SELF-STYLED ‘watchdog’ organisation, the South Gippsland Action Group (SGAG), was the first community group to address the council last Wednesday after the appointment of Municipal Monitor Peter Stephenson on the previous Monday.
It could have been an embarrassing moment for the council.
Represented by the group’s treasurer, Gus Blaauw, perceived problems with the council’s contribution of $192,500 to capital works being undertaken by the Walkerville Foreshore Reserve Committee of Management was the focus.
Mr Blaauw claimed the group was made to wait six and a half months before its Freedom of Information request was agreed and a copy of a 569-page planning application report was handed over.
“I think this was disgraceful,” Mr Blaauw said.
He said the paperwork confirmed that the application for the works was not signed by the applicant, making it null and void, and the project, which started out at $370,000 in value, had allegedly blown out to $1.2 or $1.5 million “easily” and no longer resembled the original scope of the application.
The shire has since answered SGAG’s questions:
• The planning application was signed and submitted by a member on behalf of the Walkerville Foreshore Committee. A builder or planning consultant will often make an application on behalf of a landowner, in fact there are very few restrictions on any person from applying for a planning permit on land that they do not own or are not responsible for.
• Council’s contribution was $192,500. The road and car parking area is Council’s asset. Failure to complete these necessary works would undermine Council’s assets and further erosion would potentially undermine privately owned assets.
• The project includes roadworks and car parking, sea wall augmentation, native vegetation removal and works in a heritage overlay.
• Mr Blaauw seems to be concerned that there are differences between the original application and the works being undertaken. However, the plans submitted by the applicant only changed during the process in order to respond to the objector’s concerns regarding the perceived lack of car parking. The revised plans increased the number of car parking spaces to respond to this. However, the project and the permissions required under the planning scheme always remained the same. It is therefore not correct to say that the applicant applied for something different to what Council gave permission for. The applicant’s plans always showed that works would include “roadworks and car parking, sea wall augmentation, native vegetation removal and works in a heritage overlay.” Council considered the planning permit application in an open meeting of Council on August 24, 2016. All of the application details, plans and decisions of Council can be found in the Agenda and Minutes of the Council meeting. This is also consistent with the public consultation undertaken by the Walkerville Foreshore Committee.
Despite its failure to lay a glove on the council, SGAG has welcomed the appointment of the Municipal Monitor, commenting after the meeting that it was “the best behaved council has been in two years”.
“The appointment of Peter Stephenson as the monitor of the South Gippsland Shire is most heartening. It will surely be the first move by State Government to bring some credibility to this local dysfunctional organisation which has single-handedly managed to achieve such devastatingly low community satisfaction results,” said the group’s vice president Otto Ippel in a statement this week.
He claimed the group had been “shut down” by the council “unable to ask questions at the end of public council meetings, unable to speak to council and unable to get their emails through to councillors”.
They got a response to their questions last week, in record time though, with the shire publishing a response by last Friday.
No doubt the Municipal Monitor is already having an impact.