GOVERNMENT GREEN LIGHT FOR DESTRUCTION OF GREEN WEDGES

Green Wedges Coalition
– a vision for Melbourne

MEDIA RELEASE 16 June 2009

- Environmental and green wedge groups call on Government to stop green wedge land grab.

State Government plans to be released tomorrow (Wednesday) for a green wedge land grab of nearly 23,000 ha are the most serious threat to green wedges since the Bracks Government introduced the UGB to protect them in 2002. The green wedge land is to be handed to property developers, following a report last December increasing Melbourne’s population target from 4 million to 5 million.
 
The plans will expand the Urban Growth Boundary around new growth areas which include some of the State’s best remaining native grasslands. Ecologists say their biodiversity rivals Kakadu, yet Government is giving developers a green light for the destruction of grasslands, wetlands and grassy woodlands.     
 
The green wedges are, as successive premiers and planning ministers have said, the lungs of Melbourne. With a city already gasping for breath, Melbourne's lungs are about to be choked with urban sprawl. This government land grab will be a cancer, not just in the proposed new growth corridors but in surrounding areas, where developers are expected to buy up environmentally and agriculturally significant grasslands.
 
The Green Wedges Coalition calls on the government to call off this plan for gross unnecessary destruction of the environment and of fertile farmland which provides food for Melbourne. It contradicts:
·         promises by the former Planning Minister Rob Hulls that the 11,500 ha of land taken from the green wedges after the Government’s Smart Growth Committee process in 2005 would last until 2030;
·         promises by the present Planning Minister Madden not to undermine his predecessors’ achievements,
·         recommendations by last year’s Melbourne 2030 Audit group (accepted by State Government) that no further change to the UGB should be considered for at least five years.
 
 The Government has also dumped the developer levy it announced to provide for infrastructure in 2005 to avoid development delays and has imposed a new levy on land sales in the new urban growth areas. We doubt this will ever be collected either. 
 
This destruction is unnecessary: please see the attached analysis by Jenni Bundy of the Green Wedge Protection Group which demonstrates that the Government has miscalculated its land supply figures and that there is enough land within the current UGB to last until 2030. Increasing the development density in urban growth areas would also make housing more affordable. Instead, the Government is prepared to hand green wedge land that makes Melbourne a liveable city to developers for McMansions and suburban sprawl.
 
The Government has investigated the environmental significance of this land – so it can if it wishes protect the most significant remnant grasslands and woodlands - but has done nothing to assess its value for sustainable agriculture in relatively high rainfall areas near the city. These investigations were hasty (over one instead of four seasons).
  
The12,000 ha of grassland reserves to be provided as a trade-off are welcome, but are no compensation for the better quality grasslands we believe will be left inside the new UGB. We fear this is just a green smokescreen for environmental vandalism.
 
The development of this land could also put many hundreds of new houses at risk of bushfire: see attached photos showing timber framed houses under construction in the forest at Eynesbury, near Melton.  
 
. This release may be attributed to Rosemary West, 9772 7124 or 0418 554 799 Joint Coordinator, Green Wedges Coalition (incorporated as the Green Wedges Guardians Alliance). Rowest@ozemail.com.au
For comment from GWC President, Kahn Franke 0417 416 653;
Please see next pages for local contacts and descriptions of the local areas threatened by this land grab
Attached please see map showing how proposed UGB changes will affect environmentally significant areas.
RECOMMENDATIONS:
 
The Green Wedges Coalition has called on the Government to rethink this disastrous initiative and to:
·         Hold the line on the Urban Growth Boundary, or if as we expect, Government proceeds without considering the consequences, at least to
·         Protect from urban development:
-          all land around the existing boundaries of Sunbury and the Diggers Rest township
-          all significant grasslands and current or extinct wetlands in the Werribee- Melton Corridor,
-     all significant grasslands, red gum woodlands and wetlands in the Merri Creek catchment. 
-          significant grasslands and habitat corridor in the Merri Creek Valley 
-          essential farmland and fauna habitat in the Westernport Green Wedge
-     riparian strips at least 100m wide along creeks and watercourses;
-          all other environmentally significant land identified in the Environment Victoria submission.
·         Provide further protection to environmentally significant grasslands and grassy woodlands in the investigation areas by:
-          using the estimated $90 million annual Melbourne Water parks levy to acquire highly significant areas for national parks;
-          providing incentives to landholders, via Bushbroker, Bush Tender and Grow West schemes;
-          funding Trust for Nature for rolling purchases in the green wedges, for on-selling with covenants.
-          Encourage Councils to provide conservation rate rebates for at least TfN covenanted properties.  
·         Restore the 2005 developer levy and
·         amend the proposed new levy to exempt landholders who sell their properties to conservation landholders or farmers, provided that the levy is payable if/when the land is sold, rezoned or subdivided for development.
 
 
BACKGROUND:
 
1. Western Plains Green Wedges: 
A. Once known as brown wedges, the work of ecologists including Sarah Bekessy and Ascelin Gordon of RMIT has shown that the biodiversity of the western basalt plains grasslands rivals Kakadu. Native grasslands, Victoria’s prairies, once stretched from the western edge of Melbourne nearly to the South Australian border, but now only a tiny percentage remains. They were ablaze with wildflowers in spring and supported many different species of marsupials and reptiles including Striped Legless Lizard and Fat-tailed Dunnart. The Werribee and Melton Plains support the largest remaining areas of Victoria’s Basalt Plains Grasslands and are one of Australia’s 15 Biodiversity Hotspots.
 
Grassland remnants are scattered across the plains, with the largest contiguous area extending westwards from Werribee nearly to the YouYangs, and a substantial block arealso located on the eastern slopes of Mt Cotterell. However many of the high quality remnants lie scattered close to or within the urban areas of Werribee, Laverton, Deer Park and Caroline Springs.
 
 The proposed extensions to the western growth corridors will potentially destroy over 3000 ha of the environmentally significant grasslands as the attached map shows. These include:
·         Clarke Road grassland lying either side of Kororoit Creek just west of Caroline Springs.
·          Lollypop Creek grassland which follows the creek up to the western edge of Werribee,
 
The proposed changes cut off and flatten the western green wedges in breach of the basic Melbourne 2030 principle that growth should be channelled along growth corridors and green wedges in between protected. It removes the environmentally valuable break in the growth corridor between Melton and the City.
 
 
(Pic, left, Western plains grasslands)
 
 
The Western Plains North Green Wedge Group is calling on State Government to protect environmentally significant grass-lands in reserves and to protect all remnant grasslands and fertile farmland by keeping it in the green wedge and by implementing stricter measures to protect remnant grasslands from illegal clearing.
 
Contact: Frances Overmars, coordinator, Western Plains North Green Wedge Group 9748 1294   rhovermars@aol.com; Available tomorrow (Wed) from lunchtime on.
Giorgio De Nola Western Plains North Green Wedge Group, 9626 8405; 0404 085 517;
 
 
B. The Eynesbury subdivision approval in 2002 by the then State Planning Director, under delegation was the last , straw that convinced the Bracks Government of the need for green wedge protection measures and the last residential development approved in the green wedge before the State Government green wedge protection package prohibited subdivision in 2002.. Originally, the forest was to have been buffered by a golf course, but the developer wanted 800 more houses and in 2006 Melton Council and VCAT amended their plans to allow houses edging into the forest, despite the evident bushfire risk. Department of Sustainability and Environment objections were over-ridden by the planning authorities and environmentalist third parties were prevented from being heard by a Development Protection Overlay approved by the State Planning Department. 
 
Contact Harry van Moorst, coordinator, Western Region Environment Centre: 9731 0288 or 0431 121 218. harryvm@envirowest.org.au,   
Attached/available on request: pics of houses now under construction in environmentally significant grey-box woodland at Eynesbury. 
 
 
Sunbury Maribyrnong Valley Green Wedge:
 
After repeated assurances by three planning ministers (including Minister Madden in mid-November) that the Urban Growth Boundary around Sunbury would remain intact, the Sunbury Maribyrnong Valley Green Wedge Defenders were shocked to find that Sunbury would double in size as a result of the proposed green wedge land grab. This is also a substantial contradiction to Melbourne 2030, which stated that urban growth should occur only in growth corridors and which did not designate Calder Highway as a growth corridor. 
 
Please see attached submission and statement from Arnie Azaris to Minister Madden expressing local shock and disappointment. Arnie also points out that substantial parts of the investigation area are covered by a Airports Overlay & that residential development there would probably lead to calls for an airport curfew.
 
On behalf of the SMVGWD, Ms Azaris requests that the following environmental and heritage sites near Sunbury should be immediately acquired and protected in State reserves:
·         Emu Bottom, where Victoria’s oldest homestead, surrounding native forest and 25 ha working farm on the Jacksons Creek are threatened by a four-lot housing subdivision application approved by Hume Council and VCAT despite its heritage register listing. 
·         Bundanoon woodlands and grasslands a biodiversity site of regional ecological significance with highly significant flora and fauna including rare woodlands and grasslands; remnant flora unique to Hume; many native birds and animals including wedge-tailed eagles and sacred Aboriginal ceremonial (Bora) rings. Threatened by proposed subdivision into one hectare lots.   (Sunbury, Melway: 362 A6)
 
Contact: Arnie Azaris, coordinator, SMVGW Defenders on 0419 547 807, aazaris1@bigpond.net.au;
Trevor Dance, spokesman for Sunbury Conservation Society; 0413 822 214,  
   
        
Whittlesea Merri Creek Green Wedge
 
The Merri Creek is a crucial life-line for native flora and fauna, extending into the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Along its length lies a chain of state and nationally significant grasslands, two of which have been reserved at Craigieburn and Campbellfield, whilst others remain on private land in the green wedge. Unfortunately most of the Merri Creek catchment has been included in the urban investigation areas, so urban development now threatens to adversely impact on its priceless biodiversity, including several linked populations of the endangered Growling Grass Frog.
The Friends of Merri Creek, like the Western Plains North, Sunbury Maribyrnong Valley and Western Port Green Wedge groups report that profitable grazing activities can fit well with the conservation of grasslands and grassy woodlands. Many of their Landcare group members are aware that retaining native pastures and regenerating woodland trees improves their farm production values as well as biodiversity (See attached/ available photograph on the property of a Merriang Creek Landcare member).
 
The Friends of Merri Creek are calling on State Government to secure a Merri Creek Biodiversity Network that extends from the upper catchment south into Melbourne’s northern suburbs. This should include:
? new reserves for nationally significant grasslands at Bald Hill and Craigieburn East,
? Grassy woodlands north of Craigieburn,  
? a 400m wide riparian habitat corridor along the Merri Creek
? other high quality grasslands and wetlands at Kalkallo, Beveridge and elsewhere.
 
Melbourne’s northern plains, extending westwards from Plenty Valley to Merri Creek and Mt Ridley, contain fine examples ofVictoria’s endangered Red Gum Woodlands . This ecosystem once extended across much of the western plains, but now only a tiny percentage remains. The majestic Red-gum trees are often up to 400 years old or more, and form a park-like landscape over native grasses and herbs. They provide many hollows and important habitat for a suite of woodland birds such as the endangered Barking Owl and rare parrots and many species of bats. Grey Kangaroos loaf in their shadows during the day.
 
Important stands of Red Gum woodland habitat survive near Mt Ridley to the west of Craigieburn, in the Merri catchment, and scattered across the Whittlesea green wedge, extending into some of the new suburbs. Some traditional grazing properties have kept both their Red Gum trees and the native grass layer into the present day through generations of sensitive grazing practices.
 
Unfortunately the urban investigation areas cut deeply into both the Red Gum woodlands of the Whittlesea green wedge, and across all of the Mt Ridley woodlands. This threatens centuries-old trees, with many hollows and fallen branches for fauna habitat, and patches of native grasses and wildflowers such as Milky Beauty Heads and the nationally endangered Matted Flax-lily. Suburban development threatens to clear many of these woodlands, or retain the trees as isolated museum pieces in pocket parks and roundabouts – as seen already in new suburbs at South Morang and Epping North.
 
Contact: Friends of Merri Creek, Ann McGregor 9386 3102.
 

 South Eastern Investigation Area (WesternPort green wedge)
 
The south-eastern investigation area was once part of the vast Kooweerup Swamp and has some of the most fertile agricultural land in the state.   This land is very important in supplying fresh vegetables to Melburnians. The heaths and woodlands of this landscape, including Cranbourne Botanic Gardens and remnants on private land, support the largest surviving population of Southern Brown Bandicoot near the City. 
 
The new urban investigation areas, together with growth corridor land added in 2005, now threaten to remove large areas of prime farmland and to encircle Cranbourne Botanic Gardens with suburbs. They also threaten the health of Westernport Bay and its remaining seagrass. It is now acknowledged that siltation resulting from the construction of Cardinia dam caused the death of much WesternPort seagrass. The current UGB was designed to follow the ridge-lines to avoid more siltation damage, but the proposed UGB pushes down into the Westernport Catchment and will increase pressure on the health of the ecology of WesternPort Bay.
Casey Council has opposed the extension of the Urban Growth Boundary in this area as its strategic planning supports the preservation of this highly productive farmland. (??)
 
Environment and Landcare Groups want: 
·         The Kooweerup Investigation Area to be protected within the green wedge as an essential farming area close to Melbourne. 
·         Conservation agreements with private landholders to secure effective bandicoot habitat links extending both south and east from Cranbourne Botanic Gardens.
 
Contact: Kelly Brooks-Macmillan, brooks-macmillan@bigpond.com; 0428 427 005;  
 
Analysis of serious flaws in UGB expansion plans,
by Jenni Bundy
 
The Melbourne @ 5 Million documents and consequent plan to expand the UGB to provide further green-field residential land from Green Wedges, announced in December 2009, are based on incorrect and deeply flawed land supply estimates. These invalid figures are the basis upon which the Government has deemed it necessary to move the UGB.
 
The full lot yield analysis in the UDP 2007 Report (which is the basis for the land supply estimates) is based on projections of a reduced lot yield per hectare over time in the existing Growth Areas, down to 8-10 in some areas.
 
These figures should be recalculated to yield a minimum of 15 dwellings per hectare (gross), with a target of 20 dwellings per hectare from 2010. At a yield of 15 lots per gross hectare, there would be enough development land within the UGB to last for nearly 19 years . With a density of 20 lots/ha there would be enough for 25 years 
 
This would be enough to make this latest green wedge land grab unnecessary and would keep new houses safely inside the UGB, instead of allowing them to sprawl over a fire-prone urban fringe.   The Brumby Government has totally missed the point of (Melbourne) 2030, to contain outward growth instead of pandering to it.
 
(More details in the analysis by Jenni Bundy, which is attached or available on request.   The Green Wedges Coalition mourns the loss of Jenni Bundy who died in the Black Saturday fire at St Andrews).
 
Attached or available documents:
1.    Green Wedges Charter (with a brief green wedge history and summary of current concerns.)  
2.      Green Wedges Coalition constituent membership contact list (for each green wedge).
3.      Letter from Minister Madden to Green Wedges Coalition, 18/8/08.
4.      Letter on behalf of Minister Madden to GWC member group 11/11/08
5.      “Reasons why the UGB Expansion Plans are seriously flawed,” Analysis of land supply figures by Jenni Bundy of the Green Wedge Protection Group(Feb 2009)
6.      “Nature on our Doorstep,” Friends of Merri Creek Submission to Growth Areas Authority on Melbourne @ 5 million.(including plan of proposed conservation network and pic of Merri Creek.
 
Attached or available photograph & maps:
7.      Map showing how proposed UGB changes will affect environmentally significant areas
8.      Houses now under construction in environmentally significant grey-box woodland at Eynesbury.  
9.      Emu Bottom, Victoria’s oldest homestead in the green wedge at Sunbury.
10. Bundanoon woodlands and grasslands, Sunbury.