mornington Peninsula Shire that one hectare be public open space.

The decision has bitterly disappointed Kunyung Residents Group, formed late last year to push for a reserve in an area that has just two reserves (not counting the foreshore and beach).

The panel report now goes to the shire council, which has the option of changing or rejecting it but the final say lies with state planning minister Richard Wynne.

Ministers rarely reject panel reports although former Labor planning minister Justin Madden infamously rejected one in the mid-2000s and permitted a bitumen storage plant at Crib Point, which was never built due to commercial changes.

Councils and government agencies will be offered the land first and if there are no takers, SEW will be free to go to the market.

In early 2014 SEW asked the shire to rezone the land and its 24 blocks of about 1000 square metres each, worth about $450,000 a block or $10.8 million in total. The dam was decommissioned in 1999 and has become a haven for wildlife, fenced off from predators and humans.

One block fronting Kunyung Rd contains a pumping station, which will be retained by SEW.

SEW is building an eight-storey tower next to Kananook Creek in Frankston, which will house about 600 employees. Selling the land would be a good top-up of its coffers.

Rebecca Taylor of Kunyung Residents Group told The News the planning panel report was “disappointing but not entirely unexpected”.

“The panel did not give sufficient weight to the concerns of residents – or expert witnesses about the ecology of the reservoir, which is home to or visited by about 61 animal and bird species including the endangered grey headed flying fox.”

Ms Taylor said she was dismayed that not one block had been set aside for a reserve “based on the technicality that it is not a new subdivision”.

(The reservoir land was part of the area’s original 1924 subdivision but had a controversial beginning when the government wanted to build a reservoir to serve a growing Mt Eliza in the 1956 and selected land on the western side of Kunyung Rd owned by transport magnate Reg Ansett. Mr (later Sir Reg) Ansett fought the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission for four years. Then he bought 25 vacant blocks and established homes on the eastern side of Kunyung Rd for 28,000 pounds as an alternative to his property.)

“We are hoping the shire council will reject the report outright and be bold enough to stand up to South East Water and seek more land to be set aside for ecological purposes,” she said.

Ms Taylor said many organisations and individuals had helped the residents’ group including Nepean Planning Consultants, ecologists Jeff Yugovic and Malcolm Legg, Steve Karakitsos of South East Centre for Sustainability, Ian Morrison of Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, and “all the wonderful residents who signed the petition and made a submission to council”.

She said the campaign would continue on www.facebook.com/KunyungSaysNo

First published in the Mornington News – 4 August 2015

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