Being stiffed from further up

Don’t forget to comment on the Loddon Mallee South Regional Growth Plan by the end of this month – it seems to recommend some nasty and insensitive things for Macedon Ranges, such as intensive piggeries and poultry farms, as well as endorsing Riddell’s Creek as the latest sacrificial lamb in the DPCD and Committee for Melbourne’s Mammonic rites of suburbanising everything in a 100km radius of the GPO. Oh, that’s right, we don’t have a GPO any more. Thanks, Jeff.
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Planning, planning, planning – too much at once

Regarding our continued campaign for a small and friendly town to live in, there’s many things that are being put in train just now that will affect the shape of where we live for the next generation, and longer. At present, the local and State Planning Departments are doing a very motley job of what they see as ‘visionary’ documents to guide planning in our shire, and in our town, as well as Council being engaged in  a patchy and incomplete attempt at a Council Plan. Where’s the ‘Vision 2025’ statement gone?

Many people have expressed their frustration or puzzlement at what the various things that are happening mean, and I’ve often, in the last couple of months, had to make an off-the-top-of-my-head attempt at trying to explain what I think is going on. There are people better versed in this than me that talk to me about such things, and I’ve tried to draw on their expertise and patience with my lack of expertise in this field where possible, bearing with my lower level of understanding, but this is my summary of what I can see happening.

Let’s go from micro to macro. There’s a couple of things that pertain directly to Woodend –

You may have heard about the Woodend Town Structure Plan (link) that is being commented on and drafted, and the Neighborhood Character Study. What are these, and why are we as a community doing them?

They’re tied up in a planning process that’s part of an Amendment to the Local Planning Scheme. This is the Scheme that tells us how and why different parts of the Shire will have things allowed or prohibited in them  – such as regulating intensive agricultural uses close to Mt Macedon, keeping shops clustered close to one another in town centres, protecting the lands around reservoirs from pollution and contamination, and where and how many new houses can go in what places in town and country.

The Amendment is called C84 (local planning scheme amendments have a ‘C’ in front of them) and needs to be approved by the Minister for Planning (currently The Hon. Matthew Guy) after a supposedly transparent and publicly accessible review process, before the Shire planning scheme can be altered by it.

Council started writing this Amendment to include in the Planning Scheme (in a section of this called the Municipal Strategic Statement, or MSS) a piece of planning work called the Macedon Ranges Shire Settlement Strategy (link) – a document required by the State Department of Planning and Community Development to map and predict where and how population growth will occur in the Shire, and at what rates, over the next 25 years – taking into account all the constraints and promoters of such growth.

The various towns in the Shire have, or are in the process of having, policy documents applied to them  – Outline Development Plans or Structure Plans. This is a focusing in on how towns work – what is needed to keep their residents happy and healthy and busy.

Woodend’s Structure Plan has had a first round of public consultation that ended last month. This was comment on the draft of the same, and a community meeting on April 18th that was attended by 130 or so people made comment on it. Along with this is the Neighborhood Character Study, which will, it is hoped, inform the Structure Plan as to what people want the town to look and feel like in the future.

So, now we pull back to macro. There’s three pieces of State planning policy that are going to impact on us in the next while, are under discussion at the moment and will be put into place in the next few years. We have or have had opportunity to have input into them.

The first and biggest is the Loddon Mallee South Regional Growth Plan (see link for download options) (hereafter ‘LMS RGP’). Interesting that they should put Hanging Rock as the picture on the front page. I wonder if this has anything to do with the push to site a ‘Conference Centre’ next to it? Comments on this close on May 17th – here is a link to the online submission form.

This plan attempts to set out how and why development, of whatever type, should happen in the region. Macedon Ranges Shire is the southernmost part of this region, and abuts the Melbourne Metropolitan area, and as such, is subject to both the above planning document, and a similar document for the Melbourne region: Melbourne: lets talk about the future. This last document has its own challenges for us – with the urban growth boundary and Green Wedge issues still being fought over and discussed.

There’s another one, and it’s been in the wings for a while, called Statement of Planning Policy Number 8. (‘SPP8’)

This state policy was recently reaffirmed by the Minister as State Policy required to be reflected in local and regional planning schemes and decisions.

The reason that this is important is that it attempts to protect the ranges and surrounds from overdevelopment and the destruction of natural environment, water catchments and broad-scale agricultural land in the path of intensive and industrial uses, and creeping urban sprawl. It is state policy, and has the potential to override local and regional planning policy in saying how land should be treated and what it should be used for.

It could be argued that the LMS RGP and SPP8 (don’t you just love acronyms?) are actually in tension with each other, and the proponents of the former – some of whom are to be found within the ranks of the MRSC – are attempting to white-ant and dilute the latter. Conflict between different agendas within the DPCD seem to be fueling the antagonism of the authors, promoters and supporters of the ‘growth’ strategy.

It seems, after looking at the two side by side, that many aims and strategies of the regional growth policy for Loddon Mallee South are being inserted, to all intents and purposes, into our local Planning scheme via Amendment C84. This was not originally meant to be the case. The Settlement Strategy, fought over in public and in front of a Planning Panel last year (interim report here), was debated and criticised as being ‘pro-growth’ for Woodend – the original estimates and recommendations of the consultants preparing the strategy, Spiire, (formerly CPG), and recognition of the town’s historical growth rate changed and increased in response to the biased submissions of land developers to the panel, and the limp and ineffective representation via their consultants and legal representatives of the Council’s initial stance on population growth and projections. It seems that Council officers have pre-empted the growth targets of the LMS RGP, and done some early work on making our shire planning scheme compliant with the regional document ahead of time, rather than as a review process once the RGP document is adopted as policy, which they would have been compelled to do. The latter path would mean another amendment, more public consultation, and more chance for us to say what we think of Shire planning policy. Is it too much effort to ask this? It seems so.

Once the Settlement Strategy part of C84 was done and dusted, it was open to Council to rewrite the Amendment to improve the Planning Scheme. Previous goes at it included an attempt to include older abandoned (low-quality, rejected) amendments within the new amendment. However, the aforementioned Loddon Mallee Growth Plan seems to key into other desires within the state Planning Establishment  and the DPCD to site large-scale urban growth not only in Bendigo, but in every town with a train station and freeway connection in the region. The Amendment has been through 5 separate iterations, each one more confused than the last. The MRRA has done the most exhaustive analysis, and it is well worth while reading their archive on the issue.

What this leaves us with is a compromised and partial planning scheme – in the sense of ‘incomplete’, as well as ‘biased’. It takes a line-by-line comparison of the current planning scheme with the proposals of the new C84-altered one to see how much has been changed, and to what intent. The new version, as its main thrust, takes the part of economic and urban development, as unconstrained by infrastructure, environment and landscape, includes some egregious and unnecessary inclusions in the scheme, including at 21.13 – 3, Objective 2 – Strategies, DP 3: “Ensure any new development adjacent to the Avenue of Honour provides an appropriate interface that respects the landscape and heritage qualities of the Avenue.”

What new development? Who wrote that bit? Are there any other bits like that in there? It might be worthwhile having a look, if nothing else, at Section 22.02 – 3 of the current Planning Scheme, and comparing it to 21.13-3 of C84, both of which deal with Woodend.

Then, once you’ve done this reading, it’s worth doing a submission outlining your concerns at the changes and sending it to strategicplanning@mrsc.vic.gov.au by Friday 10th of May. Also, whilst you’re at it, comment on the LMS RGP – the links are given above.

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Villawood introduce themselves to the new Councillors

Villawood have spent the early part of January ringing the new Councillors, setting up private meetings, and plan to present their “Davies Hill” (Golf Course Hill) project to a Councillor briefing at a date yet to be set in February. It’ll be outlining their “new, improved” plans for a smaller development (read: Stage One of a bigger development) and attempting to soft soap the social, economic and environmental impacts of 300-350 (read: an eventual 700 – 1000) new residences in Woodend.

Now might be a good time to dust off that email that you sent to the old Councillors last year and tidy it up and send it to the new Councillors. Nothing much has changed – they’re still pushing the same barrow. You might also like to contact Mr. Stuart Bonnington, who has signed up to be their resident PR flack:

108 High Street, Woodend, VIC, 3442

Stuart Bonnington: 0407 862 745

to tell him your feelings about what he’s promoting.

Here is a a small sample email to add your own thoughts to and send to Councillors if you can’t find yours. If you’d rather, send them a text or ring them – their numbers are on the linked page below:

Dear Councillor,

I am writing to you to state my continued opposition to the proposal by Villawood Properties to rezone farmland adjacent to Woodend, north and west of Golf Course Hill, for Residential 1 Zone (GRZ) development.

This development is totally out of character for Woodend, and marks a step towards the increasing suburbanisation of our shire. This is not the reason that we live here – we live here, and many people visit here, for the natural beauty, rural character and friendly nature of our town: all of which will be lost if large-scale suburban development, such as this one, is allowed to proceed. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject their application.

Yours sincerely,

Here are the contact details of the new Councillors

Please do this, it is important that all Councillors know how we feel. Forward this on to friends and neighbors, and family far and near, and ask them to support our town against greedy commercial interests.

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“Make friends in a Villawood community and be proud to call it home”

Rory's shopfront

14-12-2012

It appears that Villawood have NOT signed up with the closest possible estate agent, despite sharing an office with them, to push their overlarge and unnecessary suburban development. Stuart Bonnington assures us that he is not employed by Stockdale and Leggo, and that their co-arrangement of business premises is simply a place from which to make Rory and Simon’s plans for their wonderland on the hill abundantly clear.

We were also asked, under threat of legal action, by one of the principals of Stockdale and Leggo Woodend, Mr. Francis Lyford-Pike, to make it clear that no commercial arrangement has existed or currently exists between Villawood and Stockdale and Leggo as well. Consider it done, Mr Lyford-Pyke.

In our response to his request, we added our opinion that their co-location and lack of distinction in livery, and demarcation of space was bound to produce some confusion amongst casual observers, to the point that endorsement by Stockdale and Leggo of the recent arrivals might be reasonably assumed. We suggested that a public statement outlining their exact relationship would be useful, to avoid the alleged bad behaviour that has been stated by them and others to have been misdirected against them, when such alleged behaviour was really aimed at Villawood.

Stuart is still more than happy to have a chat in these matters, by the way. He is prepared to present a mild face of reason to “Davies Hill” for our benefit.

The address remains the same.

108 High Street, Woodend, VIC, 3442

Stuart Bonnington: 0407 862 745

Let him know how you feel about this.

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“Softly Softly” – pulling the wool, showing your hand

I’ll show you what Villawood want to smash flat to put in their access road to their “new, improved” suburban enclave behind the golf course. It’s a steep gradient up the creek escarpment, from Gregory St., (past Anslow St. on the way to Tylden) –

This:

. . . and this:

This is the road reserve for Gregory St, north of Forest St. It’s been like this since European settlement. It’s significant habitat for all manner of native animals and birds.

But according to Villawood and their newly-found local friends – Mr Stuart Bonnington and Stockdale and Leggo – it’s collateral damage in their War on Woodend. Victory spoils? $50M return on ‘investment’.

You can’t buy ecosystem or habitat, Stuart; Rory. But you can destroy it.

The day we see a D8 Caterpillar rolling up that hill to carve out the foundations of their “Softly Softly” access road (oh, after building a million dollar all-weather causeway:

across 5 Mile Creek – further destroying aquatic habitat that locals have spent long hours trying to remediate from the mistakes of the past) then you’ll know their venal idiocy has triumphed.

In a parallel universe, this one, that doesn’t happen.

To that end, here’s a letter concerned locals have put together for us to send to our new crop of Shire Councillors, to persuade them to look long and hard at any “new” proposal Villawood put in front of them. Pass this around to as many people as you have email addresses for, and get them to deluge the Council with communication saying

as loud as possible!

Hi folks,

I met with a new group last night called Settle Woodend, partly in regards to some concerning activity from Villawood.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but recently the C84 Panel Review Interim Report was released (can be found at this link), which is considering a number of submissions on changes requested to the Settlement Stategy – relevant pages to Woodend are pp 49-60.

Villawood have been sneaking around all this time that we were relaxing, and this report is one of many worrying appearances that has caught some of us off guard. Unfortunately Villawood and people associated with them made themselves heard very clearly to this panel, seeking to undermine the work that has been done by councillors on the Settlement Strategy, in particular to loosen the statements on our projected population growth, and town boundaries. Of course!!

A number of us are pretty concerned about this Report and would like our responses to be heard at the next Council meeting to be held at 7pm on 28 November in Romsey. In order for our responses to be included, they need to be sent to councillors asap – and before end of Sunday preferably. Hence this email.

Two things needing your action:
– email to councillors
– attendance at the Council Meeting to show we care as much as we did 18 months ago

Please have a look at the report I’ve linked to, and I have included a letter template that you are welcome to use, tweak, add to, etc etc and send to the councillors regarding this issue. This template was written by Judith-Ann Robertson.

Reference is made to Prof Ray Green’s work – you don’t have to include the recommendation of his methodology, but if you’d like to check him out here he is: http://upclose.unimelb.edu.au/episode/110-empowering-communities-preserve-character-place. we have been hoping to involve him soon in our discussions, and the Great Place Woodend crew are interested also. I think however we involve Prof Green could be a great opportunity for us to engage with these issues intelligently in the face of these GRQ*-focussed operators!

*Get Rich Quick

Cheers!

———-

Cr Graham Hackett <ghackett@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Henry McLaughlin <hmclaughlin@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Jennifer Anderson <janderson@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Joe Morabito <jmorabito@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr John Connor <jconnor@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr John Letchford <jletchford@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Roger Jukes <rjukes@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Russell Mowatt <rmowatt@mrsc.vic.gov.au>;
Cr Sally Piper <spiper@mrsc.vic.gov.au>

Dear Councillor _____________________

First, congratulations on your election to office. We are sure you will excel in the position. We believe that those in positions of responsibility will honour the commitment shown by the community to have all the interests of the community reflected in all your policy decisions.

As you may be aware, following the release of the Planning Panel’s interim report on Amendment C84 two weeks ago, it seems that there are significant gaps between what the councillors and staff of the MRSC released in their Settlement Strategy last year and this interim report.  It seems to us that the Council’s respectable body of work has been ignored or disregarded in the most recent process which has resulted in the interim report.

Given that it is interim report and not in any way definitive, may we respectfully suggest that the council employ an independent consultant to examine how the interim report has not acknowledged the work of the shire nor the details of the community consensus which led to the formal release of the SS.

We would also strongly commend to you, your fellow councillors and the MRSC, University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Ray Green.  Dr Green has developed a ground-breaking research methodology to defining a community’s sense of place, the ‘environmental psychology’ wherein a community is able to define the character of its neighbourhood. This community based research gives substance to the community’s voice and feelings.  It also provides councils (councillors and planners) with gives substantive evidence for a strong town planning basis that resonates with community expectations. This is a methodology seeks to restore the balance of power between communities, local governments and external bodies such as planners and developers. As one example, this approach allows the shire councils to ensure that ResCode assessments meets the needs and desires of the community itself and that identifiable attributes can be included into community and shire defined development controls which in turn can be applied to any new development proposal to ensure that any such proposal will be more compatible with the community’s conception of town character (something sadly lacking in the above referenced interim report, particularly the 10 pages regarding Woodend).

We thank you for your consideration in this matter and in particular thank you sincerely for taking the time to consider our request in what will be very early days in your office.

Yours sincerely,

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The propaganda machine creaks itself back into life . . .

Rory’s back at it again.
He’s getting his quotes into local papers once more, with the same predictable elaborations on the theme of  “Acres into $$$ ASAP” and badly-thought out promises of a year ago.

Macedon Ranges Leader 6-11-2012: “Less is More at Davies Hill site”

Firstly: I didn’t know that the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius had anything to do with Rory’s imaginings of his little chunk of suburbia;

Secondly: the “interim” report of the Planning Panel on the Planning Scheme Amendment C84, which was to have instituted the Settlement Strategy into the Shire Planning Scheme, is nowhere near supportive of Mr Costelloe’s remarks. It is critical of the whole process of the amendment throughout the report, and is just shy of telling the Council to abandon the amendment – a “D-” of a document. Not only is the Settlement Strategy flawed, according to the report, but the means and the method of it being parcelled up with a wholesale (and confused) rewriting of the planning scheme is also seen as flawed, ad hoc, and lacking in rigour. Here it is, if you want to wade through 99 pages of planning jargon.

This is what happens when the Shire Council, and officers who are meant to carry out the community’s wishes, have conflicted goals for its planning processes, and sign off on a document that is indecisive, ill-thought-out and badly constructed. It is trying to accommodate the snake-oil that property developers and special interests are attempting to sell it, at the same time of making a half-arsed attempt of “listening to the community” on such issues, all whilst trying to generate the illusion of foresight and forethought on a pivotal document. The concessions that were wrung out of the consultants and the Shire in the Settlement Strategy, including looking carefully at the land supply and population trends in Woodend, gave rise to hope in the Woodend community that their concerns and own analysis of data and judgements made would be listened to. However, during the panel hearing on C84, the Shire representatives put in a equivocal and faint effort to defend their own consultant’s strategy, and allowed Villawood and other land developers’ representatives plenty of unchallenged space and air to push their pro-development barrows up and down in ruts worn in front of the Panel. Even so, the panel didn’t give either of their presentations glowing endorsements.

So for Rory to stick his head up again and say “Ok, I was right all along, come and have a look at my pretty drawings again – I haven’t coloured all the spaces in this time – I’ve left some for you to do too” is treating the town and the Shire with his usual contempt. It’ll be seen through by anyone with half an interest in the issue, which, this time, will also be a majority of Councillors. That election we just had, the one where some new faces came in? It might be worth asking them what they stand for – you know, all the good stuff – community engagement, local concerns, proper processes, and probity and accountability in government. Also, a fair few of them like the local environment and tourism that we and many others enjoy – a break from suburbia. The sort of suburbia that Rory and his mates are so good at building. His hopes for a longer engagement with the community and working with a new Council might be pretty short lived.

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Rory vs. Woodend, Round 2

From ABC Local Radio yesterday morning:

“Villawood’s Rory Costelloe says he is happy to promote a controlled rate of growth to ease community concerns.

“Nobody’s after massive population growth, it just needs room to have some opportunities,” he said.

“Nobody’s looking for wholesale rapid growth but you need some opportunities for people to retire into the town, for people to have children, housing for them etc, so it must have some space for natural growth, so I think that’s all the settlement strategy really points at.””

“Natural Growth”. Now there’s a concept that needs to be unpacked, to see what the proponents of such “natural growth” might mean by it.
Sounds a bit like “sustainability”, and “resilience”, doesn’t it? (Interesting concepts, and as often misused). Sounds as though it’s meant to happen – and it does. In people’s families, in their backyard vege gardens, in the family of kookaburras that have had 4 chicks this year, instead of one (like the last 10 years – much better conditions). And town and community planning accounts for that, by measuring population growth in town, making educated guesses about how many people will want to live here, and how many people the town can comfortably accommodate if people want to move here.
The Settlement Strategy analysed trends and historical data, and the “churn rate” of the population (which for Woodend is uncommonly high – in the order of 50% over 5 years on average – something to do with our tropical winter climate, it’s thought) and came up with a figure – which was between 4400 and 5000 (depending on who you believe) – for and estimated and envisaged population in 25 years time, over a current population of ~3700. This took into account environmental, social, physical and cultural factors, as well as population pressures.

The Settlement Strategy, arrived at by the MRSC last year, analysed all the available land that is currently zoned for residential development in town, and said that it can accommodate, at average occupancy and takeup rates, an extra 1500 people. So, plenty of land, with a margin for error, to already meet our envisaged population in 25 years: 3700 + 1500 = 5200

Rory’s proposal – which he is under no obligation to stick to, once he has planning approval, requires Farming Zone land to be rezoned for housing:

300 houses, at an average occupation rate of 2.6 (borne out by the Settlement Strategy) = 780 extra people in 20 years. Plus “natural growth” in already zoned areas.  Woodend 2036: Population 6000+

He was originally talking 1000 houses, then throttled it back to 600 last year. So, with 500 acres at his disposal, what do you think he will do?

600 x 2.6 = 1560.  Woodend 2036: 6560 people. Just under twice the size we are now. Woodend was half the size it is now in the late 19th century.

That’s not “natural growth”. That’s cancer.

Developers are like door-to-door salesmen: Toe in the door, foot in the door, leg in the door, you’re in. Local real estate agents have been approached, and some have swallowed the bait – 2 out of 4 so far. Maybe ask them when you’re walking by next time. The other side of Old Lancefield Road is being touted as the next piece of land on the chopping block – several hundred more houses between there and the freeway -that’d be “natural growth”, up to a “natural boundary” of the freeway. Natural = freeway.

Is there something wrong with that, or is it just me? Or is it that the arguments the developers are using are wrong?

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Protect our rivers, AND our mountains!

Matthew Guy has recently been reported as supporting controls on building along the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers. His support of Statement of Planning Policy number 8, covering the Macedon Ranges, had waxed and waned.
The Age quotes him: “Mr Guy told The Sunday Age: ”Melbourne hasn’t got the natural assets of Sydney. The ones we do have, we must work very hard to protect.””

It begs the question: where is the promised protection of something equally as valuable to us?

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Urban design: we all live here, why is it so bad?

An article in The Age today analyses why the residents of Gowanbrae in Melbourne’s north might commit treason and concrete over their ‘nature strip’, but be charged $3000 by the City of Moreland to have this done. What is worse – more hard surface to act like a radiator in summer, funnel more oil- and brake-fluid-polluted rainwater down the stormwater drain, or the fact the developer who built their suburb did a half-arsed job? The photo shows a suburb with narrow little roads, but familes who own 3 cars to get around because public transport to anywhere desirable is rubbish: sounds like a bit like an urban paradox, or planning stuff-up.

How can we think about this sort of design? It’s trying to … make the streets feel less ‘suburban’, maybe? Differentiating it from a typical sprawling 1960s-70s middle-outer suburb, but the predicate for this sort of design, the car, is still there – but sort of half-ignored. Did the developers look at the plot, and say to the Council “Yeah, we can fit 300 houses in there, if you waive the parking space requirements”, or wishfully think that a sub-standard and badly planned bus route from a tram terminus to a shopping centre was going to reduce car use? Did they do their sums and realise that the desired profit was only possible with medium density and narrow roads, but with a sort of tacked-on, crunched-in, half-arsed-reproduction-of-Yarraville aesthetic?

This is the danger in letting developers take over planning – overseen by interested-only-to-the-letter-of-the-law and under-resourced Council planning departments: suburbs locked into car dependency, overcrowding of public space, ugliness and lack of a feel of a place worth living, where kids might, but can’t, play together in unconstrained public space. Rather, it turns into a cramped parking lot.

Compare and contrast this with Mr.Grand Designs Kevin MacCloud’s HABOakus Triangle Project, in Swindon, UK.

Have we learnt anything since this Melbourne suburb was built? Not much, and definitely not in lower-middle income areas. I agree with Kevin McCloud and Prince Charles on this one: modern architecture is rubbish.

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Zoning Changes: lots bad, some good – we still don’t care enough

14/9/2012

Planning zones: what are they for?

The State Government are presently rewriting the controls that are in place for planning zoning: and they’ve not done a very good job of it. They’ve introduced plenty of ‘mixed use’ “flexibility” into the schedules, which blurs greatly the line between residential, commercial and industrial uses, and rural, conservation, tourism and intensive agricultural uses. We had until the end of Friday 28th of September to make a submission on these changes to the Department of Planning and Community Development.

If you spend 15 minutes here you’ll get the gist of the matters before the Department:

http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/planning/theplanningsystem/improving-the-system/new-zones-for-victoria

Letting them know what we believe is retrograde in the new zoning regulations is important – for some bad examples amongst many: the allowing of fast-food restaurants (read: McDonalds and KFC) into residential zones; the ability to further fragment and abuse agricultural land; the relaxation of usage and building controls on Rural Conservation Zones – all have the tendency to make Woodend and other towns in the Shire into Melton and/or Caroline Springs.

It’s what this organisation was set up to prevent, and what it will continue to campaign on.

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