Bulletin 3 September 2020
Green Wedges Coalition - A Vision for Melbourne
Bulletin No 3 (September 2020)
This is an occasional publication to highlight issues of major importance to the future of the Green Wedges. The Bulletin is also posted on the GWC’s website at: www.gwc.org.au
1. State Government Review of Green Wedges Planning Policy Provisions (Update)
As a result of Coronavirus restrictions, DELWP has delayed the release of the consultation paper on ‘Planning for Melbourne’s Green Wedges and Agricultural Land’. The latest advice to us is that the paper will be released and consultation with the wider community initiated in mid-October in accordance with the lifting of Stage 4 restrictions.
If the lifting of restrictions proceeds as planned, we envisage that DELWP will organize the promised workshop with the Green Wedge Coalition, which will proceed via internet conferencing.
We understand that DELWP is still committed to a ten-week consultation period with the community, the deadline for submissions will possibly be in December 2020.
Due to the uncertainty of the situation, we will advise members as soon as we receive confirmation from DELWP as to the timeline of the review process.
The Green Wedges Coalition will be drafting a submission to the consultation paper along the lines of our March submission (circulated previously), and we will circulate another draft as soon as possible after the consultation paper is publicly released. We envisage this as an ‘open source’ that people can use in preparing their own submissions.
2. Parliamentary Inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria (UPDATE)
The Green Wedges Coalition made a submission to the ‘Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria’, which closed in August. The date for the panel to report on their findings has been extended to April 2021. An executive summary of our submission is reproduced below, and a full copy of the submission is attached to this bulletin.
In relation to the to the role of planning schemes in determining policy for future land use and development at both state and local government levels, the Green Wedges Coalition is concerned that inadequate attention is given to tackling the urgent problem of ecosystem decline.
The Green Wedges Coalition played a significant role in the process that saw the Green Wedges formally recognised in the State Government’s policy document, Melbourne 2030: Planning for Sustainable Growth (2002), which included an implementation plan for the Green Wedges. Legislation for the ongoing protection of the Green Wedges was passed by the State Government in 2003. The Green Wedge zones were introduced with the specific purpose to recognise, protect and conserve environmental values.
Our submission addressed ecosystem decline at both the broader state planning level as well as specific examples extending beyond the 12 Green Wedges and 17 Green Wedge municipalities. Examples included the decline of Victorian volcanic plains grasslands and the mass rate of extinctions of flora and fauna experienced throughout the state and documented locally in reports such as Knox Council’s Sites of Biological Significance.
In our submission, we detail examples of planning policy failure and the urgent need to strengthen the planning policy to counter the decline of natural ecosystems under threat from built- development pressure. This is based on the lived experience of our member-groups over a period of almost two decades. Local community groups represent the practical, ‘on-the-ground’ experience of dealing with the consequences of inappropriate development leading to significant, cumulative and irreplaceable loss of natural ecosystems.
3. Cleanfill Dumping in the Green Wedges
Cleanfill sites are defined as rural land used by land developers to permanently dispose of unwanted ‘clean’ fill, which is carted from land clearing works on urban subdivisions as a cheaper alternative to disposal in EPA-licensed landfills. Cleanfill is recognised by the EPA as a form of industrial waste and sets out responsibilities of (1) transport of material to the site, (2) receiving facilities and (3) receiving facilities site management..
Cleanfill sites are arguably contrary to fundamental purposes of the Green Wedge Zone, to ensure agricultural land uses are protected, along with biodiversity, conservation and open rural or scenic landscapes.
We do not accept the idea reflected in one VCAT decision, which stated that this objective of protecting agricultural land can be temporarily suspended for the duration of a cleanfill operation and then be successfully resumed after the cleanfill industrial activity has ceased. [Creative Landfill Pty Ltd v Hume CC  VCAT 1075). There is nothing in the planning scheme that provides for the ‘short term’ suspension of such a significant Green Wedge planning objective. The ‘suspension’ is generally sought while filling is already underway and usually extends over many years to maximise the scope for the disposal of unwanted fill. An ‘innominate’ land use, the disposal of cleanfill as waste was not contemplated when the Green Wedge planning provisions and prohibitions were created in 2003, nor in the development of the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Strategic Plan. Such a permitted land use has the potential to cause a ‘mushrooming’ of cleanfill sites across all of Melbourne’s Green Wedges.
In 2002, the Green Wedges ‘Implementation Plan 5’ was introduced as an integral part of Melbourne 2030, and there is no reference here to the role of the Green Wedges in providing a repository for land fill or ‘cleanfill’. Mineral extraction, stone exploration and stone extraction are all innominate uses, as is landfill that is grouped under ‘Refuse disposal’. This issue clearly needs to be addressed as ‘broad-acre’ land fill or cleanfill operations could potentially have an enormous impact on maintaining agricultural land and also be detrimental to the amenity of existing residents of the Green Wedges (e.g. GWAZ) or bordering the Green Wedges (e.g. greenfield developments in the abutting Urban Growth Zone).
Cleanfill disposal has been a problem in Green Wedge municipalities including the Yarra Ranges, Hume and most recently and disastrously, in Nillumbik, and we are aware strategic planners from such municipalities have met to discuss the issue. The Green Wedges Coalition has raised this issue as a matter warranting urgent State Government action and has been referred to the minister by VCAT Deputy President, Mr Mark Dwyer, in a ‘Red Dot’ decision concerning the Yarra Ranges.
We supported residents opposing a cleanfill application at Oaklands Junction, where a developer wanted to cover prime farmland and environmentally-significant grassland with 600,000 tonnes of soil up to 8 metres high generated by development in the nearby Urban Growth Zone. This application was refused at VCAT because of the impact on environmentally-significant flora and fauna and on the amenity of neighbouring rural residences (but the decision did not take into account Green Wedge or agricultural-land objectives). A subsequent subdivision application approved by VCAT for this land by the proponent of the cleanfill application indicates this is likely to re-emerge in future applications.
In a more farsighted decision, Cardinia Council refused an application to spread cleanfill on farmland after Green Wedges Coalition representations encouraged them to reverse an initial plan to approve the application without requiring a Council resolution.
In another example, Melbourne Water ‘filled’ a wetland that was part of the former Carrum Swamp across Thompsons Road from the Eastern Treatment Plant (ETP) to use for a solar panel ‘farm.’ Frankston Council approved this filling exercise as “earthworks” without advertising the application and not even councillors were informed. Until recently, this was habitat for the migratory and other birds that visit the Edithvale Wetlands and the ETP including the endangered Australasian Bittern, and it was part of the area on which Birdlife Australia relied for their regular bird counts.
Most recently, the issue of cleanfill dumping has emerged again in the Nillumbik Green Wedge, and detailed information on this can be found on the ‘Wedge Tales’ website: www.wedgetales.org.au
Also access to further information on the cleanfill dumping issue can be found on the Green Wedge Coalition website.
Green Wedges Coalition
(Green Wedges Guardians Alliance Inc)
 The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
 EPA Fact Sheet “Industrial waste” Publication 1624, May 2016.
 Yarra Ranges SC v Bibiano (Red Dot)  VCAT 1881 (10 November 2016). See http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2016/1881.html.