The Mirror News

How valuable is Toora’s heritage?

AFTER extensive community consultation, a modified version of Amendment C77 to the South Gippsland Planning Scheme, relating to the eastern district of the shire, has been adopted by Council, with consideration of Toora’s heritage value the only issue yet to be resolved.

The purpose of C77 is to define, support and enhance four towns (Port Franklin, Toora, Welshpool and Port Welshpool) and three settlements (Mt Best, Agnes and Hedley) in the east of the shire. The zoning, overlay and Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS) changes proposed in C77 were recommended actions in the Eastern District Urban Design Frameworks January 2012 which Council adopted in February.

Council has agreed to make minor changes to C77 arising out of eleven of the twelve submissions received when the draft document was exhibited in September.

Allen Van Kuyk was so pleased that Council had taken his submission into account that he made a public presentation to Council on the morning of last Wednesday’s council meeting to express his gratitude. Mr Van Kuyk farms on land abutting the Agnes River and requested that a strip of adjoining land remain as Farming Zone rather than Rural Living to allow his cattle access – between two blocks zoned Rural Living – to land he leases on the north side of the highway.

Not so easily satisfied was the submitter who, despite a mediation meeting, could not be persuaded from the view that C77 imposes heritage controls on Toora which will restrict the rights of property owners. The submission objects to the following wording in C77:

‘Retain the existing heritage character, design and built form of historic buildings, in particular along Stanley Street Toora, in recognition of their contribution to the overall image of the Eastern District towns and localities’ and the action point ‘undertake a review and implement the recommendations of the South Gippsland Heritage Study (2004) for the Eastern District towns and localities. As part of the Heritage Review, investigate application of a precinct-based Heritage Overlay to Stanley Street properties (from the Gray Street intersection to the Victoria Street intersection) to protect and enhance the heritage character of Toora’s Town Centre.’

Shire officers argued in vain that heritage consideration is a standard part of urban design assessment and heritage asset protection is a requirement in the State Planning Policy Framework, the Local Planning Policy Framework and the Council Plan.

Cr Jeanette Harding, a Toora resident, absented herself from discussion of C77 at last Wednesday’s Council meeting, citing possible conflict of interest because of her closeness to the parties involved in the contentious submission. The remaining councillors (seven of them, since Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks was on pre-arranged leave) voted unanimously to adopt C77 and request the Planning Minister to convene a Planning Panel hearing for the unresolved issue.

Cr Mohya Davies stressed that it had taken a very thorough process to arrive at the point where C77 could be adopted. “There is lots of work in C77. It has been more than two years in the making with lots of input. I see it as a positive document, which gives communities some clarity and farmers some idea of where farming land will remain. It is good to see 11 of the 12 submissions accommodated, with only one objection going to the planning panel. I understand there will be costs involved, but it is part of our responsibility to provide for good planning.”

Commenting that heritage is “a fraught issue in many communities”, Cr Andrew McEwen said that he supported on balance the need for consideration of heritage in Stanley Street. “It’s really important that we save and protect Toora’s unique environment and culture, though I understand that people have concerns about their insurance costs. I acknowledge that there are difficulties, but we’re talking about the character of the street. We need to balance individual and community interests. I believe Toora will go ahead, but only if it preserves its character. On balance there is a need to preserve its heritage character.”

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