A two-year community campaign to set up an alcohol and drug residential rehabilitation centre in Warrnambool overcame a major hurdle this week when the state's planning umpire approved the proposed Dennington site. The community group behind the centre was delighted, some Dennington residents who objected to the facility were disappointed.
Residents had objected on amenity and environmental grounds. They ran an emotive campaign that struck a chord with Warrnambool City councillors, who in April voted against the centre.
The arguments put forward by councillors at the time were bizarre, including the site was "too windy" and lacking top soil.
Councillors were swayed by an invested minority. They chose to vote against the wider community's views and more importantly the council's own planning professionals, who recommended they support the planning application before they deferred it.
The councillors who voted against the centre - mayor Tony Herbert, Michael Neoh, Peter Hulin and David Owen - cost ratepayers dearly. The council's bill for planning experts, legal experts and the like for the six-day Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing will run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Councillors need to be held to account. They voted in favour of a rate rise above the state government-regulated cap yet threw away tens of thousands with the raising of their hands on this issue. Warrnambool's elected representatives are not the first and won't be the last to waste ratepayers' funds on planning battles.
Corangamite Shire said its bill for a recent VCAT hearing after councillors voted against their own planning experts and rejected an application for a solar farm in September topped $120,000.
The state government has since announced plans to remove councils from such planning applications because of the complexities.
Town planning is full of complexities. That's why councils employ professionals to guide ratepayers and councillors. It is staggering councillors ignore such advice.
- Greg Best is a member of The Lookout steering committee