NARRAWONG’S community is digesting Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s controversial decision this week to give permits for 18 proposed housing allotments on sensitive coastal land.
His decision to approve amendment C93 in the Glenelg Shire planning scheme came only days before the issue was to be heard by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) next week.
Critics said he had undermined the normal appeals process and denied justice to concerned community members.
Mr Guy defended his decision saying it was the fulfilment of his election promise to back the right of Narrawong landholders to build homes on private land at private risk.
The issue goes back almost a decade when the owners of 10 sites at the coastal township and one at nearby Allestree applied for housing development approval for blocks with pre-existing titles.
Previous planning minister Justin Madden responded to community concerns by imposing a moratorium on development.
Mr Guy intervened early last year and took the issue out of the hands of the shire council to start the process which culminated in his decision this week.
Local residents action group, Friends of the Surry, was stunned by the decision and is awaiting legal advice on whether an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court.
“We are not very happy at all about the minister’s ruling,” group president Martin Boyer said.
“Our only recourse may be in the Supreme Court.
“Our argument to VCAT would have been based around our view that the developments are on the primary dune system.”
Affected landowners are digesting the announcement.
Judy Roberts, who with her husband Owen, owns a proposed eight-lot subdivision in a portion of their farm on Caravan Park Road, said they were awaiting more information of the decision.
She said they were yet to be notified if next week’s VCAT hearing had been cancelled.
“We can’t comment because we haven’t got all the details,” she said.
The Environment Defenders’ Office, which was scheduled to appear before VCAT to oppose the developments, accused Mr Guy of circumventing the appeals system.
“It’s fair to say that if developments no longer needed a planning permit the basis of the appeal has been significantly undermined,” he said.
“VCAT is to have an independent review of decisions such as this, to make sure they are consistent with our planning laws that are there to protect the coast.”
Mr Guy said the Coalition government would not be distracted by Melbourne lawyers and residents “coming to tell country people they can’t build on land that they own”.