THE hands went up all around the Venus Bay Community Centre last Saturday morning.
It was unanimous – the shire absolutely must not sell the six allotments of Public Open Space land in the area it has ear-marked for disposal in its ‘Strategic Land Review Project”.
In fact, people in the otherwise sleepy coastal settlement are very agitated about the whole tenor of the proposal.
And it rings true with what they already feel about the shire; that it’s all take and no give as far as Venus Bay is concerned.
Last Saturday, at a sometimes fiery meeting, a packed hall left local councillor Kieran Kennedy in no uncertain terms about what message they want him to take back to the shire.
Full-time and part-time residents of the town agree.
They are ticked off that six of the 23 allotments identified shire-wide are in Venus Bay when the town is already poorly provided for when it comes to open space and amenities.
Here are some of the points they put up on the whiteboard:
• The community says “no” – listen to us
• It’s short sighted
• We’ve already got less than two per cent open space
• The land supports native habitats and endangered flora
• The green spaces are the “lungs” of our space
• They’re used by the community in many different ways
• They’re important to the fragile coastal environment
Happily, Cr Kennedy is completely in step with the community on this one and will be taking their views to the next council meeting, in February.
He has already spoken up on the subject. At the December council meeting he said he couldn’t vote in favour of an action plan to address the Seasonal Population Impacts because its implementation depended in part on proceeds from the sale of the land.
Indeed the shire is relying on the sale of surplus land to bridge some of the funding gaps left by the capping of rates next year at 2.5 per cent.
In the meantime, the convenors of the meeting urged everyone to write letters and make submissions against the sale of the land before it’s too late.
“You’ve only got until Monday to write,” they were told.
It’s not the only opposition the shire has heard to the sale of “23 properties identified as surplus to the needs of the community”.
At Foster, the community is deadest against the shire selling 1124m2 of land in Berry Street, reportedly donated to the shire by the Wilson family, in perpetuity, for community purposes – not to raise money for the shire’s coffers.
Two key community organisations in Venus Bay have come out against the sales – Friends of Venus Bay Peninsula Inc and the Venus Bay Community Centre Inc.
Here’s what they had said in their submission to the shire:
“As two of the key organisational stakeholders listed to be part of the communications strategy, Venus Bay Community Centre (VBCC) and Friends of Venus Bay Peninsula (FVBP) wish to express our concern at the intention to sell six lots of Council owned Public Open Space (POS) at Venus Bay, out of a total of 23 blocks across the municipality. Once again the stated intent of Council to consult with the community on this matter has been ignored,” said the groups.
They reminded council that the proceeds of any sale of recreational land had to be committed to similar purposes in the same area.
“Council states that ‘the sale proceeds are an important revenue stream that will assist with financing new and improved services for our community’. This doesn’t sound like Council intends to spend the money on parkland as the Act requires. Is the intent to use the Venus Bay land sale proceeds for parkland or another purpose outside the Venus Bay area?
“The community has been given until Monday, January 4, 2016 to respond. This shows a complete lack of consideration for the community at the busiest time of the year and is surely calculated to limit the amount of responses received.”
They claimed the community’s wishes have been ignored again, that there is already a lack of open space and they completely reject the claim by the shire that each block is costing the shire $5400 annually to maintain, saying the council has completely disregarded the efforts of local volunteers under the community stewardship project.
The South Gippsland Shire Council had aimed “to tidy-up Council’s property portfolio by removing properties from its asset register that are not serving a community purpose” and to do so quickly as part payment for four properties it wishes to buy in Leongatha (expansion of depot), and in Korumburra (three sites including land for the Karmai Children’s Centre).
But is seems that in Foster and Venus Bay at least, these efforts are being stymied by the community.