Here’s what the developers would like to see, an extension of Murray Street, albeit with a narrowing at Asquith Court.
BASS Coast Shire councillor, Andrew Phillips, at least had this much right last week when he said the latest multi-million dollar development project for Wonthaggi to come before the council was a “very complex issue”.
It was no understatement.
Here are just a few of the complicating factors involved:
* The lingering questions that remain about the financial collapse of the town’s much-loved disability support service, Moonya.
* The proposed disposal of part of the Moonya site to raise funds for creditors.
* An almost 20 year old decision by council to close off Murray Street and to allow a house to be built over the gazetted road reserve.
* An application to reopen the road so that the land can be sold.
* Ownership and development of nearby land by the Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine.
* Calls by the council for a geotechnical report about mine shafts in the area and…
* An alleged, 40 year old football grudge between a former Dalyston enforcer and a revered Blues hard man thrown in for good measure.
It’s small town politics at its most challenging but what’s at stake is big – an initial $20 million-plus development, with an equally valuable residential development project to follow.
But despite the obvious boost to local jobs and the massive benefit to the local economy that would surely come from such projects, the council has held the would-be developers up for more than 18 months and at last Wednesday night’s council meeting the council stopped it in its tracks.
It left the man behind the ambitious plan, local builder Gwyn Pugh, shaking his head in disbelief as he sat in the council’s public gallery.
“They knew the geotechnical report was coming. It was due within days but we asked them to delay their decision until next month so it would be there for sure. We’ve got it now,” said an exasperated Mr Pugh.
“In any case, we’re not asking for any development of the land at this stage, so you don’t even need a geotechnical report for a two-lot subdivision – there’s no building proposed in the application.
“All we want is access to the land so that Pitcher Partners (the administrators for Moonya) can sell it to us. You don’t need a geotechnical report for that. We might just be going to run a couple of cows on it.
“Ask any builder around here, we haven’t got a history of any trouble in mining areas.
“The longer this goes on, the less the creditors will get and the more the administrators will get.
“The main Moonya site and its buildings will be retained by Connecting Skills Australia, who have negotiated to buy it, and we’ve negotiated, through a public process, to buy the piece of land that is surplus to CSA’s needs.”
The area in question is some 7959m2, almost two acres, right in the centre of Wonthaggi but virtually worthless until the council agrees to road access.
“They say we can put the road through internally but it would completely compromise the occupational health and safety requirements of the people attending CSA. It’s a totally unworkable idea.
“There’s plenty of room for Murray Street to be extended.
“The council stuffed it up in the first place when they allowed the road to be closed and for a house to be built over the road reserve and it’s up to them to fix it up, not us.”
Mr Pugh said the cost of putting in the internal road recommended by the council was in excess of $500,000.
He also rejected comments made by the council’s acting Planning and Environment director, Jodi Kennedy, that access through an adjacent parcel of land, owned by Mr Pugh, to South Dudley Road “is an option that could be explored” as completely unhelpful.
“That land is zoned Farming and isn’t an option at all,” he said.
What he has planned for the surplus Moonya land is a ‘special needs accommodation development’ that he believes could put Wonthaggi on the map as the go-to place in Victoria for those recovering from serious spinal injuries and other serious conditions.
At the moment, people with acquired injuries of this type often have to live in aged persons’ accommodation where they can get the mobility and personal support they need.
A further residential development, of a similar value, is expected follow on from this project.
“We’ve already got a health professional interested in taking over the existing house and setting up a spinal care and respite service which would go hand-in-hand with the residential accommodation.
“It’s in an ideal area, close to the hospital and medical centre, on level ground going towards the shopping centre and close to the rail trail.”
And far from being a detriment to the adjoining Guide Park, Mr Pugh said he plans to fix up the dangerous open drain that runs along the side of the park and which has been a hazard for years.
Mr Pugh didn’t try to hide his animosity towards the person who he believes is the main protagonist, his former football rival, Frank ‘Titch’ Loughran, who lives at 11 Asquith Court.
Mr Loughran declined to comment in detail, except to say that the objectors were all Bass Coast Shire citizens, who were entitled to express a view, many of them concerned that an extension of Murray Street would detract from the amenity of the Guide Park.
The council report last week lists the following as the objectors concerns:
“The majority of the objections received raised concerns in relation to the extension to Murray Street and the potential impact of additional traffic to the proposed Lot 1 and potential risk to children and users of the Guide Park.”
Forty-two objections were received with Mr Loughran agreeing that he and former local councillor, John Duscher, had encouraged people to make submissions.
He also said he had no objection to the developer’s residential project and that it was ridiculous to suggest any animosity remained between the two dating back to their footballing day.
The people at last week’s council meeting heard nothing about the proposed plans.
All they heard was that the application for a two-lot subdivision, in effect cutting off the surplus land from the Moonya site, was being refused because the applicant, Pitcher Partners, had provided “insufficient information in relation to the effects of undermining”.
According to Ms Kennedy, the report had been requested on a number of occasions.
But the project may still have life.
The council officer’s report notes that “overall it is acknowledged that there is merit in the proposed subdivision of this allotment due to the location within the Wonthaggi settlement boundary and the ability to provide opportunities for further infill development”.
“However, the application failed to provide evidence to demonstrate that sufficient consideration has been given to the risks associated with land subsidence in the area.
“The application also failed to provide for a sound resolution in terms of access to the proposed Lot 1.”
Cr Claire Le Serve was also supportive.
“It would be better if we could work with the applicant. It would be good to see the development of this land. I’d like to see us work with them to put an appropriate, sustainable development on that site.”
Cr Le Serve unsuccessfully moved for a deferral.
In closing the debate, Cr Phillips claimed the best place to put access to the allotment was internally “which most subdivisions do… they can still reapply in the future and provide all the appropriate information,” he said.