In contrast to the good news that Moreland Council is buying land for the Merri Creek corridor, it's hugely disappointing to report that Melbourne Water is planning to sell off Merri Creek land, land designated part of the Merri Creek Marran Baba Parklands. This 'surplus' land, at the rear of an industrial property in Trawalla Ave, Thomastown, is part of an original floodplain reserve owned by Melbourne Water. Over a number of years it was improperly occupied, filled and built on by the adjacent landowners, previous and current. Despite its modified conditon there is no reason it can't be ecologically restored, as has been achieved for many formerly degraded areas along Merri Creek.
In mid-2017 Merri Creek Management Committee and the Friends of Merri Creek (FoMC) objected to Melbourne Water's application for a planning permit to remove the reserve staus of this 'surplus' land. We argued that the proposal was inappropriate for public land so close to Merri Creek, in places significantly closer than 30m and was contrary to planning policy. After Whittlesea City Council decided in favour of issuing a permit the FoMC applied for a VCAT review of the case.
Before the VCAT hearing, FoMC and MCMC met with Melbourne Water to discuss a compromise solution for this 'surplus' land. The FoMC proposed that the land be leased to the adjacent landowner, for a fixed period so as not to cause undue business hardship. Then later it could be rehabilitated and revert to its original purpose as a waterway reserve. Unfortunately no agreement was reached.
In July 2018 the Friends of Merri Creek appeared at VACT, strongly represented by their planning consultant for the case, Dr Stephen Rowley. They argued that the removal of land from the Merri Creek corridor for industrial purposes is fundamentally at odds with planning policy and compromises the planned future enhancement of this stretch of the creek. Unfortunately this appeal was unsucessful. Read the VCAT decision
Since then the FoMC and MCMC have written to the Minister for Planning urging that an alternative solution to the rezoning and sale of the land be sought, such as the compromise to lease the land for a fixed period before it is rehabilitated and returned to the public realm. The land needs to be rezoned to industrial zone before it can be sold.
Failing this, both organisations have asked that the anticipated rezoning of the 'surplus' land be subject to a public planning scheme amendment and public hearing, rather than being fast-tracked by the Minister. If the latter occurs there'll be no opportunity for public input on the rezoning. The original decision to declare the land 'surplus' was not a public process and Melbourne Water has not convincingly demonstrated why the land is 'surplus' .