AT THIS week’s meeting, councillors affirmed their commitment to the principles set out in the Phillip Island and San Remo Visitor Economy Strategy. The issue before the council was an application to subdivide a block in Red Rocks Road, Cowes, into 10 residential allotments. Councillors unanimously rejected the proposal on the grounds that the dwelling density would be too dense for this location, that it did not respect the neighbourhood character and failed to protect the biodiversity and ecological values of the land.
It is interesting that this rejection was contrary to the recommendation of the officers who recommended approval with nearly 12 pages of conditions to be attached to the approval. I moved the motion to reject the application, arguing that the State Planning Policy Framework, with the requirement to provide 15 years’ of land supply for housing development, is killing the character of the Island and undermining the beauty and attraction of Phillip Island as a natural tourism destination.
The proposed development in Cowes is three kilometres from the town centre. Driving along Settlement Road you could easily imagine yourself in Cranbourne or Pakenham. The advice tendered to Council argued that the neighbourhood character should be derived from the 600-800 square metre blocks to the east of the development. I argued that the block is located in an area of 2000 sq m blocks and generously treed, and, as such, a development of two to four blocks was appropriate.
The land is located at the western extremity of Cowes, separated from Ventnor only by a nine-hole golf course. Nearby is a significant area of banksia woodland and wetland that was under threat from development earlier this year. Further intense development adds pressure to these areas and the nearby Red Rocks beach.
I argued that the planning approach was too narrow and did not take account of key council policies; in particular the Phillip Island and San Remo Visitor Economy 2035 Strategy and the Cowes Activity Centre Plan. The strategy notes that on Phillip Island the environment is the economy and so we need to preserve the environment to support tourism into the longer term.
Similarly, the Cowes Activity Centre Plan envisages a hospitable town with people being able to walk to the town centre. It also encourages infill and greater development density ahead of the usual spread into undeveloped rural land.
The latest Census figures show that 60 per cent of houses on Phillip Island are unoccupied against a statewide figure of just 16.3 per cent. Development at the edge of the Cowes urban sprawl will be mostly holiday houses, mainly occupied during the main holiday period when Cowes is already busy. At a distance where most people will drive into town, they will only add to the congestion.
Up to 250,000 new residents are expected to move into areas to the north and east of our region in future years, putting enormous pressure on the Island. Policy approaches that add to the congestion will only compound the difficulties, and we should avoid them.
Some argue that housing development is crucial to our economy. While the council must support a thriving local industry, the current approach does not necessarily do this. About 60 per cent of the builders operating in the new estates are from out of town, they purchase in bulk at big discounts and probably from outside suppliers. The question is whether they are here for the long term. I favour an approach that supports builders who employ locals and buy local.
Where to from here? The project will probably go to VCAT and may indeed be ruled in favour of the applicant but it is important to register the claim for a more sympathetic treatment of the Island, to preserve it for future generations and for its natural value.
Paradise lost By Doug Elms