Sea level planning change gives Port Albert opportunity

PORT Albert property owners and potential builders in Wellington Shire’s coastal settlements will now have less onerous height requirements for any new buildings.

Wellington Shire Council at its final December meeting voted to take advantage of changes to the State Planning Policy Framework in July 2012 that required council ‘to plan for and manage the potential coastal impacts of climate change’.

Council decided to reduce the required height of the floor of new buildings to 0.2 meters above the one-in-100 year flood levels datum, instead of 0.8 metres.

Since 2008 council has required all new buildings’ floor levels to be least 0.8 metres above the one-in-100 year flood levels, resulting in significant challenges for those wishing to build, particularly in Port Albert.

When combined with a heritage requirement that no new building be taller than the historic Port Albert hotel, any two story buildings were forced to compromise on ceiling heights, leading to residents claiming the shire only wanted pygmies living there.

Uncertainty about the extent of potential sea level rise by the end of the century and property owners’ and developers’ desires to build led to significant discontent with the council’s building regulations.

Recognising many properties will have a life span of less than 80 years the state government’s Coastal Climate Change Advisory Committee two years ago decided ‘a reasonable and reasonably conservative sea level rise over time given our current state of knowledge appears eminently sensible.’

In response the Planning Minister approved Amendment VC94 on July 4, 2012 allowing planning for a possible sea level rise of 0.2 metres over current one in 100 year flood levels by 2040 to be used for new development in close proximity to existing developments, termed urban infill.

Council’s decision means there is now a disparity between earlier planning decisions made using a 0.8 metre sea level rise allowance. If that disparity leads to builders seeking financial compensation is yet to be seen.

However, when assessing rural development and more intensive forms of urban development such as multi unit development, subdivision and commercial accommodation, the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority still requires council to be satisfied that other criteria are met, such as safe flooding depth on access routes.

Prior to the council voting three Port Albert property owners, Spencer Sandilands, Michael Glebov and Gary Proud condemned council’s previous decisions as having hindered the town’s development and destroyed property values. Each urged councillors to accept the proposal to adopt the 0.2 metre option.

Mr Sandilands said 15 years ago the Port Albert community put up a plan to council for the future development of the town.

“The scheme, in Tourism Victoria’s words, was ‘their dream plan for Port Albert’. Council dismissed our plan and did their own and it has been absolutely detested by potential investors and all the residents. It has failed absolutely and completely,” he said. “So much for community consultation and input.

“There has been no investment in Port Albert and land values have plummeted by 60 per cent since the council implemented their plan,” he said. “I will give you one example of this.”

Mayor Scott Rossetti interrupted seeking clarification on what plan Mr Sandilands was referring to and was informed it was the council’s Port Albert Master Plan 2002.

“Council adopted their own plan. I sold … two pieces of land that were zoned residential for $325,000. Council didn’t support the marina (in the community’s plan), and the sale fell through. This year I sold that land for $120,000.

“The council valued the land at $180,000, so what changed in that time? I’ll tell you what changed, the council’s grand plan came into being, they stuck a C33 on it, they stuck a C55 overlay on it,” he said.

“Might I add that at the beginning of this time frame, 10 to 12 years ago Port Albert had the highest value of residential land increases in Australia, now it has the lowest.”

“We have a chance, if council adopts this reduced height level, for Port Albert to have a bit of common sense.”

Gary Proud declared the time taken to resolve the height issue had cost the shire significant lost investment and rate revenues forgone.

He asked why it had taken two years for council to act.

Mayor Rossetti explained Gippsland councils had lobbied the Planning Minister to introduce the one-in-40 year flood level datum of 0.2 metre as a choice for councils.