THE fate of the proposed $85 million resort at Cape Bridgewater is closer to being decided after the state government appointed a committee to examine planning issues surrounding the development – but objectors claim the process is being stacked against them.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne has referred the application to the Priority Projects Standing Advisory Committee for review, with a directions (preliminary) hearing scheduled for February 8.
That hearing and a full hearing scheduled for late March are not just about the planning application, but about changes to the Glenelg Planning Scheme that could smooth the way for the resort to go ahead.
Glenelg Shire councillors voted last July to send the planning application to Mr Wynne for a decision, having given it ‘in principle’ support.
Mr Wynne, in a letter to the chairwoman of the committee, wrote that he had decided to put that request on hold and decided to require Australian Tourism Trust, which is developing the resort, to prepare draft planning scheme changes.
The actual changes will be made publicly available by Friday on the planning.vic.gov.au website.
All parties including the Trust, the council, various referral authorities and community members who made submissions to the original planning permit application, will have an opportunity to comment during the course of the hearing.
However, the fact that the Trust submitted amendments to the planning scheme raised the ire of the Save Cape Bridgewater Association.
Spokesman Patrick O’Brien said Mr Wynne had not invited anyone else to suggest amendments to the planning scheme, unlike the long process which had led to the Cape Bridgewater Structure Plan.
“The applicant’s designing the planning scheme and the community doesn’t have the same opportunity,” he said.
Due process and due diligence had been absent from the consideration of the application, Mr O’Brien claimed.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Wynne said the proposal had not changed from what had already been put on public exhibition by the council.
“The Committee will assess the proposal and provide another opportunity for submitters to the original planning permit to have their say again,” she said.
It was open for development proponents to prepare and submit draft planning scheme amendment documentation for consideration by either the council or state government.
However, the general public will not have an opportunity to comment on the changes, as they normally would if the council was submitting them.
The meetings will also be held virtually, which Mr O’Brien said disadvantaged Cape Bridgewater residents struggling with poor internet coverage – many had made “hard copy” submissions because they didn’t have a computer.
“It’s important now that all objectors go through the process of making a verbal submission to the hearings, that’s critically important,” he said.
“But the hearing should have been held locally, whether here or in Portland.”
The Save Cape Bridgewater Association had begun a fundraising campaign to pay for expert witnesses to give evidence on its behalf. Anyone wanting to speak at the hearing must complete an online request by Friday.
The Standing Advisory Committee is part of Planning Panels Victoria.
A spokesman said PPV had been conducting its hearing by videoconference during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The directions hearing and the hearing will be conducted as a public forum via video conference and will be open for anyone to attend online,” he said.
“PPV is providing all participating parties in the hearing process with a link to enable them to join and engage in the video conference, and also a guide to using MS (Microsoft) Teams video conference.
“PPV will also make available the video conference link and the MS Teams guide on its website to enable interested persons to attend the hearings.”
At the directions hearing, the Committee would consider matters such as the conduct of the hearing, the exchange of information, the hearing timetable and site inspections.
While the full hearing is scheduled to begin in late March, Australian Tourism Trust has asked for it to be delayed until April/May, and that will be considered at the directions hearing.
Mr Wynne has asked the three-member Committee to consider whether the project would achieve acceptable planning outcomes for Glenelg Shire and whether the proposed changes “provide a suitable basis for the establishment and operation of the proposal… if approval of the project is deemed appropriate”.
In a reply to Mr O’Brien, a state government official said the resort was “of regional significance due to its level of investment and job creation and potential stimulation of the regional visitor economy of South West Victoria”.
“Nevertheless the Minister is also aware of the environmental, landscape and cultural sensitivities of this project,” the official says.
“The role of the… Committee is to independently review the merits of the proposal and the views of all involved parties.” The Committee will provide a report to Mr Wynne, who will make the final decision.