By Michael Giles
WITH more than $52 million at risk, it’s not hard to understand why manoeuvring over the proposed Walkerville Village project, overlooking the iconic Wilsons Promontory National Park, has gone pear-shaped since the South Gippsland Shire Council rejected the proposal recently.
Initially, the would-be developer of the project, Jeremy Rich of Ansevata Nominees, simply accused the shire of incompetence, poor governance and a lack of planning and assessment processes when the issue descended into high farce at the final council meeting of the year on December 16, 2015.
He said the council hadn’t given sufficient weight to the waste water solution it provided for existing homeowners in the Promontory Views Estate, people who may now be facing huge costs to replace their leaky septics.
Mr Rich then raised the stakes by saying he was reporting the council to the Planning Minister, the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate and the Victorian Ombudsman.
Last week he escalated his dispute still further with the shire by slapping a Supreme Court writ on the council to stop it from allegedly “stealing” stock water from a retarding basin adjoining his Walkerville farm, for its road maintenance projects in the area.
The shire’s CEO Tim Tamlin in turn rejected the claims, saying the shire had legal advice to say it was entitled to the water on its land.
This week Mr Rich opened new ground in the dispute by firing a broadside at Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks whom he accused of conflict of interest breaches, despite the fact that Cr Hutchinson-Brooks has declared an “indirect conflict of interest” each time “Planning Scheme Amendment C89 – Walkerville Village” has come before council; recently on October 21 (public presentations) and October 28, 2015 (council meeting) when the decision not to proceed with the amendment was taken.
At the time Cr Hutchinson-Brooks put it on the record that his “indirect conflict of interest” related to “having a past association, as a company of which he is a Director, has in the past had conversations with the proponents but have not acted for them.”
He has also withdrawn from every council meeting at which the project has been discussed.
Further explaining this indirect conflict this week, Cr Hutchinson-Brooks told the ‘Sentinel-Times’ that he met with Mr Rich and his father twice about the project, in October 2013, before handing the matter over to his colleagues at the planning consultancy firm of which he is a director, Key Infrastructure Australia.
“He asked me to act for him. We had discussions about the work but ultimately withdrew,” Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said.
Mr Rich claims it was the other way around, that Cr Hutchinson-Brooks approached him about the planning consultancy work, although correspondence to the councillor, sighted by the ‘Sentinel-Times’ indicates it was Mr Rich who pursued a professional association with Key Infrastructure Australia.
Which of them, Mr Rich or Cr Hutchinson-Brooks, made the first contact is not clear, but Cr Hutchinson-Brooks says that by declaring his interest, his involvement is on the record.
“I had two meetings with them in October 2013 but I have not spoken to Jeremy since then.”
After he “took himself out of the picture” in October 2013, Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said his firm advised Mr Rich on November 11, 2013 that it would not be providing any professional services to Ansevata Nominees.
Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said there were no payments made.
In response to the claims made by Mr Rich, Cr Hutchinson-Brooks says he is now referring an email he received from Mr Rich, on Tuesday, December 8, 2015, just a week before council was set to consider a Notice of Motion from Cr Andrew McEwen, to revisit the Walkerville Coastal Village issue, to the police.
Cr Hutchinson-Brooks claims the letter has a threatening tone, seeking an undertaking from him that he will not speak to other councillors about the project and also advising that if the vote doesn’t go well, Mr Rich will be reporting the matter to a range of government and regulatory authorities and going to the local press with his concerns.
Loss of faith, says Mr Rich
MR RICH’s attack on the South Gippsland Shire Council, after it voted down his planning zone amendment application at Walkerville, is unlikely to endear him or his project to councillors or planning officers.
But he’s adamant that the project be considered on its merits, not on the personalities involved.
“All I ask is that the project be considered on the basis of its merits. If a proper evaluation of the proposal was made taking on board all of the factors and the decision was that it is not in the best interest of the local community, region or state; then I would be satisfied,” he said this week.
“But we were requested to investigate many issues, which were then not reported on equitably and I therefore question the validity of the report (to council on October 28, 2015).
“I believe this project is in the best interest of South Gippsland but I no longer have confidence in the South Gippsland Shire and believe that the governance within the shire’s offices is not in the best interest of South Gippsland.”
Mr Rich provided documents which he says prove his project was both supported by the shire CEO Tim Tamlin and encouraged by planning officers, whom he says failed to present his application in the same light at the council meeting.
He said it was for the opportunity to add tourism infrastructure and to provide a solution to the waste water disposal issues at the Promontory Views Estate that the shire expressed its support.
These opportunities still exist, says Mr Rich.
Conflicts all on the record, says Councillor
THE South Gippsland Shire Council supported an application by Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks to be appointed as a regional member of the Plan Melbourne Board of Directors back in November 2013.
He ultimately failed in his bid to gain appointment to this high-end body but it was not without suitable endorsement by the local shire.
Here’s what it said as part of its application:
“It is considered that Councillor Hutchinson-Brooks would be an ideal candidate to be a member of ‘Plan Melbourne’s’ Board of Directors.
“Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks is qualified as a chartered surveyor, planner, valuer and land economist.
“In the 1970s he was Assistant Director, Town and Country Planning Board and the Executive directly in charge of the strategic and urban planning for the Melton and Sunbury Satellite Town project, with significant involvement with the then Shires of Melton and Bulla over many years.
“He also served six years as a Councillor with the City of Waverley in the 1980s, and is now serving a second term as Councillor with the South Gippsland Shire Council (2005-08 and 2012-16).
“Cr Hutchinson-Brooks has significant professional and local government experience in metropolitan, peri urban, regional planning and development.
“This experience also includes the social and economic complexities that arise from projects of this magnitude.
“It is proposed that Councillor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks is an appropriately skilled Councillor to nominate as Gippsland representative on the Plan Melbourne Board.
“Cr Hutchinson-Brooks is a qualified Urban Planner and has worked in this industry for many years.
“Cr Hutchinson Brooks has also represented Council on the Municipal Association of Victoria Planning Committee and therefore it follows that his nomination to Plan Melbourne would be well placed.”
Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said it was his background in town planning and local government that led him to nominate for the South Gippsland Council in 2005, “to make a contribution to better planning locally” but he said he retained the right to work in his chosen field, as long as he declared a conflict of interest as the occasion arrived.
CoI on many occasions
Here’s a summary of Cr Hutchinson-Brooks’ conflict of interest declarations in his present term of office:
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting October 28, 2015: Councillor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks declared an indirect conflict of interest in Council Report E.3 Planning Scheme Amendment C108 – Agricultural Services, having a conflicting duty in that the company to which he is a Director which is a consultant to the proponents of the Planning Scheme Amendment.
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting October 28, 2015: Councillor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks declared an indirect conflict of interest in Council Report E.4 Planning Scheme Amendment C89 – Walkerville Village, having a past association as a company – of which he is a Director, has in the past had conversations with the proponents but have not acted for them.
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting August 26, 2015: Councillor Hutchinson-Brooks declared a past close association conflict of interest in Council Reports E.2 Planning Scheme Amendment C97 – Rezoning Of Land At Lang Lang, Poowong Road Nyora (Wallis Watson Site) To The General Residential Zone 1, having being retained by Wallis Watson for a short period as a consultant prior to being elected to Council.
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting July 24, 2013: Councillor Hutchinson-Brooks declared conflict of interest in Council Reports Item E.3 – Adoption of Leongatha Industrial Land Supply Study in that he has a conflicting duty given that he is a tenant at Leongatha Aerodrome which is considered in the report.
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting June 26, 2013: Councillor Hutchinson-Brooks declared a conflict of interest in Council Reports Item E.21 Adoption Of Amendment C72 – Loch, Nyora, Poowong and Meeniyan Structure Plan Implementation as he has a conflicting duty in that he has previously been engaged by a land holder in the affected area.
• South Gippsland Shire Council meeting February 27, 2013: Councillor Hutchinson-Brooks declared an indirect conflict of interest in Council Reports Item E.8 – Planning Scheme Amendment C76 – Southern Leongatha Outline Development Plan – Panel Report and Adoption of Amendment as he has a conflicting duty in that he has a commercial relationship with a relative of a landowner in the affected area. (The policies introduced by the Amendment provide strategic direction to guide the land use and development of the Southern Leongatha area over the next 25 years and beyond. This includes planning for commercial developments adjoining both sides of the South Gippsland Highway, north of Simons Lane and Boags Road.)
A week before October 28, 2015, when the Walkerville Village and ‘Agricultural Services’ amendments came up for decision at the same council meeting, Cr Hutchinson-Brooks also declared a conflict of interest at a ‘Public Presentations’ meeting on October 21 when his colleague at the Key Infrastructure Australia, Bruno Gatsby, spoke on behalf of the applicants, seeking the rezoning of 40ha of Farming zoned land, to Special Use Zone, near the Koonwarra saleyards for farming businesses.
While the Agricultural Services amendment was agreed to by council, the Walkerville amendment was not.
Jeremy Rich, the disgruntled applicant for rezoning at Walkerville claims Cr Hutchinson-Brooks has a conflict of interest problem, the councillor denies that, saying everything is on the record and it’s just an attempt to impact his standing in the community.