CAPE Paterson residents have called for a change in state legislation after the Bass Coast Shire Council wasted more than a quarter of a million dollars on a failed infrastructure scheme.
Whilst elated and relieved when the council announced last week it was abandoning the $7.1 million Cape Paterson Special Charge Scheme, residents will now fight to make sure the debacle is not repeated in other parts of the shire.
Bass Coast Mayor Cr Neil Rankine confirmed the final design cost paid by council stood at $259,000.
The Preserve the Cape (PTC) campaign group said the incredible wastage came from council’s design-first-ask-residents-later approach to the scheme.
They have filed a complaint with the Victorian Ombudsman.
Their goal is to change state law by ensuring future schemes are initiated by petitions from property owners in favour of upgrades, instead of the shire’s costly debacle.
Since details of the scheme were first announced last April, the project has led to widespread criticism of the shire’s infrastructure department, resulting in several passionate public meetings and fiery scenes in the council chamber.
Out of the 470 properties covered by the scheme, an overwhelming 301 objections (around 64 per cent) were lodged during the submission period in March.
The council is expected to make a formal decision to discontinue the scheme process at a meeting on May 21.
Cr Rankine said last week the result was “democracy at work.”
“The level of objection is a clear indication that the majority of people of Cape Paterson are content with the level of infrastructure that currently exists,” he said.
PTC was quick to criticise Cr Rankine’s comments.
“We find the Mayor’s statement that ‘this is democracy at work’ unacceptable,” the group said in a prepared statement.
“The council’s arrogant way of approaching this issue was anything but democratic, and caused immense distress to Cape residents, some of whom are in a very vulnerable social and economic situation after a lifetime of contributing to the community.
“Council pressed ahead with the process to declare the scheme, despite being presented with an overwhelming case to take a step back, consult more broadly and listen to residents rather than its own employees.”
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The group said Cape residents are owed an apology for the “appalling process” surrounding the scheme.
In its letter to the Ombudsman, PTC included that it hopes to work collaboratively with the council in devising a policy for all future special charge schemes in the shire.
Preliminary work has already been undertaken for special charge schemes at Sunset Strip and Pioneer Bay.
Time to celebrate
A group of residents – including a several PTC members – gathered on an unsealed road at Cape Paterson last week to acknowledge a battle well fought.
After a little over 12 months of uncertainty, residents say they can now breathe easy.
“(The shire) gave us a bad Easter present last year and a good one this year,” one resident, Greig Ruthven, said with a laugh.
Another resident, Nina Wills, said she was pleased Cape would retain its village feel.
“I’m so happy to have our Cape remain as it is – beautiful, natural and with amazing residents who respect and treasure our environment,” she said.
Professor Nick Low, a resident who has often acted as a spokesperson for PTC, said the council deserves credit for announcing the scheme had been abandoned so quickly after the closing submission date.
“We do really acknowledge that because it relieves so many people who were under stress,” he said.
While there remains a question as to what the final motion will be at next month’s council meeting, Prof Low believes there’s little chance the council would opt to inject more money into the scheme, thus starting the process all over again and possibly making the scheme compulsory.
“They have that option but I think they’d be very foolish if they tried that on,” Prof Low said.
“They’ve always said that if the vote went against it they would abandon it.”