Council mistake may hinder dreams

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Council mistake may hinder dreams

House block?

MORE people could have fulfilled their dream of building a house on rural properties if not for a mistake by South Gippsland Shire Council.
Council overestimated the number of properties eligible for permits under the C51 planning scheme amendment.
Earlier this month, councillors were told that during negotiations with the former State Government about rural land development last year, council overstated the number of properties that could qualify for a house under C51. That amendment resulted from the negotiations.
Council’s director of development services Phil Stone said council had told the government about 350 properties would be eligible. The Star understands that figure could now be as low as 80, but council representatives neither confirmed nor denied that. Mr Stone said the figure was still being determined.
C51 was negotiated between council and the then government to enable more housing in Farming Zones than its predecessor, C48, which banned the creation of lots less than 40ha. The State Government believed council was approving too much development in rural areas, thereby consuming valuable farming land.
The revelation about the inflated figures – made to councillors on Wednesday, February 2 – indicates that council could have secured a better deal for the region.
Mayor Cr Warren Raabe said he was “disappointed” by the error.
Had council entered negotiations with a smaller, more realistic figure, Cr Raabe said council may have been able to obtain more leniency from the State Government.
“There was a chance that people with lots larger than that (two hectares) would have been able to get it (permit) but I doubt it very much,” he said.
“I sat there with the (former planning) Minister and his staff and they were being very hard on us.”
Cr Raabe said council had made a “mistake with the numbers” but that may not mean council is able to negotiate a better deal with the new State Government. The mayor said he did not want to give “false hope” to landholders hoping for permits for homes.
“We have gone to the State Government and the public with numbers that were not correct. We now have to revisit our thoughts and see if there is the possibility of doing better than what we have at the moment,” Cr Raabe said.
Council will ask the new Coalition Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy for his government’s opinion on rural land development in a bid to set council’s future direction under the Rural Strategy, now in draft form.
“We can aim in our Rural Strategy to get a better deal but if we are aiming at the same line (as the Labor government), then we have probably done all we can,” Cr Raabe said.
By last December, just 21 applications had been made for planning permits for blocks under two hectares, under C51.
“We had the best information we could work with at the time,” Mr Stone said. He was not employed by council then.
“Now, looking towards the Rural Strategy, the numbers are not as high as what we thought they were but we do not have specific numbers.”
Asked whether 80 was an accurate figure, Mr Stone said: “I do not want to release the numbers about this. It’s not about deceiving anybody; it’s just what the data is that we have at the end.”
Cr Jim Fawcett, who was mayor last year, said the first time he became aware of the mistake was on Wednesday, February 2 when councillors were briefed about the matter by council officers.
“Three or four months ago, I was satisfied numbers were not the issue but rather the number of applications coming in,” he said.
Asked what the actual figure is, Cr Fawcett said: “We want to make sure that we do not give out another figure and find out that the figure is inaccurate.
“Council officers are working on it now to just find out what happened and where the discrepancy arose.”
Counci’s chief executive officer Tim Tamlin said the first time he was aware of the mistake was also Wednesday, February 2.
The C51 amendment is only an interim measure and will expire on December 31 this year. It was designed to allow some development of land with little agricultural benefit in Farm Zones, while protecting valuable agricultural land.
Such land included blocks between 0.4ha and 2ha subdivided before 1999.
The Rural Strategy will replace C51. Council now has a draft and is working with a consultant on changes. The draft strategy will be put to council within months and then be placed on public exhibition.
Mr Stone said C51 was unique to South Gippsland and issues were bound to arise.
“As it gets tested, it could present different outcomes to what we expected,” he said.
The Rural Strategy is expected to allow more development in farming areas, such as through the creation of new Rural Activity Zones now used in Victoria for nature-based tourism.
Asked whether C51 has failed and if council would replace it with other planning guidelines until the Rural Strategy came into effect, Mr Stone said:  “The average planning scheme amendment takes about 20 months to put in and we are only a few months away from getting the Rural Strategy in place.”
Mr Stone said a C51 committee is in place to monitor C51’s economic impact.

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Posted by on Feb 15 2011. Filed under Community, Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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