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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Consult the locals? We don't have to!

Residents of Wyndham Street, Drysdale, were given a rude awakening this morning by chain saws and mulchers. Contractors were destroying trees on the corner of Wyndham Street and Jetty Road, as part of the work to enlarge the junction.

Local people have had no chance to comment on the work, because the council hasn’t published the plans. Those secret plans have already led contractors to divert Griggs Creek through a culvert under Wyndham Street, trapping fish, which then died and rotted. Local people could have told the council and its contractors that this would happen, but they were never consulted.

The TGM Group are consultant engineers managing the works, under the supervision of the City of Greater Geelong's engineering department. Nonetheless, neither the council nor TGM knew that the trees were being destroyed until residents contacted them this morning. Further, council engineers had reassured residents earlier that the trees' future had not been decided.

Three trees have been destroyed so far and the contractors have two more mature eucalypts in their sights. After talking with residents this morning, TGM has agreed to residents' suggestion that they call a meeting of local residents, explain what’s happening to their area and ask for their views. TGM has halted the tree clearance until that meeting, which will probably happen on Friday or perhaps next Monday.

Secret plans undermine democracy and citizenship
The failure to consult residents about the destruction of their trees is part of a much bigger failure of consultation across the whole project. The Wyndham Street/Jetty Road junction is being expanded significantly to accommodate the traffic coming out of the new housing estate on Jetty Road and is to have traffic lights in it. Wyndham Street will have three lanes of traffic instead of two, to match the three-lane road leading into and out of the Jetty Road estate.

Local residents have never been consulted about the expansion and the plans have been kept secret. When asked about this policy, council officers have said that they didn't publish the plans 'because we didn't need to'. Once again, that may be true in the strict legal sense, but if the council had any regard for democracy and the role of citizens in decisions affecting thir lives, they'd make an effort to involve us.

Friday, January 13, 2012

VCAT to examine Council's 'Special Charge' scheme

On February 6, residents from Central Road, Drysdale, will ask the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in Melbourne to stop the City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) levying a 'Special Charge' on them of many thousands of dollars.

The appeal to VCAT follows a unanimous decision by councillors on January 26 2011 to compel residents in the Central Road area to pay $1,149,476 (77 per cent) towards the cost of a new drain to service a retirement village in the area. The retirement village is planned by Melbourne-based property developer Pinnacle Holdings, yet the council wants local landowners to contribute - via the 'Special Charge' scheme - between $2,000 and $250,000 towards the cost. Unless VCAT stops the proposal, just under half the households in the area will face a bill for more than $10,000 each.

The residents - many of them retirees on fixed incomes - have argued that since the drain enables Pinnacle Living to build and profit from its retirement village, Pinnacle Living should pay for it. The council has responded that while the drain's primary purpose is to service the proposed retirement village, its presence will enable nearby residents to sub-divide and sell their properties at a profit - a 'special benefit' as the council calls it. From that perspective, the 'Special Charge' is a way to recoup the cost of the drain from the people who will gain a 'special benefit' (profit) from it.

Flawed arguments and lack of evidence
The Drysdale & Clifton Springs Community Association (DCSCA) has supported Central Road residents since they began their argument with CoGG in February 2010. DCSCA's position was set out on this blog ('Council compels residents subsidise a developer'. 26 January 2011). In essence, DCSCA has argued that:
  • CoGG has no evidence to support its claim that residents will gain any 'special benefit' from the drain, let alone how much that 'special benefit' will be worth
  • any 'special benefit' only comes from sale of the land - yet most residents don't want to sell their homes, so they won't receive a 'special benefit' (if, indeed, such a benefit exists - CoGG has no evidence that it does)
  • CoGG changed the legal basis of its proposed ‘Special Charge’ for households in the Central Road area (it suddenly became a public health issue) after it was exhibited for public comment and after councillors were due to discuss it
  • CoGG has provided no evidence to support its claim that the drain is a public health issue
  • CoGG has entered a legal agreement with Pinnacle Holdings to share the drain's cost without budgeting for it
  • CoGG doesn't know how it will recover any money outstanding from any deferred 'Special Charges'.
DCSCA continues to support the residents of the Central Road as they prepare to challenge this iniquitous 'Special Charge' at VCAT. DCSCA has formally opposed the council's whole 'Special Charge' scheme (including the Central Road proposal), as has the Affiliation of Bellarine Community Associations (representing all the community associations on the Bellarine Peninsula).

(There have been several reports about this argument on this blog. To see them, type 'Central Road' into the blog's 'Search' window.)