AFTER largely negative media coverage focusing on consultation levels, Baw Baw Shire councillors last week approved its Precinct Structure Plans for Warragul and Drouin with a number of amendments.
Among other changes, councillors ruled against plans to extend Lovell Drive and supported new plans that took park and recreation planning overlays off houses on Lillico Road, Warragul.
A plan to allow denser development in part of Drouin was however passed despite a number of opposition voices, but councillors will consider ways to improve how any new developments interface with existing properties.
The Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen sat down with Baw Baw Shire Council mayor Murray Cook and Growth and Economic Development director Matthew Cripps before the vote to discuss the PSPs and the community’s reaction.
William Kulich (WBBC): Matt, for those who aren’t too aware what the PSPs for Drouin and Warragul are, what are they?
Matthew Cripps: The PSPs are a second stage to a larger strategic direction for the municipality. The organisation started off with its settlement strategy which draws a boundary around our townships of where urban growth can extend to. The PSP sits over the top of that and provides the skeleton of where roads, parks, and some of that more high-level infrastructure needs to be located so that as the municipality, Warragul and Drouin in particular, expands we have greater certainty about where roads… drainage and public open space areas [should go.] It’s a document to provide that guidance, but it’s not set in concrete.
WBBC: You said it’s not set in concrete, and Murray, you have been frustrated by some interpretations of the plan as being exactly what’s going to happen, but wouldn’t it be fair for people to think that ‘yes, that’s what’s going to happen in the long term’ given it’s in the council’s long-term plan?
Murray Cook: It’s important to realise that the landowner is definitely in the driver’s seat. It’s their house, they live in it as long as they want to, it’s their choice as to what happens to that house into the future. It will probably get to the stage where the value of the land dictates in their interest that they make a move, but it’s their call. The plan is just a guide. The problem we’ve got now is individual developers are doing development in isolation. What we’ve done is looked at the bigger picture of Drouin and Warragul as a whole and looked at linkages and where we do need some certain infrastructure.
WBBC: Do you feel the consultation has been enough? You did have to extend the consultation period.
Cook: I’ve been led by Matthew and his experience in this area… but the feedback we got was that there needed to be a closer look at some of these situations, and we just allowed ourselves some more time to do that. Consultation meant that yes, there were some concerns, and we paid those concerns the interest they deserved.
Cripps: To clarify slightly, we didn’t necessarily extend the consultation period. The consultation period officially started on the 18th of June, and ran for just over four weeks until the 18th of July, which allowed submissions to be made. The council determined it wouldn’t determine its position on the submissions made for an extra couple of weeks. We were originally going to discuss this with council on the 23rd of July. The councillors and officers had a discussion and decided no, to give enough time to consider all the submissions, which is a total I think of 216, we just needed additional time so we could hear from submitters through a public meeting and then to refine our views.
WBBC: There were a number of people who told councillors they looked at this document on their own accord and said ‘oh, there’s something about my property. I wasn’t aware of that.’ Why were these people not informed?
Cripps: We did directly send out mail to… properties that were impacted directly by the plan, as well as people abutting the boundary between the existing residential areas and the future expansion. The consultation that we provided we believe, and with discussions with the Metropolitan Planning Authority (MPA), is well and truly above what would normally occur in a lot of these situations. You can provide the information but if people don’t read it it’s sometimes a difficult scenario.
WBBC: Another criticism of the PSPs was the involvement of the MPA. How much of this was planned by the MPA and how much of it was by local planners?
Cripps: It was actually a partnership. The MPA has a significant amount of experience and they’ve provided their in-depth knowledge to assist our planners.
Cook: If we hadn’t had the help of the MPA we probably would’ve had to employ some consultants to do this high-level work.
WBBC: Murray, are the councillors united as to what the focus of the plans are?
Cook: As with all questions that come before a council, until you have hands in the air… it is very difficult to find out exactly what’s going on.
WBBC: Nonetheless there’s a lot of discussion that goes on before the council meetings to try to become as unanimous as possible before the meeting, so you would have an idea how most other councillors feel.
Cook: You’re talking about the information gathering phase and yes, that is very much a shared time… but we are definitely nine individuals with minds of our own and I’m looking forward to the debate on Wednesday night.
WBBC: Another complaint about the plan was regarding the houses in the Lillico Road area with the recreation [zones] placed over houses when they would be better placed a few metres away from those houses. How did those zones end upcovering those houses in the first place when it seems a pretty basic operation to move them?
Cripps: From a planning perspective the starting point for the growth areas is to almost consider it like a blank canvas. Look at topography, look at the natural environment, look at where the water features are…
WBBC: But even considering the topography, there are some areas that are arguably flatter for sporting areas to go to.
Cripps: There are a number of issues in terms of topography, but in terms of working through our consideration, we’ve considered it without having any real consideration for the details of lot boundaries or where potential buildings are. It’s really looking at the general principles, which have been based around best location for certain uses and certain types of activities.
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