Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Porcupine Village seeks Ministerial approval

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A decision has been made to take planning matters for the proposed Porcupine Village development out of Council hands. The Minister for Planning will now make the final decision, in a process which is designed to fast track projects which are judged to make a significant contribution to the State’s economy and to provide substantial public benefit, including jobs for Victorians. If the Minister refuses the project, the applicant can then revert back to the standard council planning process.

The [Tarrangower] Times spoke to Doug Baird last week, who with his wife Deb manages Porcupine Village on behalf of owner Frank Hutchinson. According to Doug, Frank sees the opportunity for the planning permit application for the development to be assessed by the Minister as a positive step, and he is hopeful that this pathway will expedite the planning process.

Progress at Porcupine Village has been dogged by planning issues and has not been without its share of controversy. Recently Council took Porcupine Village to VCAT with regard to an interim enforcement order.

At present, the busy Golden Nugget restaurant is the only part of Porcupine Village that is open to the public. A well-equipped suite of motel rooms sits idle, as does the historic village itself.

When asked why the restaurant is open but the rest of the Village is not, Doug explained that a separate planning permit application was submitted for the restaurant. “Council approved that application quickly, which was great,” Doug said. “Unfortunately, the motel was part of another planning permit application that included other aspects of the development. Until that application was approved, we didn’t have permission to open the motel to the public. The planning process has taken a long time. We’re lucky that Frank isn’t a quitter.”

The proposed development at Porcupine Village is an ambitious one, with accommodation, dining and entertainment capacity for up to 500 people. Powercor has completed an upgrade to the electricity supply. If the Planning Minister gives the development the green light, a connection to Coliban’s sewerage system will be made that will cost the Village about $500,000. Doug pointed out that both the power upgrade and the sewerage connection will be of benefit to nearby residents.

In the meantime, the Golden Nugget restaurant ticks along nicely and Doug is hopeful that, when completed, the development will be equally successful. “We have around 80 people coming for a meal over Easter, courtesy of VGR,” he said. “We have a petition on the bar that we don’t push, but we still have over 800 signatures from people who are supportive of the development.”

Not everyone in Maldon, however, supports the Porcupine Village development in its current proposed form. The [Tarrangower] Times spoke to two objectors who asked not to be named. Their concerns could best be summed up as: too big a development on too small a block, in too small a town.

The objectors are also unhappy about the fact that public consultation in the pathway to obtaining Ministerial planning approval is only an optional process. In other words, there may be no further opportunity for the community to have their say on the proposed development before the Minister has the final word. They are also disappointed that objectors were not notified of the Village’s decision to seek Ministerial approval and nor were they informed about recent VCAT hearings. “We’re simply not getting feedback from anyone,” one objector said. “I feel like we’re shadowboxing.”

If there is an opportunity for community consultation during the planning pathway, what are some issues the objectors would like to see addressed?

Apart from the development’s size, there are several matters on the table here. The white marquee, due to its high visibility and low heritage values, has been an unpopular aspect of the development. There are also concerns about excessive tree felling, noise, fire risk and water pressure.

Some further comments from the objectors:

“I feel like they’ve treated the area like Terra Nullius – that it’s an empty site were they can do whatever they like. But they’re part of a neighbourhood and of a town.”

“I’m not against the development. But I am against the size of it.” 

Tarrangower Times 5 April 2024

This article appeared in the Tarrangower Times, 5 April 2024.

Related stories: Porcupine Village update, Porcupine Village woes, Porcupine Village strikes gold with $1.7 million investment

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