Wellington Shire Shire to refund charges and rates on 90 Mile Beach land

WELLINGTON Shire Council will refund rates and charges paid by the owners of 90 Mile Beach subdivisions deemed inappropriate for development.

Council supported all four recommendations in a Victorian Ombudsman's report, including one to remove rates and charges on undevelopable land in the 90 Mile Beach subdivisions, and refund rates and waste infrastructure charges paid on the land since 2006 and 2011 respectively.

It will cost council about $300,000 to meet this recommendation.

Councillor Darren McCubbin said council had acted lawfully and appropriately in this matter, something acknowledged by Ombudsman Deborah Glass.

"But we appreciate because of the considerable angst that this has caused ... that as a gesture of goodwill it is appropriate for us to repay those rates and charges on those properties," Cr McCubbin said.

After receiving 67 complaints from original landowners, or their relatives, Ms Glass investigated whether council had acted fairly and reasonably in levying rates and waste charges against the land, acquiring land from landowners at no or little cost, and planning to sell it on the open market.

Council has already begun implementing two of the Ombudsman's other recommendations, by facilitating the sale of single allotments between landowners in the urban nodes without council acquiring land itself, and updating council's website to better communicate relevant information to affected landowners.

The state Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will take responsibility for implementing the fourth recommendation - to facilitate the compulsory acquisition of privately-owned undevelopable land, after council's voluntary assistance and transfer scheme finishes in 2021.

The 90 Mile Beach subdivisions cover a 25 kilometre strip of coastal land from The Honeysuckles to Paradise Beach.

The land was subdivided into about 11,800 small lots from 1955 to 1969 before the introduction of planning controls, and sold by developers using vigorous marketing campaigns targeting thousands of people, including many migrants.

Much of the area is now inappropriate for development, because of issues such as flooding and lack of services.

"This is a clear demonstration that we need proper planning authorities to be able to institute this," Cr McCubbin said.

"This all happened prior to council planning authorities ... it really was the wild west in those days.

"Indeed, these people were treated very badly at the time, and we've always been sympathetic with that.

"It is a knot that needs to be untied, and we have done so, and we're listening totally to what the Ombudsman has said.

"Not only are our sympathies with the people tied up in this, but also the future of that area, this beautiful, pristine area of the 90 Mile Beach, an absolute asset to the Wellington Shire, a huge environmental showcase - one that we intend to keep in good condition."

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