By Catherine Watson
THE State Government has given the first sign that it is considering a purchase of the Holden Proving Ground site to protect one of the few significant forests remaining on the shores of Western Port.
Yesterday the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning wrote to several members of the Save the Holden Bushlands pressure group that it would “work with Parks Victoria and Bass Coast Shire Council to discuss options and investigate possible acquisition and protection measures” for the site.
DELWP Regional Director for Gippsland, Darrin McKenzie, wrote that he was responding on behalf of the Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio.
The Proving Ground went on the market last month as part of GMH’s withdrawal from Australia. The sales process for the 877-hectare site was by invitation only and there was no indication of price.
Established by Holden in 1957, the proving ground is mostly remnant coastal forest, now rare in West Gippsland. In recent years, Bass Coast Landcare worked with Holden to manage and monitor the forest, which is home to several rare and endangered native species.
The purchase price would be offset by the value of native vegetation offsets on the site, estimated to be worth up to $10 million – provided the forest is left intact to provide habitat for endangered species including the southern brown bandicoot.
In May, Bass Coast councillors unanimously supported a motion to ask the State Government to buy the site for the preservation and recognition of its “environmental, cultural and coastal habitat values”.
Bass Coast Mayor Brett Tessari today welcomed news of the letter from DELWP but expressed surprise that the council had not been contacted nor had it received a response to a letter sent to Ms D’Ambrosio two months ago.
Save the Holden Bushlands spokesman Tim O’Brien said the letter showed a deep engagement between the Environment Minister and DELWP on the future of the site.
He expressed gratitude to the many allied environmental groups from around Westernport and Cardinia and further afield who have supported the campaign and provided expert advice on the ecological and habitat values of the site.
“It may have been a 'sign', but on Wednesday a posse of six swift parrots – highly endangered – flew overhead to settle in a stag tree just metres from the road.”
“It’s also no doubt due to the efforts of the Bunurong Land Council who had engaged with the State Government and DELWP on the future of the Proving Ground site as far back as March, soon after General Motors made its announcement of departure from these shores.
“While not yet won, the unified and determined voice from the Bass Coast Shire Council to have the site purchased and protected, and strong representation from our local MP Jordan Crugnale, will also have been powerful and persuasive in galvanising the attention of the Minister and State Government.”
At Wednesday’s council meeting councillors voted to request an urgent meeting with the Minister for Planning to discuss options for protection of the site. The council will also approach the Federal Government to buy the property.
The site is currently zoned for farming and has no environmental overlays or protections.
Rezoning the site and putting on environmental overlays to deter prospective buyers such as sand miners is seen as key to protecting it.
Moving the motion, Cr Geoff Ellis said there was evidence that this 2000 acres of riparian forest and rare forest bog was home to the endangered southern-brown bandicoot, white footed dunnart, long nosed bandicoot, Leadbeaters possum, powerful owl and the growling grass frog. It has ancient specimens of grass trees and has excellent habitat for echidna, wallabies, reptiles and rare wildflowers.