PLANS to fast track the rezoning and sale of Melbourne Water-owned land in Rosebud has infuriated residents and raised fears that the land grab will impact the future of Mt Eliza land that is now a haven for wildlife.
The water authority has moved to rezone for development four of its “surplus” Melbourne sites, including the 5.6 hectare site in Jetty Rd, Rosebud, under the state government’s Fast Track Government Land Service.
The land service was established in 2015 to correct planning scheme “anomalies” and provide for the fast-tracked rezoning of “surplus” government land.
Residents are angry that Mornington Peninsula Shire Council missed out on an opportunity around 12 months ago to buy the site at a 30 per cent discounted rate, because council officer Alison Leighton said it did not fit in with council’s long-term plans.
When rezoned, the land – which is divided into four separate parcels and is currently used as recreational space by residents – is expected to be worth about $22 million.
Melbourne Water has been reported as saying it merely operated under the terms of references set by Planning Minister Richard Wynne, and had a “duty” to regularly review land holdings not crucial to its operation.
Doris Campbell, who lives near the Rosebud land, said the council had made a “huge error of judgement” by not buying the land, with Rosebud facing a shortfall in open space.
Ms Campbell said residents saw the fast-tracking of the rezoning as “a joke”.
There was only one consultation meeting held in Dromana before the land was proposed for sale.
Rosebud resident of 16 years, Stuart Grant, said people felt “violated” when they found out about the rezoning, as the land was essential community space. “We will do whatever we can to stop this land being lost to the community,” he said.
An independent advisory committee will hear public submissions in Somerville at a date to be announced in February, but Ms Campbell said she believed the rezoning was “a done deal”.
Anti-development protesters fear Melbourne Water’s land sell-off could impact the fate of a more than impact hectares of pristine land in Kunyung Rd, Mt Eliza, which South East Water wants to rezone for development.
Planning Backlash president Mary Drost said the land sell offs were “disgraceful” and wants Mr Wynne to intervene.
“We are appealing to the planning minister to say no to yet more open space being covered with concrete and glass and thousands more people,” she said.
“Does the government want to pack us all into high rise everywhere, all the trees gone and no open space anywhere?”
Ms Drost said the Mt Eliza land was an important area for wildlife.
“If this keeps going we will have no wildlife left, which would be a tragedy. Stop selling off land.”
Steve Karakitsos, the president of environment group South Eastern Centre for Sustainability, said the behaviour of the state-owned water authorities showed a lack of integrity.
“It boils down to governmental bodies seeking to sell off surplus land that has become integral to the communities in which they are situated,” he said.
Mr Karakitsos said the decommissioned reservoir in Mt Eliza posed a challenge of a different nature to the Rosebud land because of its importance for wildlife, as supported by ecological reports by ecologist Malcolm Legg and backed by zoologist Hans Bruner and botanist Dr Jeff Yugovic.
“We believe that in all instances every site should be formally assessed on their own merits, inclusive of their given social and natural attributes, alongside the public’s input to have the respective sites’ preservation appropriately considered.”
South East Water spokesman Rupert Posner said the future of the Kunyung Rd land – deemed surplus to operational requirements – was still being decided.
“I’ve no idea what Melbourne Water is doing in relation to its sites – you’ll have to ask them,” he replied when asked if Melbourne Water’s land sell-off had repercussions for the Mt Eliza site.
Mornington MP David Morris last year called on SEW to withdraw its plans and transfer the land to Mornington Peninsula Shire for a nominal amount.
The council has indicated it will discuss the site’s future in the “early New Year”, but has not yet set a date.