– Bruce Lindsay, Lawyer
In late 2019, EJA represented the Chirnside Parks Residents Action Group in a two-week hearing addressing a proposal on Brushy Creek in the Shire of Yarra Ranges.
The proposal was for nearly 50 residential blocks on land including both the escarpment of Brushy Creek in Chirnside Park and the floodplain of the creek. The land in question is in private hands but is part of the environmentally important Brushy Creek corridor.
The Creek is the first main upstream tributary of the Yarra affected by urbanisation, which means it is affected by pollution and stormwater along with sewage treatment flows. To add to that, the water quality and ecological condition of the Yarra declines markedly from here down.
The good news is, the planning panel appointed to advise the Shire of Yarra Ranges on the Brushy Creek development proposal, recommended that the proposal in its current form be abandoned! At a subsequent Council meeting, the Shire of Yarra Ranges Council voted unanimously to accept the recommendation and refuse approval of the development proposal.
A win for the community
This is an incredible community win for local residents who campaigned hard against the proposal, as it would have had significant impacts on biodiversity and amenity in the area. The proposal would have compromised the environs of Brushy Creek and there would have been much uncertainty as to whether impacts on the creek could be properly managed.
Locals resisted the proposal because the overdevelopment of the floodplain would have resulted in a huge loss of native vegetation and local amenity. To add to the growing concerns from residents, they would have also had to deal with odour impacts and traffic concerns if the proposal went ahead.
During the two-week hearing, EJA called on evidence on the biodiversity impacts of the proposal and stormwater management issues. EJA argued that the proposal represented over-development and over-engineering of the Brushy Creek and its environs, on what is recognised as a key regional environmental asset, albeit one already subject to historic degradation from nearby development and land clearing. Given its important environmental role, we argued a high degree of precaution needed to be taken in this proposal.
Issues brought before the panel such as traffic management and noise were considered acceptable. Odour impacts from the treatment plan were contested. The biggest contentions were over the extent and impacts of the proposal on the Brushy Creek and its environs. The abandoned proposal would have required significant vegetation clearing along the creek corridor.
Vital waterways that can thrive
The Panel findings and recommendations contribute to a growing volume of official, expert and quasi-judicial decisions directed to urban waterways and their protection. This includes various Ministerial Advisory Committees considering waterways, as well as VCAT decisions and panel advices.
There needs to be more considered engagement by developers and decision-makers with the design innovations directed to improved stormwater outcomes. In the vicinity of waterways, real care should be taken to retain and enhance biodiversity.
Urban waterways and their environs are crucial public assets in our cities and towns. They are our lifeblood and are key local areas of nature. They remain under immense pressure from development and changing land uses, not to mention climate change and modified water management. We’re so pleased that these vital waterways remain untouched and that with proper care biodiversity can thrive.