Features

Mismanaging our Green Wedge

In 2019, the Clarke/Egan council (2016-2020) ignored community opinion and re-wrote Nillumbik's 2011 Green Wedge Management Plan to ensure rural land owners would have no obligation to protect the natural environment on their properties.

The Community Panel randomly selected to advise council, strongly opposed this move.  In June 2019 a majority of this panel made the following submission to council's draft Green Wedge Management Plan.  Their submission was largely ignored.  The draft plan was adopted and now directs all council Green Wedge actions.

 

A submission, compiled and presented by a majority of the Green Wedge Community Panel in response to the Draft Nillumbik Green Wedge Management Plan June 2019

A plan lacking in specifics which proposes radical changes to the Green Wedge

 

Who we are

Last year Nillumbik Shire Council commissioned a significant program of community consultation on its Green Wedge Management Plan (GWMP), embracing meetings with a range of stakeholders, an online survey, coffee shop meetings and a series of open community workshops. An extensive ‘Community Engagement Report’ captured the views expressed during this program.

The final phase of the program was a Community Panel, comprising 42 Shire residents randomly selected through a rigorous, independent process. The Panel sat for six Saturdays from August to November 2018 to review the existing GWMP and to make recommendations to Council. Recommendations were required to be supported by at least 80 per cent of Panel participants. In framing its recommendations the Panel carefully considered a wide range of views, including those reflected in the Community Engagement Report. The Panel’s report was presented to Council on 17 November 2018.

This submission to the draft GWMP has been prepared by a majority of the Community Panel, who following their formal contribution as members of the Panel felt an obligation to review the draft in the context of the clearly expressed views of the community.

 

Background

In 1994, the State Government’s Local Government Review Board declared that the newly-formed Shire of Nillumbik was to be a conservation Shire, with the Green Wedge as its strategic focus.1

The Community Engagement Report noted that:

  • ‘The environment including plants, animals and the bush was… considered important by respondents from all engagement activities’2
  • ‘[The] natural environment – native vegetation/waterways/flora and fauna… is substantial and interconnected and still in remarkably good condition given the proximity to Melbourne’3
  • In comments submitted in the online survey, ‘the most common theme was to protect the Green Wedge… ‘don’t mess it up’’4

The overarching Metropolitan Planning Strategy, Plan Melbourne, requires Green Wedge Management Plans to ‘protect and manage the value of green wedges’5 and to ‘protect biodiversity assets’.6

The Victorian Government’s Biodiversity 2037 strategy states there should be no ‘net loss’ to biodiversity as a result of permitted clearing of vegetation.7

 

Our overall assessment

The draft is at odds with the Panel’s position. If implemented this draft GWMP will not satisfy the requirements set out in State planning documents nor will it meet community expectations.

Our Green Wedge must be protected and conserved but this draft plan will have the opposite effect.

Of major concern is what is missing. No specific actions are proposed to address the ongoing decline of biodiversity in the green wedge or the loss of native vegetation. The draft lacks objectives and specific actions to address biodiversity-related issues.

In contrast, the current GWMP describes the complex interaction of these issues. It has nine high priority actions addressing biodiversity, and sixteen medium priority actions.

Also of concern, the draft proposes actions that threaten to degrade the Green Wedge. In particular, it says that Council will:

  • advocate for changes to township boundaries ‘to accommodate [sic] incremental growth’8
  • ‘investigate options to maintain the amenity and productivity’ of rural land adjacent to urban areas9 i.e. introduce new land uses, possibly including subdivision, outside the urban growth boundary (UGB), thereby increasing the footprint of townships
  • lobby for a rezoning of the Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ) areas, i.e. water down the planning scheme protection of the Green Wedge10
  • attempt to lessen the current application of the RCZ because it ‘is an inhibitor to... the right to farm’,11 and
  • remove Environmental Significance Overlays (ESOs) from ‘protected’ land used for agriculture and hobby farms, even when significant biodiversity/habitat is found there (see Action A3.2 – guided by A3.1) This concerns RCZ land, the prime purpose of which is conservation i.e. undermines planning provisions

We also note that:

  • Some of the ‘actions’ presented in the report are either aspirational, not accompanied by any actionable items, or provide nothing to guide their implementation, and
  • The ‘Five key moves for the shire’ are generic and there is no explanation of the rationale for their strategic importance

 

Rezoning

Most of Nillumbik is zoned RCZ, the primary purpose of which is conservation. The Council wants to rezone some areas Green Wedge Zone (GWZ), the primary purpose of which is agriculture, with tourism also having a role. Such rezoning would allow:

  • most agriculture to be introduced without the need for a planning permit;
  • subject to a permit, intensive animal husbandry such as cattle feedlots, prohibited in the RCZ;
  • subject to a permit, approval of a range of recreational and tourism land uses

The following is put forward in support of the rezoning proposal:

[The] current application [of the RCZ] across large parts of the shire means that land already cleared for agriculture cannot be used for that purpose without a planning permit.12

What is meant by ‘land already cleared for agriculture’? If land has been used for agriculture within the previous two years the Nillumbik Planning Scheme allows it to continue to be used for that purpose as an ‘existing use’. If more than two years have elapsed it is appropriate that a permit assessment be conducted by Council to determine the conservation value of any regenerated native vegetation.

The argument for change presented in the draft GWMP is specious.

Rezoning of this kind would require Ministerial approval, but by including this rezoning target in the draft Council is revealing its vision for our Green Wedge.

 

Buffer zones

The draft GWMP promotes the consolidation of population around townships and [on the] fringe of the Urban Growth Boundary.13

The implication is that this would result in a useful ‘buffer zone’. The draft suggests that such a buffer zone would solve problems of trespass, rubbish dumping and dust from unsealed roads.

Subdivision will not solve these problems, which occur across the whole Shire. The ‘buffer zone’ proposal is essentially an attack on the Urban Growth Boundary.

 

The ‘stocktake’ and a proposed attack on Environmental Significance Overlays

Environmental Significance Overlays (ESOs) are put in place not only to protect areas rich in biodiversity but also to protect those areas that provide the critical linkages and wildlife corridors.

Variously described as a ‘Key move’ or a ‘Key action’, repeated verbatim four times in the draft GWMP is the following:

Undertake stocktakes of environmental assets and agricultural activity and practices, including hobby farming, that need to be protected for the future.14

This action is problematic. What is meant by ‘protected’? It seems that Council is proposing to prioritize agriculture and hobby farming over conservation.

Consider also key action A3.2:

Subject to the findings of the [stocktake, referred to above], review the Environmental Significance Overlay in the Nillumbik Planning Scheme.15

Apparently the intent of the stocktake is to remove ESOs from lands which the stocktake finds should be ‘protected’ for agriculture, including hobby farms, at the expense of the environment.

Reinforcing this intent is the wording of objective O3.1:

Identify, protect and enhance valuable biodiversity and habitats.16

The purpose of ESOs is to protect significant biodiversity, which includes not only areas of valuable biodiversity but also vital faunal linkages. The draft’s objective O3.1 demonstrates a misunderstanding of the way in which ESOs are designed to work at a landscape level, and would see a continued decline in biodiversity across the Green Wedge.

All biodiversity is ‘valuable’, including that found on agricultural land and hobby farms, because so much has been lost.

The Community Panel was clear in its commitment to the protection of ‘actual and potential wildlife corridors and valuable habitat’.17

This proposed ‘review’ of ESOs, especially when considered in conjunction with Council’s proposal to rezone some areas from RCZ to GWZ,

  • is supported by very few in the community, and
  • contradicts state government planning policy and legislation

 

Insufficient attention to strengthening biodiversity

The need to pay more attention to biodiversity repair is highlighted in coverage of the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability’s latest State of the Environment Report:

Biodiversity is rapidly deteriorating in many parts of the state, with feral animals and plants on the march while native species are losing habitat and under increasing threat of extinction. Most species loss comes from practices such as grazing, tree clearing and fire protection on private land... Dr Sparkes recommended conserving more private land…18

The significance of Nillumbik’s flora and fauna should have been included in the draft for the benefit of community understanding: the area has 1,031 indigenous flora species, 64 of which are listed as significant species. There are also 350 indigenous fauna species, 70 of which are listed as rare or threatened, including the Brush-tailed Phascogale, Common Dunnart, Lace Monitor, Eltham Copper Butterfly, Swift Parrot, Masked Owl, Powerful Owl and the Australian Grayling. There is also a large but unknown number of indigenous invertebrates, fungi, and bacteria. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has identified 84 sites of biodiversity significance in the Shire. Twelve are of national significance, 33 of state significance, 38 of regional significance and one of local significance. There are 23 Ecological Vegetation Classes identified within the Shire.19

The draft GWMP is completely silent on these assets that we have an obligation to protect not only for Nillumbik residents but the broader nation.

Under Goal 3 of the draft GWMP there are several references to the need for ecosystem and biodiversity protection yet the proposed actions fail to seriously address biodiversity decline across the landscape.

Further to the problems with objective O3.1, confining Council’s protection to only ‘valuable biodiversity and habitats’, none of the other five Objectives in the draft GWMP specifically addresses biodiversity decline.

Under A3.5 the draft plan says biodiversity conservation will be ‘encouraged’ but specifies no regulatory framework. Because of this the Action is unlikely to be effective. A3.5 has a worthy Objective of ‘conserving the bush and rural landscapes’ but is not associated with any executable action.

Under the current GWMP, the themes of Environment and People and Communities have their own separate goals. The coupling of a ‘healthy and safe communities’ theme with ‘safe and healthy environments’ under Goal 3 has caused confusion and a lack of focus on the needs of our Green Wedge environment. The draft GWMP notes that the threat of bushfire is driving an:

integrated approach to the major land use issues in the Green Wedge.20

As a result, environmental sustainability is being sacrificed for ‘community resilience’.

The Objectives and Actions of Goal 3 as currently presented in the draft GWMP are a missed opportunity. The draft GWMP lacks objectives and specific actions to address:

  • the protection of indigenous remnant vegetation
  • sustainable land management
  • significant sites and wildlife corridors
  • land use and the effect of development on the wider catchment
  • sustainable land use planning
  • conserving biodiversity
  • discouraging rural residential development on undersized or heavily vegetated bush blocks, or in high bushfire risk areas in the Green Wedge, and
  • managing conservation at a landscape scale

By way of contrast, and as asserted above in our Overall Assessment, the current GWMP has nine high priority actions addressing biodiversity, and sixteen medium priority actions.

The draft document must be re-written to address these primary areas of community concern. As it stands, the draft GWMP, were it to be implemented, would endanger the survival of our unique biodiversity. For the Green Wedge Shire, that is unacceptable.

 

Climate Change

The community and other levels of government are looking to local government for genuine commitment and tangible action in response to climate change and threats to biodiversity.

The draft GWMP contains no relevant actions. It speaks of climate change adaptation but does not aspire to mitigation. While the green wedges are often referred to as the ‘lungs of Melbourne’, less figuratively they are its carbon sink. While the protection of native vegetation is important for its own sake, it is also important in combating climate change.

 

A Lack of Proper Process

The current GWMP, released in 2010, took 5 years to develop because it went through a rigorous process mandated by State government. Planning Practice Note 31 (PPN 31) ‘Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan’ describes the process in detail. Council has written its new plan in a matter of months, ignoring key components of PPN 31. A Project Steering Group should have been formed, chaired by council and including key stakeholder representatives from organisations such as Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, the CFA, and the DELWP, amongst others. This did not happen. PPN 31 also requires a clear implementation plan which identifies priorities, resources required, responsibilities and time lines. This was developed in detail for the current plan but is missing in the draft.

The Community Panel acknowledged ‘the significant amount of work and expertise that has gone into preparing the existing plan’, and further recommended ‘that it should serve as a base from which to prepare an updated plan, and any actions that are yet to be completed should be carried over, unless specifically contradicted by our recommendations.’21

But Council has chosen to draft a completely new plan, not an updated and extended version of the current one, and has done so in a few months without following the proper process. The result is insubstantial and appears to have given undue weight to a minority report produced by 5 members of the Panel.

 

Conclusion

PPN 31 states that ‘It is anticipated that the Department will be involved in the development of each GWMP and be provided with an opportunity to comment on the draft prior to it being adopted by Council.’22 We hope that council will honour this final step in the expected process and ask for DELWP’s comments on its new plan.

The 22 Panel members who prepared this submission conclude that the draft GWMP approach needs a fundamental rethink. Proposed actions that attack core foundations of the Green Wedge should be removed. Specific detail is needed on actions that support the community’s overwhelming desire to protect the Green Wedge.

 

Signed by: 22 members of the Community Panel, June 2019

 

Footnotes

1 Nillumbik Shire Council, Nillumbik Green Wedge Management Plan: Part 2: Delivering the vision, p. 2. Available at www.nillumbik.vic.gov.au/files/assets/public/planning-matters/planning-f....
2 Wayfarer Consulting 2018, Nillumbik Green Wedge Management Plan: Community Engagement Report, p. 12. Available at participate.nillumbik.vic.gov.au/gwmp/community-panel.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid, p. 41.
5 The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 2017, Plan Melbourne Strategy 2017–2050, p. 87. Available at www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/the-plan.
6 Ibid.
7 The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 2017, Protecting Victoria’s Environment: Biodiversity 2037, p. 14. Available at www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/biodiversity-plan.
8 Nillumbik Shire Council 2019, Draft for Consultation: Green Wedge Management Plan, p. 22. Available at participate.nillumbik.vic.gov.au/gwmp.
9 Ibid, p. 24.
10 Ibid, p. 40.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid, found on p. 13 as ‘Key move 5’, on p. 32 as ‘key action 3.1’ under ‘Safe and healthy environments’, on p. 39 as ‘key action A4.3’ under ‘A prosperous economy’, and on p. 41 as ‘key action A5.5’ under ‘Responsible leadership’.
15 Ibid, p. 32.
16 Ibid.
17 Nillumbik Shire Council, Green Wedge Management Plan Community Panel Recommendations, p. 9. Available at participate.nillumbik.vic.gov.au/gwmp/community-panel.
18 Carey, A, ‘Extreme weather, rising seas, feral animals: the state’s environmental report card is grim’, The Age, 19 March 2019, www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/extreme-weather-rising-seas-feral-an....
19 Collated from: Nillumbik Shire Council 2012, Nillumbik Biodiversity Strategy 2012, and Nillumbik Shire Council 2014, State of Environment Report 2014.
20 Nillumbik Shire Council 2019, Draft for Consultation: Green Wedge Management Plan, p. 31.
21 Nillumbik Shire Council, Green Wedge Management Plan Community Panel Recommendations, p2.
22 The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 2015, Planning Practice Note 31: Preparing a Green Wedge Management Plan, p. 6. Available at www.planning.vic.gov.au/resource-library/planning-practice-notes.

 

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