On 30 August 2021, 38 residents around Grenville Street, Daylesford, were surprised to receive a letter from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). It advised that an acre (0.4 hectare) of public parkland adjoining Cornish Hill Reserve was ‘surplus to government requirements’ so would be rezoned to residential land and sold exclusively to adjoining property owner(s) (unspecified) in the vicinity of 72-74 Grenville Street. (See information pack engage.vic.gov.au/glsac/tranche-30
The land is currently zoned Public Park and Recreation. Practically it is an extension of Cornish Hill Park with a heritage overlay Cornish Hill Mining Precinct.
An online information session was hosted by DELWP on 14 September 2021 at 6:30pm. The convenor emphasised that due to some dodgy land sale practices in the 1960s and 70s, the sale of surplus crown land was subject to strict principles of transparency and accountability.
However, what is happening is far from transparent and accountable.
Lose-Lose for Daylesford. The DELWP planning report claims this sale of parkland will ‘deliver a positive contribution to the township of Daylesford, facilitating sale of unused public land’. The opposite is true. Daylesford loses one acre of public parkland. All sale monies go to the State Government, not Hepburn Shire. Daylesford loses a heritage walking trail. Daylesford loses an essential track used by CFA, SES and Ambulance Victoria. Daylesford loses public access to an historic railway embankment.
No consultation resulting in inaccurate information. State departments (Treasury/Planning/DELWP) have been collaborating over a three-year period to determine this land as surplus and for sale. They commissioned a consultancy called Urbis but there was no consultation with the local residents. As a result, Urbis made serious mistakes including incorrect mapping and data on land usage by residents, public groups and emergency services.
CFA objects. Daylesford emergency services at risk. The planning report states rezoning ‘will not increase the bushfire risk to existing and future residents, property and community infrastructure.’ This was despite the CFA opposing the sale of this land for residential purposes. The Notification Map of the land sale area provided by the DELWP consultants is wrong. It fails to show the connected track through the land deemed by the Daylesford CFA as an essential route. The track provides critical access into Cornish Hill Reserve as well as a line of fire defence for residential housing to the east. The track would also be used in emergency by the SES and 4WD Ambulance. The terrain adjoining this land is steep and rugged. Re-routing the access track would be a costly challenge.
Sale of heritage walking trail. The report states ‘rezoning and sale of the property will not negatively impact recreational walking trails.’ Another serious mistake. Erroneous mapping by DELWP means the land sale includes a route that connects residents walking through parkland to Stanhope, Grenville and Sullivan Streets. The sale would also affect access from eastern parts of Cornish Hill Reserve to the Lerderderg Track that runs from Daylesford to Jubilee Lake and beyond.
Exclusive sale. The land is to be sold exclusively to adjoining property owner(s) at a price determined by government valuers. How is this transparent and accountable? The rationale? The ‘site does not have street access and is land locked’. This clearly discriminates against potential purchasers such as a local government, community and environmental groups who may wish to preserve the current land status for passive use such as parkland, bush regeneration, land for wildlife or garden. Secondly in terms of being land locked, there is access from the 4WD track at the rear which could be used for such purposes.
Valuation by public servants of Indigenous cultural land. The most transparent valuation of local residential land is determined by public sale not internal valuation by Spring Street. This land is an area of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sensitivity with a land activity agreement with traditional owners. The sale therefore requires the approval of the Dja Dja Wurrung People who have been disputing the Government’s land valuation processes. This private sale of public parkland based on inadequate assessment does nothing to instil confidence in government valuations.
Exclusion of the electorate from the sale process. Hepburn Shire Council is the elected representative of the residents. Why should local government (or any other community body or individual or traditional owner) be deliberately excluded from the option of purchasing their own parkland?
Unused land? Really? The DELWP report mistakenly refers to the public walking track passing through the sale property as ‘hardly used’. No evidence was provided. Did the consultants actually visit? As recent contributors to the Daylesford Facebook Grapevine can confirm, the track is used variously by locals, bushwalkers, birdwatchers, cyclists, dog walkers and orienteering groups. It is one of several tracks around Cornish Hill Reserve used by the Friends of Cornish Hill, the CFA and DELWP for emergencies, reforestation and noxious weed control.
Sale of historic rail embankment. The sale area includes a raised rail embankment built for the Daylesford steam train 1877-1953. This is historically significant both aesthetically and an illustration of the extraordinary labour and pioneering skills that connected an isolated gold rush town to the outside world. For tourism and heritage reasons, retention of crown rail land is desirable. DWELP claims that most former surplus railway land adjoining the sale area is already residential. The opposite is true. Most adjoining surplus railway land is parkland and historic walking trail, extending as far as Jubilee Lake.
Conclusion. The process of determining this land as surplus to government requirements was seriously flawed due to poor research and lack of consultation with residents, local government and emergency services. The State Government should reject any recommendations to rezone this public parkland to residential land. Residents and council should oppose this rezoning and sale.
The selling of such public parkland to private owners is a dangerous precedent that may encourage state governments to see open land in regional towns as a future cash cow, particularly as land values rise. The most transparent and accountable process is to leave this parkland in public ownership and universally accessible for current and future generations.
DELWP has invited residents to submit their views online at: engage.vic.gov.au/glsac/tranche-30 by 5pm, Monday 11 October 2021. Local residents will certainly use this opportunity.
Meyer Eidelson, Daylesford (m: 0408894724)
Maia Irell, Daylesford (m: 0438484558)