Fine-tuning required: says council

Macedon Ranges Shire Council has declined to endorse a localised planning statement until it is fine-tuned.
The Macedon Ranges Statement of Planning Policy was formally received at a special meeting of council last Thursday with council officer request for several changes to be made at a state government level including development of ministerial guidelines, a work plan and funding program.
The document recognises the importance of Macedon Ranges as a distinctive area and landscape in Victoria, and creates a framework for the future use and development of land to be incorporated into the Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme.
Supporting the council officer’s recommendation last Thursday, Councillor Mandi Mees acknowledged the document was in need of work but stressed the importance of ensuring a higher level of protection for the Ranges.
“If we don’t move forward with this now we will have nothing other than what we have today,” she said.
The SPP includes protected settlement boundaries for towns expected to grow, including Gisborne, Kyneton, Romsey, Riddells Creek, Lancefield and Woodend.
Once established, these boundaries will be subject to the same rigorous protections of Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary and will only be able to be altered with the approval of both houses of the Victorian Parliament, in a first for regional Victoria.
Highlighting a need to strike a balance between growth and protection, Cr Natasha Gayfer said there had been high level of community interest in the document with a cross-range of views: “some believing the document was too restrictive, some believing it was restrictive enough”.
The SPP aims to ensure the protection and conservation of the distinctive attributes of Macedon Ranges Shire, however, not all were convinced of the document’s strength.
Cr Helen Radnedge argued the policy could be seen as “too vague” and spoke to strengthening the document’s language and reassessing priorities of the policy domains.
She feared there would be “no trace of Statement of Planning Policy No. 8”, the Macedon Ranges policy since 1975, which gives priority to protection of biodiversity, landscapes and water catchments.
Cr Radnedge proposed to foreshadow the motion in a move to reinstate recognition of SPP8, along with several other changes, but had no opportunity to discuss this further.
Mayor Jennifer Anderson said the document gave the impression SPP8 may be removed as a reference document despite “its principles being backbone of planning to this point”.
Cr Anderson said there were “significant inconsistencies” in the settlement boundaries and held concern about reference to development of smaller lots with rural living zones which she believed opened up to a host of issues including removing more land from potential agricultural use.
“We need to be forward-looking not looking backward,” she said.
The meeting was meant to be livestreamed* and was not open to submissions but still pulled a 40+ gallery of passionate people eager to see the right balance between population growth and environmental protection.
Business Kyneton president Jason Sherrard said business-owners were concerned the document would essentially ‘lock the boundaries’ for Kyneton.
“We were concerned the document would lead to a stagnation of growth and notably increased council rates that will be economically strenuous. This can be a strong factor to reduce economic spending within the shire catchment,” he said.
Town boundaries for Gisborne and Romsey are still under investigation.
Urging councillors not to endorse the SPP, Settle Woodend’s Maxwell Winchester said the policy offered little protection and was “a clear step backward from SPP8”.
“It is clear to me that the state government has done its best to insult the intelligence of the Macedon Ranges community, which has spent years trying to protect the Macedon Ranges from inappropriate development,” Dr Winchester said.
“The fact that both officers and councillors were not willing to endorse the document shows that the state government has failed in their election promise to protect the Macedon Ranges. The document is simply not up to scratch and needs to be sent back, yet again, to be fixed.”
Macedon Ranges Residents Association secretary Christine Pruneau said the minister’s guidelines were a “really big unknown” and process was still unclear.
“It’s vague and it’s weak and it’s a huge, huge disappointment,” Ms Pruneau said.
“There are a few people around today saying, “What have we gone through all these processes for?”, because we are no better off in terms of certainty than we are today.”
The statement was developed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning with input from Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the Victorian Planning Authority.
Cr Anderson and Cr Radnedge were the only councillors to vote against the motion. The council has accepted the document, with council officer request for change. Future decision-making for the document will be made by the Minister for Planning.
*The special council meeting was livestreamed but a Macedon Ranges Shire Council spokesperson said a technical glitch meant the audio was not broadcast. Viewers could only tune in to a silent movie. The same technical glitch meant no visual or audio recording of the meeting has been made been available.

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