SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council’s proposal to sell a block of land in Foster as part of its Strategic Land Review project has provoked outrage in the community.
The block of land in question is at 2 Berry Street. It bears the name ‘P J Wilson Reserve,’ having been donated to the former Shire of South Gippsland by retired Foster solicitor Jim Wilson in part as a memorial to his father, who was a prominent citizen of the district.
Jim Wilson is appalled that Council has included the 1124 square metre block in its latest list of 23 vacant land parcels which are “potentially surplus to the community’s needs”. What adds insult to injury is that Council did not have the courtesy to consult him about the proposed sale. Mr Wilson, who lives in Kaffir Hill Road, not far from 2 Berry Street, only found out by chance.
Landowners “in the vicinity” (by Council’s definition) were sent letters advising them of Council’s plans. Their letters stated (in part): “The Strategic Land Review project is important to Council. It aims to tidy up Council’s property portfolio by removing properties from our asset register that are not serving a community purpose and aligning our landholdings with existing Council strategies. The sale proceeds are an important revenue stream that will assist with financing new and improved services for our community.”
One of these landowners told Mr Wilson about the letter she had received.
Mr Wilson has now written to Council to express his outrage. In his letter he explains that many years ago he was offered “a substantial sum of money for the land at the entrance to Foster…to be developed for housing and offices. I decided that it would be better utilised to provide a more attractive appearance to the township and developed as a park with gardens for the public’s benefit, and so I donated it to the then Shire of South Gippsland for this purpose. This was also as a memorial in perpetuity to my father, to commemorate his role as solicitor to the Shire for 33 years and his membership of many local organisations.”
Mr Wilson said that he was appalled and confused by the situation which has developed. His confusion stems from the fact that the land has recently been turned into a sculpture park. (Sculptures have been installed in recent weeks and are proving to be the talk of the town – see the Letters page of today’s Mirror.) What is more, the sculpture park appears to have the support of Council.
Back in July Mr Wilson wrote a letter of appreciation to Foster residents Rebecca Matthews and David Bell regarding their proposal to develop a sculpture garden on the PJ Wilson Memorial Reserve at Foster. He explained that he had donated the land to the former Shire of South Gippsland and that his intention was “that it was better to utilise it as an open space for the beautification of the entrance to the town, and that gardens be established on it for this purpose.” Mr Wilson went on to say that he was pleased to have been advised “that the Shire parks and gardens team are going to be connected to the development by providing ongoing maintenance on the site and also beautifying it with gardens, in keeping with my original wishes”.
Mr Wilson has written to his three ward councillors as well as to the shire CEO to express his extreme dissatisfaction. In his letter he writes: “I emphasise that I have not received a letter or any other communication from the Council relating to any of these developments. As I was a solicitor to the Shire of South Gippsland for 31 years and my brother for 17 years, my family has held this position for a period of 80 years, I anticipated that I would receive some courtesy and consideration, and not be treated with such contempt. A number of residents have already expressed their disgust and disappointment to me, as have members of my family.”
One of those residents is Geoff Sparkes, who lives opposite the land in question. “One of the reasons for buying my property more than 30 years ago was the reserve opposite, which I assumed couldn’t be built on,” said Mr Sparkes. The reserve, he added, had a resident koala population and other wildlife such as echidnas and kangaroos were frequently seen there, so it would be a terrible shame to remove the vegetation and build on the block. “And now it’s a sculpture park, so obviously the shire is spending money on it!”
Mr Wilson said the land is also used as a parking area for the farmers’ market and events at the Memorial Hall.
The Berry Street block is one of 23 vacant land parcels recently identified by Council as potentially surplus to the community’s needs. The properties proposed for sale are a combination of land to be sold publicly and land that may be sold to an adjoining landowner.
In addition to the Berry Street land, the properties proposed for sale in 2015-16 and their approximate size are as follows:
- 11-17 Old Waratah Road, Fish Creek (4107m2);
- 4A Stockyard Court/Wood Court, Yanakie (792m2);
- Restructure Overlay allotments 26A-42A Juno Road, Venus Bay (1433m2);
- 641A Lees Road, Venus Bay (839m2);
- 1A Canterbury Road, Venus Bay (1270m2);
- 37A Centre Road, Venus Bay (3602m2);
- 1A Noble Street, Venus Bay (640m2);
- 143A Inlet View Road, Venus Bay (3127m2);
- 16 Milford School Road, Dumbalk North (2051.76m2)
- 6A Davis Court, Leongatha South (1586m2);
- 35A Callaway Crescent, Leongatha (607.7m2);
- Roberts Lane, Leongatha (private car parking areas) (408.56m2);
- Part 23 Smith Street, Leongatha (746m2);
- 11 MacDonald Street, Leongatha (120.4m2);
- 2A St Andrews Drive (Sawyer Street Reserve), Leongatha (2209m2)
- 52 Shellcot Road, Korumburra (1562.1m2);
- 6A Concetta Court, Korumburra (443m2);
- 372 Jeetho West Road, Jeetho (1011m2);
- 166 Baromi Road, Baromi (2024m2);
- 60 & 66 Lawsons Road, Koorooman (2214m2);
- 220 Boolarra Mirboo North Road, Mirboo North (1383m2);
- 22 Burchell Lane, Mirboo North (525m2).
Council has promised that affected adjoining landowners will be informed, along with key stakeholders and community groups, and a public invitation for submissions will appear in local papers next week.
Information on the project, including a full list of the 23 surplus properties proposed for sale, is displayed on Council’s website.
This process is part of Council’s ongoing review of its property portfolio and demonstrates, said the mayor, Cr Bob Newton, a pro-active approach to council asset management.
“The land sales program is a way of identifying opportunities to raise revenue to contribute to new and improved community services,” he explained. “This reduces the impact on our ratepayers.”
The project is also a way to tidy up property boundaries that are often already occupying council land. This improves the safety and appearance of land by reducing the amount of small and unused spaces.
“The community had significant input into the evaluation process and helped inform the revised evaluation matrix,” Cr Newton said. “We want to continue to work together with our community to deliver this project and benefit from the outcomes.”
Since 2010 Council has sold seven properties through the Strategic Land Review Project. These properties were a combination of land that was only suitable for sale to adjoining landowners (and effectively a boundary tidy-up), a larger parcel of land sold to South Gippsland Water to assist with office space and a couple of reserves
that were no longer serving a community need. The total sale value of these seven
properties is just over $600,000.
The Strategic Land Review Project also includes property purchases. Since 2010, Council has purchased four strategic parcels of land:
- 12 Ashenden Street, Leongatha (expansion of Council depot);
- 22 Princes Street, Korumburra (for the Karmai Childrens Centre);
- 5 Little Princes Street, Korumburra (for the Karmai Childrens Centre);
- 1 King Street, Korumburra (for possible future development site).
Any enquiries about Council’s land sales program can be directed to Manager Sustainable Communities, Chris Van Der Ark, on 5662 9200.