A NEW report on Kingston’s Green Wedge has been called a waste of ratepayers’ money after councillors decided to press ahead with a contentious report to investigate the possibility of rezoning part of Kingston’s Green Wedge.
Earlier this year, a narrow majority of councillors voted to hire a consultant to advise whether land – located between Kingston and Heatherton roads and Lower Dandenong Road and on the eastern side of Tootal Rd in Dingley Village – could be rezoned to a Rural Living Zone.
The minimum lot size in a RLZ is 2000 square metres, effectively opening up any rezoned green wedge land to residential development.
Council spent $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan report by consultants Planisphere in 2012 and will now spend an additional $164,000 on a further report from consultants Meinhardts. The Planisphere report did not recommend that the green wedge land to be looked at again be rezoned.
At Monday evening’s council meeting, Cr Steve Staikos said the new report “is a waste of money”.
“Council will outsource the production of a useless report that will have very little or no weight to government,” he said.
The incoming Labor state government will ultimately determine whether the stipulated green wedge land can be rezoned to RLZ.
Cr Rosemary West said Labor had “promised to lock down the boundaries of the Green Wedge” so it is unlikely the government would support “subdividing” land in the Green Wedge.
“Before we spend $164,000 we should at least speak to the government and see whether this has any chance of success.”
Cr Ron Brownlees said the Meinhardt’s report may make the Labor state government reconsider its pre-election policy. “If [the new government] see the report it may well say to them: ‘Gee whiz, there are some options here’ so let’s not close them out.”
At a council meeting in July, Cr Rosemary West queried how much the report would cost.
Council city strategy manager Jonathan Guttman said at the time that “it’s very appropriate in this instance to market test the cost of this work”.
“We would seek an expression of interest. I don’t have any way of quantifying the cost at this stage. We will prepare a brief, seek market interest and we can advise council then accordingly of the cost,” Mr Guttman said in July.
At Monday evening’s meeting, sustainable planning general manager Rachel Hornsby said “it’s not possible for [council] officers to say how much something will cost until something is signed.”
Cr West expressed disappointment that councillors were not informed of the report cost before the contract was signed on 8 December.
“I’ve been told by an officer that when tenders came in we would be informed of the cost,” she said.
“It was only this week, with officers on the brink of signing the contract, that we learned that the work would cost $164,000.”
Council declined to divulge any ballpark figures for additional Green Wedge report costs when asked by The News earlier this year.
Crs Tamsin Bearsley, Brownlees, Geoff Gledhill, Paul Peulich and John Ronke backed the production of the report from Meinhardt’s. Crs Tamara Barth, David Eden, Staikos and West opposed the move.
Kingston mayor Cr Geoff Gledhill said council has made contact with the newly elected Labor state government to seek meetings with ministers.
Labor’s Richard Wynne has succeeded former Coalition government minister Matthew Guy as the state planning minister after Labor won government at last month’s state election.
Cr Gledhill told The News “councillors had been involved in discussions about the report, which included the indicative costs of the project.
“Council could have requested a report come back to a full council meeting for further approval, but this would have added to the project timelines.
Instead, at the July meeting officers were directed to proceed as the expected costs were well within the officer delegation allowed.”
Cr West said “council is planning to spend nearly half as much again [$164,000], after spending $340,000 on the Kingston Green Wedge Plan, to undermine the Green Wedge Plan’s recommendations with no benefit to anyone except a small group of landowners who can expect windfall gains”.