VCAT: Port Fairy developer must give ground to snipes

DEVELOPERS of a large subdivision next to a Port Fairy wetland will have to make concessions for migratory birds following a directive from the state’s top planning court.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruled this week that eight lots in a proposed Powling Street subdivision will be maintained as wetlands for the migratory Latham’s snipe.

VCAT’s decision is the latest chapter in a decade-long battle over the proposed 32-lot subdivision at Mills Crescent, following Moyne Shire’s permit approval in a cliffhanger vote last year.

Developer John Bock had already made concessions to environmentalists six years ago, when VCAT forced his company to scale back a larger subdivision. 

Environment Defenders Office solicitor Ariane Wilkinson said while opponents would have rather seen the entire site protected, they were happy with VCAT’s compromise.

“The ruling doesn’t offer complete protection of the wetland but it is substantially better than the original proposal, which would have dislocated the Latham’s snipe,” she said yesterday.

South Beach Wetlands and Landcare Group welcomed this week’s VCAT ruling following several years of advocacy for protection of the site.

Group spokesman Don Stewart said it was a victory for the Latham’s snipe as well as the Port Fairy community.

“The only home worth having on these parts of the site is the one that’s already there — the home of a wading bird,” he said.

“This decision sensibly allocates the best and largest middle ephemeral wetland, which will flood as sea levels rise, to the birds.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Latham’s snipe as not being endangered. It was hunted as game several decades ago but has since been protected by law.

Mr Bock was unavailable for comment yesterday. He is on holidays and yet to read the VCAT findings in detail.

He  told The Standard last year that two independent climate change studies backed his claims the land was suitable to build on. 

“As part of the planning process I had two expert reports done by people independent to me — they found that by the year 2100 my land would not be subject to storm surges or rising sea levels,” Mr Bock said in October 2013. 

The developer said he had also forfeited 37 per cent of his land at Mills Crescent to create a reserve for the birds and the Commonwealth government had given its approval to the development.

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