Thursday, 19 November 2015

Protecting the character of Macedon Ranges

In the run up to the last State election, a promise was made to provide better protection for the Macedon Ranges. Just what does that mean and how can such protection be provided?

Wednesday 18th November, the Planning Minister Richard Wynne and local member Mary-Anne Thomas fronted an audience of residents to speak to this. The Minister announced that he will appoint an Expert Panel, to hear community opinions and make recommendations to him, which he promises to act on in this term of government. 

To get the ball rolling, we had community members up the front giving their take on what is needed (from Woodend Primary School, MR Sustainability Group, MR Residents' Association and Landcare Woodend), alongside the Director of Planning and Development, MRSC, who copped criticism for poor communication of planning processes to community members, like the current change to the Riddells Creek Structure Plan, and the review of the provisions for the Rural Living Zone. 

Highlights for me were the pointed questions from the floor (many wise heads with much experience in the room), and the presentation from Christine Pruneau from the Macedon Ranges Residents' Association. Christine laid out 14 recommendations for protecting the character of the Macedon Ranges, based on opinion from the Association's members. Here are those 14 points:

1. Emphasise why protection is needed, and re-align government thinking and decisionmaking with a ‘protection’ culture (by which they mean having protection as the primary focus of planning decisions, rather than facilitation of decelopment)

2. Recognise that Macedon Ranges Shire has its own identity, strengths, constraints and needs, and is different to Melbourne, Sunbury and neighbouring areas.

3. Recognise the services a well-protected Macedon Ranges provides to Melbourne’s population: proximity, breathing spaces and recreation places.

4. Recognise that the contrast between our natural environment and Melbourne is what
drives tourism.

5. Provide an enduring legacy of strong legislation and State policy settings that take
Statement of Planning Policy No. 8 forward.

6. Protect the entire Shire as the “surrounds” of the Macedon Ranges.

7. Make protection of natural resources, environment, landscapes and rural character THE
priority for all decisions.

8. Provide certainty about what can and cannot be done, and how it will be done, in this area, including “must” and “must not” planning controls.

9. Regulate and cap population growth. Towns spilling into rural land, urbanisation of rural areas and intensifying rural living signal a failure to understand and protect non-renewable resources.

10. Identify our towns as integral to the ‘bigger picture’, stop their suburbanisation and make existing town boundaries permanent.

11. Defend water catchments and rural areas with tenement controls and development
restrictions, and by requiring parliamentary approval to reduce subdivision sizes.

12. Build on existing rural strengths by promoting nature-based tourism and recreation, local produce, and reduced food miles.

13. Recognise the inter-generational benefits and sustainability of protecting natural resources.

14. Re-empower this community by making it an equal partner in all decision-making.

In their view, the Council is going in a different direction, and it's up to the community with the State Government to set up strong, permanent protection.

The Expert Panel will start hearing from residents in face-to-face meetings in the New Year, so look out for that.

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