Call for village study follows concrete plan

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Not so peaceful: The quiet, leafy lanes of Somers appear an unlikely setting for the battle that’s being fought over Mornington Peninsula Shire’s plan for concrete footpaths, with ratepayers being billed for half the $1.5 million cost.

Not so peaceful: The quiet, leafy lanes of Somers appear an unlikely setting for the battle that’s being fought over Mornington Peninsula Shire’s plan for concrete footpaths, with ratepayers being billed for half the $1.5 million cost.

somers paths2PLANS to build new footpaths at Somers have led to a call for a study into protecting “the grace and appeal of coastal villages”.

The $1.5 million footpath scheme residents are being asked to contribute towards has sparked debate within the community and claims that the peninsula’s coastal townships will lose their “special atmosphere so carefully created in the past”.

Former Mornington shire president David Gill says Somers is being treated as “the guinea pig for more ugly concrete in our coastal villages”.

Mornington Peninsula Shire’s infrastructure strategy manager Davey Smith says Somers residents are being treated no differently to those living in any other area in being asked to pay half of the costs for new footpaths.

He said and objection rate of 10 per cent is “typical” of most schemes.

Half the cost – $750,000 – is being apportioned among all Somers landowners, with individual “contributions” ranging from $400 to $1700.

Mr Smith says that “in all cases it is not just the adjoining property owners [asked to pay] included in the scheme for footpath construction”.

A panel of three councillors would hear submissions on the scheme.

“There has been strong interest from the community for a network of paths in Somers. The shire’s footpath construction strategy also recognised paths within the Somers scheme as a high priority for construction,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Gill said Somers was being used “as a guinea pig for wide concrete footpaths under a special payment scheme”.

“At a recent meeting with Cr Tim Wood shire officers could not recall this type of user pays idea ever having been initiated on a peninsula footpath proposal before,” Mr Gill said.

“For the first time everyone pays, even though they can be far from the actual wide concrete paths.”

Mr Gill said the decision to build the footpaths was a flawed process based, in part on result of a questionnaire circulated by the Somers Residents’ Association.

He said the questionnaire did not mention a cost to residents and also “proposed a narrow meandering path which was taken to mean little tree removal and little visual effect. This is not anything like the present council $1.5 million dollar user pays scheme”.

“Our much loved coastal villages are already taking a battering from the council. They are treated much the same as non-rural townships and are not protected from developments that ruin their special atmosphere so carefully created in the past,” Mr Gill said.

He said roads in the coastal villages were left unmade or without footpaths “to preserve the village like character and uniqueness of our coastal areas”.

Mr Gill said Somers residents “all agreed that works are sometimes required due to safety concerns such as near the school in Camp Hill Rd, but not overwhelming works that transform our coastal villages into just more suburbs”.

“If the concrete footpaths are allowed to ruin the character of Somers by using this tricky financing method will Flinders, Shoreham or Balnarring Beach be next?

“All we are asking for – instead of an expensive appeals process – is to pause and rethink the proposal with the possible outcomes of a staged scheme of pathways only where safety concerns are paramount; a study about how to protect the grace and appeal of coastal villages; and having council planners and engineers focus on the broad strategy of enhancing the beauty of our villages.”

First published in the Western Port News – 25 August 2015

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