Panel critical of beach land compensation

WELLINGTON Planning Scheme has been criticised for not providing fair compensation to owners of coastal land deemed inappropriate for development.

An independent panel, appointed by Planning Minister Matthew Guy, approved, with some changes recommended, Amendment C71 of the Wellington Planning Scheme, which would ban developments in between settlement areas along the coast.

But the panel reported, outside the scope of the amendment, that the compensation scheme, with owners offered $1500 for an individual lot, did not seem to be a fair and transparent process for land owners.

“But given the history of the subdivisions and the challenges faced by land owners in trying to resolve the issues, the panel is not surprised there had been some uptake of the scheme by some lot owners,” the panel reported.

The three members of the panel were concerned owners could not negotiate the payment amount, that offers were not consistent with valuations, and an overall lack of transparency.

The panel recommended that when the voluntary assistance scheme ran its course, council should move to compulsorily acquire the remaining lots to enable the land to be conserved and provide land owners with an appropriate process for determining their compensation claims equitably.

It was also recommended that all council-owned land in between settlement areas should be made part of the adjoining Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park.

The panel recognised it would be difficult for owners to sue council for damages because of the amount of time passed since the subdivisions were first approved.

Council hoped the planning amendment would bring an end to decades of uncertainty for landowners.

From 1954 about 11,800 lots were created along the Ninety Mile Beach between Paradise Beach and The Honeysuckles in areas such as Golden Beach, Flamingo Beach, The Honeysuckles and Glomar Beach.

The lots were sold in the 1950s and 1960s through vigorous marketing campaigns including the unscrupulous targeting of immigrants.

During the 1970s it became apparent the land was unsuitable for development because of issues such as eroding coastal soils, poor conditions for effluent disposal and high quality vegetation and landscape.

The State Government and the then Rosedale Shire Council implemented interim planning controls to restrict development. As part of the measures, restructured lots of four individual lots could be built on in some areas.

According to the panel, the restructure process was unsuccessful and only provided land owners with very limited opportunities to develop their lots.About 4300 lots, held by their owners since being purchased during the 1950s and 1960s, are subject to inundation and not developed, 1600 have been restructured into 500 development parcels, 300 are subject to a stalled buy-back scheme, and 5600 are yet to be restructured.

About 1200 lots are owned by council.In 2007, Wellington Shire Council adopted a strategy for development to be contained within established settlement areas with a moratorium on development introduced into the Wellington Planning Scheme.

In line with the moratorium, council developed a program of actions including a voluntary assistance scheme, in collaboration with the State Government.

The current amendment makes the measures of the moratorium permanent, which the planning panel said was appropriate.The majority of the 145 submissions the panel received for the amendment opposed it.

“The panel through considering submissions on this amendment is acutely aware that is not in a position to ‘unwind’ a long and fraught history,” the panel reported.

“Within the general, and largely agreed, position that the area is not suitable for development however, it has recommended a number of changes to the amendment for consideration by council to assist the owners of lots in the between settlements area to achieve closure around the issue.”

Ninety Mile Beach Property Rights Group spokesman Charlie Grech claimed council had shown “no morality” and was pleased the panel’s view on the compensation process.

“This is what we’ve been saying all along,” he said.

“It is apparent $1500 these days is nothing, you can’t even buy a piece of furniture, let alone a block of land.

“We hope to see a fair end come to this. We’ll keep the fight one.”

Mr Grech said the group had suggested a fair payment scheme be staged over a number of years to reduce the financial burden on council with compensation based on values of nearby land not affected by the moratorium.

Most owners of restructured lots took the option of a buy-out of about $10,000 per individual block, or swapping it for council-owned land.

Council will consider the panel’s recommendations during a briefing on February 19 before making a decision about the amendment on at meeting on March 5.

Council chief executive David Morcom said it was reassuring the panel clearly supported Amendment C71, which will protect the fragile dune eco-system along the coast.

“The panel is satisfied that the approach taken over a long period of time to the amendment area has been consistent in trying to minimise, and in more recent times, prohibit development and protect the ecological and landscape values that are present in the fragile dunes and lakes environment,” he said.

“The panel has also gone outside the scope of C71 and made some recommendations regarding the separate voluntary assistance scheme, including recommending that council compulsorily acquire all single lots in the amendment area.”