Friday, June 25, 2010

golfcourse gets the greenlight

report from the roundtable – 22 jun

Council had to consider a very controversial application at this week's council meeting. The application was to use and develop land as a golf course and turf farm on floodplain next to the Yarra River in Yering. Given its location and use it was a very complex application.

Anthony Amis, Land Use Researcher with Friends of the Earth, presented to council as an objector to the application raising many issues. He talked about the heritage values of the site, the endangered species at risk, the value of the green wedge and regional strategy plan, the risks to Melbourne's water supply via Sugarloaf, the extensive water use required, the chemicals typically used at golf courses and past accidents on golf courses adjacent to waterways. He also showed a photo of the extent of water inundation in a one in one year flood. It was certainly food for thought and highlighted how complicated this application was.

Michael Dieden, a town planner, represented the applicant and came under question by many councillors. I was concerned about the chemical use on site. Melbourne Water as part of their referral has given permission for the course to use three herbicides but nothing else. Golf courses are renowned for the use of a complicated mix of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides (not to mention fertilizers), many of them toxic to fish. I wanted to be sure that the applicants were committed to only using these three herbicides and was assured by Mr Dieden that chemical usage would be restricted to only those three herbicides and fertilizers. I am curious as to how the club will deal with insect infestation or fungal attacks to the greens.

I could not support the motion to allow the golf course to proceed. I had too many concerns.

The first was water use on site. The application talks about water licences for 70 megalitres (mL) overland flow, 200 mL of B Class recycled water, 250 mL of water from the Yarra River and 120K Lt to be collected from the roof. That's a staggering amount of water and shows how water intensive this site is, I didn't think that fitted with the aspirations of the green wedge to encourage development that is consistent with sustainable land management practices.

The chemicals, including fertilizers, continue to bother me, I will be very surprised if the club only uses the three chemicals allowed by Melbourne Water. The location of the course on the Yarra River flood plains makes it very easy for contamination and sedimentation in a low flood event, let alone an extreme flood event, of which we seem to have more and more.

I think it is a poor use of green wedge land. Our planning scheme makes it very clear what green wedge land is for and I didn't think this application was a good fit. I lament the loss of land for agricultural use and the loss of access to water for our agricultural businesses.

I didn't believe the golf course would be good for tourism, with its location a long way from any of our townships I don't believe there will be many benefits that flow to our tourism townships as all the money will stay within the golf club.

I had concerns that the application was being packaged as a benefit to the public, but there is no public access to the site unless you are a member (full or social) or attending a function on site.

I was alarmed to read that one of the controls being entertained to preserve native vegetation was the culling of kangaroos, another reason to not support this application.

I think the turf farm is exploiting a loop hole in the planning scheme that says that the land use must be in conjunction with an agricultural use. In a time when we are trying to discourage the use of grass because it is so water hungry, a turf farm doesn't seem a sensible choice for an agricultural pursuit in the Yarra Valley. But it does provide a link to agriculture which is required in the planning scheme.

It is a water guzzling enterprise and is inconsistent with our Regional Strategy Plan. I urged councillors to use the precautionary principle and vote against the motion. My concerns for the loss of agricultural land, our environment, the Yarra River and the drinking water of 1.5 million Melburnians far outweighed the positive elements of the application.

The motion to support the application was moved by Cr Higgins and seconded by Cr Avery. It was a very close 5/4 vote. I called for a division so the record would show who voted for and against.
For: Crs Templer, Avery, Higgins, Warren and Heenan
Against: Crs Dunn, McRae, Cliff and Cox

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