IN THE 1840s the first European settlers cleared Phillip Island for grazing by burning the vegetation. There are varying reports of the burning, one of which indicates that the fire destroyed all vegetation and wildlife on the Island. Some 20 years later a considerable amount of low scrub had re-established itself and in subsequent years many of the trees grew back.
In more recent years, much of the development on the island has required vegetation to be cleared. What remains is now vital to maintain the Island that we all know and love.
Numerous Bass Coast Shire council documents, including the Bass Coast Planning Scheme, describe and emphasise the importance of maintaining the natural environment for the benefit of all. The 2013-17 council plan includes this statement: “Bass Coast Shire will be recognised as a unique place of environmental significance where our quality of life and sense of community is balanced by sustainable and sensitive development, population and economic growth”.
One of the five strategic objectives in the Bass Coast Planning Scheme is that “Our unique natural environment is protected, maintained and enhanced for the enjoyment of all”.
It is interesting to read this section of the Bass Coast Planning Scheme in light of a proposed development at 20 Red Rocks Road, approximately three kilometres from the Cowes commercial precinct.
This 0.8 hectare (2 acre) site, close to Saltwater Creek, is heavily treed and reflects the island’s natural vegetation in terms of many well developed trees, including the rare moonah species. Many of these trees are of significant age. The site is renowned for its bird activity as well as ground animals including echidnas.
It is located in a unique small precinct which generally comprises an area of large established residential properties. This block is located on the west side of Red Rocks Road and during the summer is passed by hundreds of people who enjoy the very popular Red Rocks beach at the end of the road.
The original proposal to subdivide the site into 12 small residential blocks attracted 32 objections. The proposal has since been amended to 10 residential blocks. It will involve clearing the bulk of the vegetation including most of the trees.
How can this subdivision possibly meet the council’s vision for land use planning, as stated in their own planning scheme? Should it proceed, this unique site will be lost to the community forever. It can never be regained.
It could also be construed as a dangerous precedent for other large blocks in the immediate precinct.
What needs to be considered carefully is the amount of vegetation and natural habitat that our island has lost over many years due to land clearing for development. In the 1840s, the island vegetation was totally destroyed. If development continues unchecked, the vegetation will suffer the same fate but this time there will be no recovery.
A better use would be to transform the block into a park area for the benefit of the community as well as those travelling to and from Red Rocks beach. At the Red Rocks beach there is no facility for children’s playground. This block could be converted into an area including a simple children’s playground for families to enjoy. This would allow families to take full advantage of this unique section of Phillip Island environment and enjoy the birdlife in the area.
The authors have a property in Red Rocks and are among objectors to the proposed development. Councillors will consider the application on August 16.