A $15,000 fine imposed on a bush block owner for illegally clearing land could be a warning to property owners that Mornington Peninsula Shire intends to take a tougher line with law breakers.
The shire has not been noted for such prosecutions since in one notable case it won a conviction but never collected the $1145 fine when the property owner challenged it.
In more recent high-profile cases land owners were successfully prosecuted, one for illegal land clearing, the other for illegally dumping sand on a property. The shire hailed the cases as a victory but declined to reveal whether the combined $35,000 in fines was ever collected.
By contrast, the shire several years ago successfully prosecuted a Mornington woman for having more than the permitted number of cats.
The most recent case involved land in Barkers Rd, Main Ridge, owned by Ms Antoinette Noronho, who pleaded guilty in Frankston magistrates court a fortnight ago to clearing native vegetation on her green wedge block.
She was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay the shire’s $4000 costs. She will possibly also face a hefty personal legal bill. The court was told she had applied to clear part of her land two years ago but officers who visited the block found clearing had already occurred.
Prosecutions are expensive and the shire has always maintained it needs to be a “model litigant”, especially when dealing with some of the Mornington Peninsula’s financial heavyweights. Some have seen this as an excuse not to go to court.
However, taking an expedient approach to possible lawbreakers with deep pockets – as occurred when then T’Gallant winery-restaurant owner Foster’s Ltd challenged its $1145 for breaking permit conditions – simply sends a signal that the shire can be made to blink, or look the other way, to the point that it will think twice and thrice before starting legal proceedings.
Locals know of many permit condition breaches, often at green wedge premises such as winery restaurants, often related to patron numbers well over what permits allow.
The result can be chaotic and dangerous roadside parking and overburdened waste disposal systems – septic tanks – which often results in groundwater pollution that is near-impossible to rectify. Patrons at some green wedge restaurants are keenly aware of this by way of offensive odours on hot, busy days.
In some cases the shire was inclined to ignore evidence supplied by frustrated locals who suffered from smell, illegal parking, illegal patron numbers and noise outside permitted opening hours.
A shire officer once justified tolerance of such lawless behaviour by arguing that the responsible authority (the shire) was reluctant to take action against premises that provided the public good of employment.
The next few months could well indicate a new, more stringent attitude to law breaking beyond parking too long at shopping centres.