SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council agreed at the May 25 meeting to adopt Planning Scheme Amendment C81 – Land Subject to Inundation Overlay.
Councillors usually fall over themselves to move and second motions, but there was none of that this time. When Cr Jim Fawcett eventually stepped forward, he said the reluctance to move the motion reflected councillors’ knowledge that the motion would be unpopular with some. Council was, however, acting for the greater good, he said.
The Amendment went through extensive public consultation after being exhibited for six weeks last September-October. Of the 25 responses received, 13 were objections from affected landowners. The submissions were referred to an Independent Planning Panel, which met in February. The Panel Report recommends Council adopt the Amendment subject to minor mapping and LSIO schedule changes.
Even on the morning of the council meeting, there was a presentation from Pound Creek landowner Neil Smith. Mr Smith had already presented his arguments against the Amendment to Council and the Panel, but he feels so strongly he determined to reiterate his points in one last-ditch attempt. He was accompanied by a neighbour, Anita Harris, who will also be affected by the LSIO.
The Amendment updates the flood inundation controls on inland and coastal areas across the South Gippsland Shire. Removal of the poorly mapped former environmental overlay and its replacement with the LSIO removes more land from the overlay than it includes. However, around 20 to 30 landowners, mainly in the Port Welshpool and Pound Creek areas, will be significantly affected.
Based on the probability of a 1 in 100 years flood and coastal storm surge inundation up to 0.8 metres predicted for 2100, on land covered by the LSIO planning permits will be required for new dwellings with a finished floor level under 3.4 metres (or 3 metres in the case of Port Welshpool).
Mr Smith argued that no consideration had been given to landholders such as him whose land has a levee bank, which had never been breached – even in recent weeks when wild winds combined with a king tide to create a particularly strong storm surge.
Senior shire planner Paul Stampton responded that the levee banks had been taken into account in that it was recognised that they could fail if they were not well maintained and not all farmland has them.
Mr Smith argued that the banks were well maintained by local farmers and they provided excellent protection. “They’ve been tested time and time again,” he insisted.
He said the overlay would make it difficult to sell land, because buyers would not easily be able to erect dwellings.
“I don’t want to give a sob story here, but farming is difficult enough without this added level of bureaucracy.” He asked what Council and other levels of government would be doing to protect their own assets.
“I’m really sorry that your properties are affected,” said Cr Fawcett to Mr Smith and Ms Harris. “It’s one of the crappy things we have to do.”
He said that South Gippsland Water (where he is a director) has a policy of retreat as far as its assets are concerned, and he is certain the government at all levels will do the same, moving and/or dismantling pipes and roads as the sea encroaches on the coastline, as it simply could not afford to protect so much infrastructure.
Cr Fawcett explained that with the LSIO “we’re trying to protect existing rights, but we want to let people know what we’re anticipating. We’ve got an obligation to the wider population to say these areas are affected. You have my sympathy, but we have to do this.”
When it came to the vote, all Councillors present (Cr Jeannette Harding was again absent from the council meeting) voted for the amendment, with the exception of the mayor.
Cr Bob Newton said, “I understand all the work that has been done by the planners, but you can’t beat local knowledge, such as the presenter this morning who said he had never seen the sea wall breached. For that reason I am voting against the motion.”