Council is seeking some clarity on local ratepayers’ group

David Braithwaite

WELLINGTON Shire Council is seeking information about a group which claims to represent the shire’s residents and ratepayers.

The Wellington Residents and Ratepayers Group has been asked twice by council to clarify its role and function, with council moving last week to again seek clarification.

The group was established in 2018 by Keith Mills, who was elected to council 2016, only to resign his position 12 months later.

At the time of establishing the group, Mr Mills told the Gippsland Times with several town-specific groups in the shire already, he was interested in creating an all-encompassing group so residents could help each other with their concerns relating to council.

Mr Mills has spoken to council on behalf of the group.

Eager to work with all representative community groups, council in 2018 wrote to Mr Mills asking for a list of membership, group charter and other relevant information such as minutes, frequency of meetings and fees to help it better understand and communicate with the Wellington Residents and Ratepayer Group.

Mr Mills did not respond to that letter, or another council sent in February this year.

The Wellington Residents and Ratepayers Group does not have a website or Facebook page.

The group submitted a petition to council with 257 signatures, expressing concerns following the recent bushfires in relation to vegetation management.

The petition highlighted issues with the removal of hazardous and potentially hazardous trees and vegetation adjacent to council-managed roads in higher risk fire areas.

The group also suggested council advocate the same approach for roads controlled by other agencies within the shire and that greater community consultation be undertaken in relation to planning and action to reduce the likelihood of and impact from future bushfires.

As well as seeking information about the group, council will respond to the petition by writing to the Wellington Residents and Ratepayers Group, outlining the new approach already under development for fire protection work on council roads.

Council emergency management staff have recently reviewed the annual roadside fire protection vegetation works program.

The review has involved extensive consultation with the Country Fire Authority, Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning, and VicRoads.

Focussing on roads in high risk fire areas, the new approach being developed is based on sound fire research and empirical evidence gathered during council mulching and hazardous tree removal trials.

The main aim of these works is to enable residents and visitors to leave early in the event of bushfire and return home once the threat has passed, while access for emergency services was also a key consideration.

Roadside vegetation works will focus on mitigating hazards in areas identified by the CFA and DEL WP as high bushfire risk.

Works may include mulching to reduce fuel hazards, as well as treating hazardous trees along key access roads.

The CFA, DEL WP, Hancock Victoria Plantations, Victoria Police and power companies have been involved in the scheduled review of council’s municipal fire management plan.