Shire loses gondola bush ‘offset’ after delay


GONDOLA company Skylift will “offset” proposed tree and bushland clearing on Arthurs Seat by paying to rehabilitate land outside Mornington Peninsula Shire after delays over a proposed land swap within the shire.

The move was revealed by Skylift chairman Simon McKeon soon after the company and the state government signed a 50-year lease late last month.

Mr McKeon told The News that Skylift had gone “through the usual ‘bush broker’ channels” after a proposed land swap of two areas on Arthurs Seat that would have “involved enlarging the Arthurs Seat State Park” was “not embraced by council”.

He said it was “possible that some saw it as a way of preventing our project proceeding, which was silly as we simply solved it another way, which will assist another shire”.

Skylift has been offered a number of sites in the so-called Gippsland Plain bioregion (which includes the Mornington Peninsula) and is set to sign a deal as early as next week.

Mr McKeon revealed the proposed land swap in early 2014 at a public meeting in Dromana when he said 55 hectares of “shire-controlled” land had been identified by shire and Parks Victoria officers as a suitable vegetation offset for clearing at the gondola’s bottom station, the gondola corridor up Arthurs Seat, and the top station where about 3.7 hectares will be cleared.

The 55ha (140 acres) was given to the Shire of Flinders in 1974 when a developer subdivided land west of Purves Rd between Seamists Drive and Waterfall Gully Rd. It is known as the Concept Spur land, is adjacent to the state park, is zoned green wedge and would unlikely ever be rezoned for homes but one lot in the subdivision sold for $1 million four years ago. This would make the 55ha worth at least $8.8 million in the unlikely event of it coming on the open market.

Concept Spur was to be swapped for government (Crown) land on the Arthurs Seat escarpment in Boundary Rd, Dromana, known as Parkdale Estate, part of which is now Hillview Community Reserve. The rest is green wedge land. It is close to Hillview Quarries’ disused Pioneer quarry, which a company associated with Hillview (with backing from the shire) wanted to use as a rubbish tip. This was knocked on the head by the EPA two years ago.

Last year, the shire said the “potential transfer of shire-controlled land into Arthurs Seat State Park has been raised as one potential option to achieve the native vegetation offset required by this proposed development [Skylift]”. This would have the benefit of “keeping the offset in our community and may provide a higher degree of protection for the land”.

In March, Red Hill resident Mark Fancett (who stood in the Red Hill Ward by-election last year) asked about the land swap during question time at a council meeting.

“What is the status of the proposed land swap of the Concept Spur land with Parks Victoria. Has the council or council officers discussed this land with the chairlift consortium as a potential vegetation offset?”

The question was answered by environment director Stephen Chapple (who was retrenched late last month): “There have been discussions that have occurred between council and the relevant state department, Parks Victoria, in relation to a potential transfer. Council has been briefed on this recently; it has not come before council yet. The concept is to potentially look at investigating a like-for-like swap for the Concept Spur site in exchange of the Parkdale Estate site.

The shire has been asked for comment.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 18 August 2015


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