THE future planning of town and villages in the Western Port area will be a significant issue in deciding councillors for the Red Hill, Watson and Cerberus wards at the October municipal elections.
One major point of contention will be the time being taken by Mornington Peninsula Shire in drawing up a strategy for coastal towns, which has been flagged in successive budgets for the past 11 years.
Critics claim small towns are seeing developments more suited to the peninsula’s major centres, such as Somerville, Hastings, Mornington, Dromana, Rosebud and Sorrento.
They argue that the same criteria should not be applied to small towns and villages like Balnarring, Somers, Shoreham and Flinders in Western Port and Blairgowrie and McCrae facing Port Phillip.
Watson ward, which includes Somerville and Tyabb, has been without its own elected councillor since the 2 May resignation of Lynn Bowden.
The timing of her departure did not trigger a by-election as elections will be held for all of the shire’s 11 council places in October.
The mayor Cr Graham Pittock announced that he would represent Watson ward ratepayers as well as those in his own ward of Seawinds.
The Tyabb & District Ratepayers’ group in its August newsletter says it believes the ward has been “underrepresented … a view held by others within the community who have been frustrated at a lack of active councillor support for several community projects”.
An editorial in the newsletter says much of the work now being carried out in the ward had its beginnings with Aldona Martin, the ward’s councillor eight years ago.
The group warns that Tyabb needs “a strong voice in council”, especially with the imminent release of the Tyabb Airfield Precinct Plan.
Elsewhere in the newsletter an article alleges shire officers ignored for some weeks reports that a garage on land abutting the airport was being used to store aircraft contrary to a Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal order.
“The shire contacted the landowner a week before they inspected the property and, surprise, surprise, the aircraft was no longer in the hangar when they got there,” the newsletter states.
Closer to the bay’s edge, Somers residents have been locked in battle with the shire over its plans to build a series of concrete footpaths through the town.
An appeal against the shire’s decision is due to be heard by VCAT on 17 August.
“Each and every year there is more urbanisation of our coastal villages. More matters are taken to VCAT where loopholes are exploited to allow unsuitable development to continue to effect the character of our villages such as Flinders, Red Hill and Merricks Beach,” David Gill, a former Mornington shire president who lives at Balnarring, said.
“This year the shire has again promised to complete the [coastal towns] strategy, but can we believe that they will bother to implement it, as a matter of urgency, given their past record of procrastination?
“While our councillors bicker about their over spent allowances on personal studies, overseas trips and child care, they have dropped the ball on the issues which matter to peninsula residents and our many visitors.”
Developments of concern listed by Mr Gill include the multi-story expansion of the RACV resort in Cape Schanck; 5.2 kilometres of concrete paths at Somers; a new shopping centre development in Balnarring Village; user pays schemes for more concrete and bitumen “against the wishes of ratepayers and against [the shire’s] own self-lauded carbon neutral policy”; and cutting back of wildlife corridor vegetation in and around coastal towns.
“Our local state politicians seem to agree with anything and everyone on local issues but are not willing to help stop unsuitable developments. We should not fear offending developers,” Mr Gill said.
“Our coastal villages are loved for the space and character that makes the peninsula a great place to live or visit, but I fear what it will be like in 50 years with the pressure of creeping urbanisation.”
Strategic projects manager Allan Cowley said the Coastal Villages Strategy was part of the Peninsula Design Framework project which would include all of the peninsula’s 40 towns.
Quotes were being sought from planning consultants for the $120,000 project which aimed to make sure greater attention was given to “design issues and the protection of character in both the residential areas and town centres on the peninsula”.
Mr Cowley said the 12-month project would start in October or November “with the initial round of community consultation”.
He said the Mornington Peninsula Planning Framework had been endorsed by the state government in July 2014 and design guidelines and revised planning scheme provisions had been drawn up for McCrae, Flinders, Crib Point, Bittern, Beleura Hill, Mornington and parts of Mt Martha.
“Council is also undertaking work in Somerville, Dromana, Mt Eliza and Baxter and has provided budget for Rye in the 2016/2017 budget,” Mr Cowley said.
He attributed delays to the Coastal Villages Strategy Apart to these projects and making sure “state planning provisions will actually support and enable implementation of stronger local provisions”.
“It should also be recognised that the peninsula already has some of the strongest development controls in the state – particularly in relation to the smaller coastal towns and villages,” Mr Cowley said.