By Michael Giles

AT THE end of the debate last Wednesday, one of the most important planning changes ever proposed by the South Gippsland Shire Council, Amendment C90 Housing and Settlement, sailed through council virtually untouched.
And, despite concerns about possible conflicts of interest and opposition from numerous affected property owners in the shire, it will be handed over for review to an independent planning panel, appointed by the State Planning Minister, with the unanimous support of council.
Even Cr Jeremy Rich, whose family company Ansevata Nominees made a submission opposing the adoption of Amendment C90, because of its implications for Walkerville and the Rich family farm voted against his family’s wishes and in favour of the motion.
It was quite a stunning result, given the argy-bargy that has gone on at previous council meetings.
And it may have been a warning issued by the Mayor, Cr Lorraine Brunt, prior to consideration of the agenda item last Wednesday, that gave councillors pause to consider their positions.
“Before I ask for a mover of this recommendation today, I’ll caution you all councillors that the Minister’s eyes are on us today so let’s hope before we consider tearing this document apart or doing any radical changes that we consider making a good decision and it must be for the long-term sustainable future of the whole shire,” said Cr Brunt.
It is not known if the Local Government Minister, Marlene Kairouz, was actually watching the livestreaming of the meeting but she has certainly been made aware of process, governance and conflict of interest problems at the council, some of which have revolved around the adoption of this very amendment.
Early on in the meeting last week Cr Rich settled speculation about whether he would remain in the room and vote on C90, despite the submission made by his family’s company, when he failed to declare a conflict of interest at the appropriate time.
But his place at the table became, at the very least awkward, when both Cr Meg Edwards and the Mayor referred directly to his company’s opposition.
Speaking about an ultimately successful attempt by Cr Ray Argento to placate the concerns of some of his Port Welshpool constituents by adding a note to the motion, Cr Edwards said she wished to see all public submissions considered equally, on their merits.
“The reason that I voted against this motion (Cr Argento’s amendment) is that I don’t believe one specific area of the C90 should be given any more consideration than any other… I support the original motion of having an independent panel consider the whole of Amendment C90 with all of the submissions.
“We’ve had submissions from Port Welshpool, from Paul Hamlett, who spoke to us very well this morning. We’ve had public submissions from Graeme and Gill Nicoll. We’ve had 128 submissions. There were 49 from Walkerville and one from Ansevata down there and some from Jumbunna, from Darlimurla and the Fish Creek Catholic Church…”, said Cr Edwards.
While providing some facts and figures on seven years of investigation and public consultation into the amendment, the Mayor Cr Brunt said 75 of the 128 submissions were in favour of the changes council was proposing, 18 had objected and six wanted more allotments in their own restructures.
Cr Brunt said seven landowners in Fish Creek and one in Walkerville (Ansevata) wanted the town boundaries expanded.
In the end, Council passed the following motion unanimously, “that council: 1. Adopts the Planning Scheme Amendment C90 and requests the Minister For Planning to appoint an independent planning panel to consider all submissions. 2. Request that special consideration be given to the restructure overlay component of the planning scheme associated with the Port Welshpool restructure overlay, the objector’s submissions, and their wish to be exempted”.
Cr Argento has previously indicated he wanted the subject land at Lasseters Road Port Welshpool completely removed from the planning amendment but watered down that approach to seeking “special consideration”.
Some councillors have said this might serve to highlight inundation issues at Port Welshpool and lead to a harsher outcome.
Only Cr Rich and Cr Maxine Kiel did not speak during the debate.
Planning Scheme Amendment C90 will introduce the key recommendations of the Housing and Settlement Strategy (September 2013) into the shire’s planning scheme. It aims to address old and inappropriate subdivisions located in former mining and railway towns, and introduce settlement plans for towns including Agnes, Arawata, Bena, Buffalo, Darlimurla, Dumbalk, Fish Creek, Hedley, Jumbunna, Kardella, Kongwak, Koonwarra, Mirboo, Nerrena, Ruby, Stony Creek, Strzelecki, Walkerville North, Walkerville South, Walkerville (Promontory View Estate) and Yanakie. It also covers the Venus Bay Estate Two and Port Welshpool Urban Design Framework Plans as revised and the Rural Living Zone Investigation Areas to the Nyora Framework Plan.