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Friday, October 28, 2011

Bridge protesters lose at VCAT

After a two-day VCAT hearing, Clifton Springs residents heard that the proposed bridge in Bayshore Avenue will be built, despite their fears and objections.

The months-long campaign against the proposed bridge has been led by the Clifton Springs Independent Ratepayers Group (CSIRG), supported and assisted by the Drysdale & Clifton Springs Community Association (DCSCA). the campaign has been documented extensively on this blog. (See most recently,'Bridge proposal "bad planning practice"' 4 October; 'Shadow Minister invites bridge protesters to Parliament', 6 October)

The VCAT case arose because developers Bisinella had applied to the City of Greater Geelong for a permit to build a bridge across Griggs Creek from Bayshore Avenue. CoGG failed to issue the permit within the specified time limit, so Bisinella asked VCAT to review CoGG's 'non-decision'.

At the VCAT hearing, Bisinella's case was that CoGG should have issued a building permit for the bridge because there was never any question that a bridge should be built there. Each version of the plans for the Jetty Road Growth Area as a whole had shown a bridge at that location; and each phase of the plans for the Growth Area had been approved in the proper manner, according to local and state planning laws, regulations, etc. As the VCAT panel-member put it in his statement of decision, ‘The bridge is the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle’.

CSIRG's case has always been that the original design of that 'jigsaw puzzle' (i.e. the design of the Jetty Road Growth Area) has changed so much that 'the last piece' doesn’t fit any more. In particular, a road leading from the southern part of the Growth Area into Bisinella's land at the north will not now be built until 150 houses have been built on Bisinella's land. So until those 150 houses are built, Bisinella's land is 'landlocked' from the rest of the Growth Area. In these circumstances, the bridge assumes a significance that it has never had in earlier plans for the Growth Area, which have always described it as a 'local, minor road'. (As late as 2010, CoGG's Infrastructure Plan for the Growth Area still described Bayshore Avenue in these terms.)

The delay in building a north-south road means that the bridge is now the only route into and out of Bisinella's land; and so it is the only way in which heavy construction machinery can access the land to build those 150 houses and associated infrastructure. That's why local residents have fought so hard to stop the bridge. They saw a future in which bulldozers, excavators and earth-moving trucks drove up and down Bayshore Avenue because they had no alternative route. (Residents could get some idea of what this scenario would look like by standing in Jetty Road at its junction with Wyndham Street and watching the mayhem being created as stormwater drains are being laid in Jetty Road and as access roads into the first estate are created opposite Wyndham Street.)

It was suggested at the VCAT hearing that there is a possible alternative route - a 'right of carriage' on land to the west of Bisinella's land, facing McDermott's Road. CSIRG argued strongly that this should be the designated route in and out of the Bisinella land. However, it isn't certain whether this right of carriage could become a road or not. A major reason for this uncertainty is that CoGG has failed to explore the possibility. Despite years of proposals, planning amendments, planning overlays, traffic studies, etc., CoGG still doesn't know whether the Bisinella land has a right of carriage across the land fronting McDermott Road or whether that right of carriage will be the access point for the development. Instead, it 'understands' this to be so. At the VCAT hearing, CoGG's representative - referring to this right of carriage - said, 'My understanding is that that will be the point of access for the bridge and for the site'; and his statement echoed a passage in the minutes of CoGG's Development Hearings Panel of 7 July 2011 that states, 'The land at 206 Bayshore Avenue (the Bisinella land) … is understood to have a right of carriage across land to the west fronting McDermott Road.' (Emphasis added in each case.)

So the bridge will be built. The City of Greater Geelong has required several pages of ‘conditions' to be met as 'safeguards' agaisnt a number of eventualities, including land slips in Griggs Creek during construction. But who will police those restrictions? How will they be enforced? What is the track record of success of such conditions? None of this is stated in CoGG's several pages.

The CSIRG group worked their hearts out and ran a brilliant campaign. For DCSCA, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to support and assist them. Everyone who’s been involved in the campaign – at whatever level – can feel proud of themselves and hold their heads high. Better to have fought and lost than to have done nothing and then sit around later thinking ‘If only we’d done something’.

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