Residents demand better from rogue Macedon Ranges Council
On Wednesday night in icy cold Woodend, it was standing room only as 200 - 250 people filled St. Ambrose's Hall for a public meeting on Settlement Strategy organised by Macedon Ranges Shire Council, where the Mayor tells public 'you can't speak, can't ask questions', but an emphatic community message gets through in the end. "This meeting supports low growth, no rezoning and no expansion of the town boundary at Woodend, and expects Council to support and respect the community’s wishes by rejecting the higher growth scenario and re-instating the exhibited low growth scenario for Woodend."
When's A Public Meeting Not A Public Meeting? When It's In Macedon Ranges Shire...
At a public meeting last Wednesday on the Settlement Strategy, Mayor tells public 'you can't speak, can't ask questions', but an emphatic community message gets through in the end. On Wednesday night in icy cold Woodend, it was standing room only as 200 - 250 people filled St. Ambrose's Hall for a public meeting, organised by Macedon Ranges Shire Council.
The meeting flowed from Cr. Neil Manning's 25th May motion, that Council report back to the community at a public meeting on July 13 after its own meeting with Planning Minister Matthew Guy on June 22.
Mayor Henry McLaughlin addressed the crowd, and announced Council's format for the meeting: people were not allowed to speak or ask questions, nor would Councillors speak or take questions. This stunning announcement was met with instant protests, but despite clear community expectations of a dialogue, the Mayor held firm.
Through the Mayor and the Director of Planning and Environment, Sophie Segafredo, Council voiced its views amidst various comments made in defiance of Council's 'cone of silence', then the Mayor announced the meeting was over and everyone could mingle.
A woman in the crowd said "nobody move!"
A woman in the crowd said "nobody move", and they didn't.
Local resident John Shaw then stood and put a motion from the floor, even though Council had apparently indicated it couldn't be
That motion was:
[MOTION:] "This meeting supports low growth, no rezoning and no expansion of the town boundary at Woodend, and expects Council to support and respect the community’s wishes by rejecting the higher growth scenario and re-instating the exhibited
low growth scenario for Woodend."
While acknowledging that responses would indicate the mood of the meeting only, Mr. Shaw's call for a show of hands saw an estimated 97% for the motion, and about 6 people against it.
People then wanted to know if Council would take notice of the 97%, and were told Council had a copy of the motion.
All nine Councillors attended. Representatives of Villawood Properties P/L were also present.
Ms. Segafredo advised that the Settlement Strategy has been revised yet again, removing the lately included recommendations that Clarkefield become a metropolitan growth centre, which she said had not been supported by the Minister for Planning.
As for Woodend, she said the lately-included higher growth figure of 5,000 within the existing town was about right [it also corresponds with the Department of Planning and Community Development's 'suggested' growth figure]. It wasn't explained why
someone thinks Woodend will grow twice as fast over the next 30 years as it has over the past 15 years.
The higher 5,000 growth figure is apparently considered appropriate because it responds to about 9 submissions Council received supporting higher growth (3) or Villawood (6). On the other hand, hundreds of submissions supporting the exhibited low growth scenario (4,400 people in 2036) were received by Council.
You can now access the re-revised (110714) version of the Settlement Strategy by going to Council's website (#FF5757">www.mrsc.vic.gov.au) and clicking on Draft Settlement Strategy. This is the document Council will consider for approval at its 27 July meeting.
What a public relations disaster!
MRRA says, "What a public relations disaster! Especially for a Council that has already taken a tumble on Community Engagement in the recent 2011 Community Satisfaction Survey.
The meeting was referred to as a public meeting or worse, a community meeting (we note Council calls it a 'public' meeting on its updated draft Settlement Strategy website page). That raises expectations, as someone pointed out, that there would actually be a
conversation between Council and community. The meeting instead had the characteristics of a lecture, with Council taking no prisoners in telling people what they would have. Arrogance came across, as if Council is interpreting the Minister's advice - that Council (and community) would make the decisions on the Settlement Strategy - as 'Council can do whatever it likes'. It can't.
Council's attitude was offensive and disenfranchising, and many left saying Council didn't want to hear, wasn't listening. Others asked when the next election was due.
The day before the meeting, MRRA met (at Council's invitation) with the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Planning and Environment and was advised the meeting would consist of tables with a Councillor at each where people could express their views individually to the individual councillors. This was seen as allowing people to 'have their say'.
Not buying it
Eyebrows aloft, we said we didn't think people would go for it, that there was an obvious expectation of a public meeting, public questions and answers, and interaction with Council. Although the originally-proposed tables were dispensed with on the night, Council ploughed on with a meeting format that was always doomed to fail. As for the latest Settlement Strategy iteration for Woodend, if democracy and hard evidence counts there is surely something wrong when Council says there are 'mixed' views
in the town. All the vast majority of residents want is for Woodend to continue to grow as it has for the past 15 years within its existing boundaries.
There are some 520 - 1,230 potential lots available in existing residential zones, and no-one except those who appear to have a vested interest wants any more created, particularly not the despised 'Villawood' proposal. The Woodend community is not saying no growth, it's saying protect the character and community feel of the town we love and let us hand that on to future generations. Not rocket science by any stretch. Why does Council seem to have so much difficulty understanding that?
Villawood Properties P/L and Davies Hill P/L continued their moronic fear and awe tactics by sending a flyer around to households immediately before the meeting misleadingly depicting landmark sites in the town as victims of infill development if their 550 acres of rural land outside the town boundary isn't transformed into suburban utopia. We hear the companies see Wednesday's
meeting as Council missing the opportunity to put aside everyone's fears about 'Villawood', as if 'Villawood' is the centre of the universe. They patently don't understand Woodend.
Two events after the motion from the floor was put and staunchly supported left an impression.
- Russell Yardley's attempt to address the meeting about growth figures was greeted with groans, and cut short. It seems his earlier attempts to bring 'both sides' together, by trying to convince people they should talk with 'Villawood', have made him an unpopular figure.
A resident who drove 10 hours from Sydney to get to the meeting "because that's how important having a low growth scenario for the town is to him and his family." He won strong applause when he disagreed with Mr. Yardley's view that more consultation on numbers was needed, and said the 97% support for the motion meant something, the people of Woodend were intelligent enough to understand the Settlement Strategy, and Council needed to recognise and respect all of this.
Time to get back on the same bus as the community, Council!
Some Councillors have referred to the Settlement Strategy as a 'document of excellence'. It should be, but isn't near that yet. A
document of excellence is owned by the broad community, (has strong community support), and never responds to - or
even appears to respond to - unjustified agendas and vested interests. A Settlement Strategy is about a collective, agreed, long-term vision, and excellence is when people look back in 25 years and still applaud the objectivity, wisdom and far-sightedness of decision-makers of the day.
If Council thinks being in step with the community it represents is as important as the community thinks it is, there is no doubt that Council now has some huge bridges to mend.
First, have the courage to eat some humble pie: acknowledge the major short-comings of Wednesday's meeting, and pledge to not go there again. Even a large mea culpa may not be enough wash away the anger, cynicism and loss of confidence, but it would signal that Council recognizes the offence, and may recoup some respect for being big enough to admit the mistake. Second, take the 'unjustifieds' that are making so many people unhappy out of the Settlement Strategy - for example, the out-of-the-blue doubling of population at Riddells Creek; the surreptitious and inappropriate support for increased Rural Living zone opportunities* in advance of undertaking a Rural Living Strategy; the extra 1,300 people in Rural Living zones slid into Gisborne on top of the
Gisborne Outline Development Plan's thumping population increase; higher growth in Woodend and anything that can be interpreted as doing Villawood Properties P/L a favour; and rezoning Rural Conservation to commercial at Mt. Macedon.
And be mindful that with Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 about to become State policy again, the Settlement Strategy - and growth levels - must be compatible with that policy's objectives of protecting this place from over-development.
Click here to see MRRA's list of problems in the Settlement Strategy.
There is still an opportunity for Council to make amends and get back on track with the community and the Settlement strategy. Will Council take up the challenge?
MRRA has been told these opportunities are justified by the Gisborne and Romsey Outline Development Plans. All we can say is they weren't in the ODPs we read."