This week it was revealed Planning Minister Richard Wynne had approved a $14 million, 68-apartment complex for a vacant site on Warrnambool's Mortlake Road.
The approval is good news for those struggling to secure a place in Warrnambool's never-before-seen tight rental and home-owners' markets.
It's a vote of confidence in the region and comes when our battered economy needs every lift it can get. As many as 80 jobs are expected to be created during construction.
But the process the minister used in approving the development was flawed.
The government bypassed the usual planning approval process. Instead of objections from neighbouring residents being considered by the city council's town planning experts and then ultimately city councillors, the government used the need for economic stimulus post the COVID-19 pandemic as reason to fast-track the approval process.
While we are assured residents' objections were forwarded to the government, the planning scheme was changed and neighbours had no opportunity to back-up their concerns. As one put it, 'we lost our voice'.
Furthermore, they cannot appeal to the state's independent planning umpire, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, because the minister's approval is final.
The decision and process goes against the spirit of planning laws. It also creates an uneven playing field. Back in December councillors voted to reject a 74-apartment complex on the corner of Dales and Aberline roads, just a few kilometres away from the development approved this week.
Developers of that proposal must be querying why they weren't lucky enough to have had the minister and COVID-19 on their side. Planning is always a vexed issue, someone will always be unhappy. The Dennington residents who campaigned against a residential alcohol and drug centre being established in their neighbourhood objected to councillors and had a voice when the matter ended up in VCAT. They were bitterly disappointed the centre was approved, albeit with some conditions they had sought, but at least they had their day in court. Everyone is entitled to be heard.