Heather Mutimer

It appears The Wombat Post has relied heavily on The Age (10th Sept) article ‘The Block abandons Daylesford location after planning dispute’ for the information in its article ‘The Block – A Win or a Loss?’ This is very concerning because there is misleading and inaccurate reporting in The Age article. It is extremely disappointing that The Wombat Post has carried this over into their article. There are other issues which combine to create an article which I consider is not only inaccurate but also biased. To back up these claims I highlight the following.

The first paragraph of the Wombat Post states:

It was reported in the The Age (10/9/2023) that as a result of objections voiced by a group of Daylesford locals, the producers of The Block have abandoned their plans to film the 2024 series (the 20th) in Daylesford” This is a paraphrase from The Age article in which it states:

“… Producers had planned to start filming contestants building five luxury homes on former farmland on the outskirts of Daylesford in February. But after locals voiced objections and sought to take the proposal to VCAT, producers and Nine network, owner of this masthead, decided to abandon the location…”

The above statement is incorrect. The residents named in The Age article did not object to

The Block proposal. It is the broader subdivision application which is the subject of their VCAT appeal. Their concerns are on the grounds it threatens water purity and

disregards heritage, especially as it condones the removal of a significant Cedar tree (see footnote).

The planning application which would enable The Block to build their 5 houses is a separate planning application from the subdivisions approved by council in April. The Block proposal was lodged in July, is still live and yet to be decided by council. Until this decision the council is obliged to accept submissions of objection or support. These must be based on planning grounds.

The Wombat Post article features a photo with the caption: “With cancellation of The Block Project at 1 Raglan Street, the tree protection clauses in the planning application may be at risk.” This is incorrect and misleading. The Block proposal has no relationship to any tree protection clauses in the planning application permit approved by council in April nor the VCAT appeal.

The Wombat Post article makes reference to the application by the developer to apply for fast tracking via Ministerial intervention. This is something the Wombat Post could have explored/reported on more fully. Rather it chose to skip over it. The undermining of local democratic process and decision making is not something that should be accepted lightly and without questioning.

Community members featured in The Age article are naturally concerned about the application for fast tracking by the minister. The Wombat Post article makes specific mention of the developer’s reasons to apply for ministerial intervention but it does not provide the reasons of the concerned community members for their opposition to this. It is to be noted that they are not the only ones who have objected and made a submission re the proposed fast tracking by the Minisiter.

The Wombat Post article makes reference to comments by the developer,The Block’s architect, and council, but not those concerned residents who were featured and named in The Age article. For balance the Wombat Post should have also published their comments in the body of the article.

In addition the Wombat Post has chosen to highlight that there was “… widespread disappointment in the community about the decision by the producers of The Block to withdraw…” But it fails to highlight that there was also widespread rejoicing in this decision. This was clear from comments on social media and talk on the street. The article should have mentioned this.

If the Wombat Post had researched the experiences of communities where The Block has previously filmed it would have discovered that there were some very negative experiences & impacts. This information is easily accessed online.

The real reasons for The Block withdrawing from Daylesford are no doubt more complex than what has been reported in various forums. Or was it simply a bad commercial decision in the first place? Reasons relating to risky unresolved planning issues concerning the broader subdivision could also be at play.

When the developer and the Block’s architect lodged the 5 houses on one lot application in July (The Block proposal) it was well known that there was a VCAT objection/appeal process already underway for the broader subdivision applications BUT they still went ahead.

It is easy BUT very mischievous and unfair to divert blame to community members. The targeting of certain individuals is appalling and the Wombat Post has played into this.

The Wombat Post has in my opinion made poor editorial judgement in the way it has written and presented their article. A more ethical approach would have been for the Wombat Post to have undertaken their own independent reporting and presented a more balanced article. I would like to suggest that the Wombat Post runs another article which covers The Middleton Field Development in more depth and provides those concerned residents featured/named in The Age article an opportunity to outline their concerns and the facts involved.

(footnote): The whole collection of Cedars have recently been assessed and classified by the National Trust as “ significant at State level for historic, scientific and landscape reasons”. Whilst this classification is still to be finalised it heightens the urgency to protect the Cedar which is the subject of the hasty Vic Smart permit approval to remove it.

The Cedars have also been nominated for inclusion on the Shire’s Significant Tree Register but are still awaiting assessment.

Editorial Note

The Wombat Post aims to provide residents of Daylesford- Hepburn Springs and the surrounding area with information that may be of local interest. The Wombat Post  relies on content contributions from the community and information supplied by government and support agencies.

The editorial committee reviews all proposed articles to ensure they are in line with its editorial policy. This process seeks to ensure that content is accurate and balanced. 

The article in question relied on the article in the Age and a related press release and associated information from the Mayor/Council. No submissions or input was provided by representative of those opposed to the Middleton Fields project or the separate application for 5 housing sites (assumed to be The Block).

Nine Entertainment Co is the owner of The Age and its television stations broadcast The Block.

At this stage no announcements have been made by the Minister.