Investigation into Wellington Shire Council’s handling of Ninety Mile Beach subdivisions

Investigation into Wellington Shire Council’s handling of Ninety Mile Beach subdivisions


This is a sorry tale about a group of
people who bought land on Gippsland’s Ninety Mile Beach back in the 50s and 60s. They bought that land on the promise of a development that was going to become
Victoria’s Gold Coast, it was going to be a slice of paradise. In fact they were sold a pup, much of that
land was unsuitable for development – was coastal dunes or flood prone, and for good sound environmental reasons
should never be built on. Last year I received 67 complaints about this matter. They were on two main themes; landowners complained that they were being
charged rates and other charges by Wellington Shire Council for land that they couldn’t
build on – in some cases couldn’t even access, and people were also complaining
that the council was profiteering from its buy-back schemes and I felt it was in
the public interest for these matters to be looked at to see whether the council
was acting fairly and reasonably. Some of these complaints were in fact the
result of confusion. In fact there are two broad categories of land
in the Ninety Mile Beach area. There is land that cannot ever be developed under any
circumstances because it’s flood prone or in the coastal dunes but there’s also
land that could be developed if smaller blocks are combined into a single larger
block. We did examine very carefully the buy-back schemes that have taken place in
the last couple of decades and there’s no evidence that the actions of the
council in those schemes was unreasonable. At the heart of many of these complaints
is an issue we simply can’t fix – the original landowners understandably feel
cheated but we have to reflect that their experience sadly reflects a time
before planning controls protected our natural environment and it’s important
to remember that the council and the government of today can’t be held
responsible for that original flawed transaction. So what is the fair outcome
to a saga that has its roots in planning failures more than 50 years old – but
that’s not only fair to the landowners who have complained to me, it’s also fair
to all of the ratepayers of Wellington Shire Council and indeed to the
Victorian public. What I’ve decided is that the council’s decision to levy
rates and charges on what is unusable land, while ultimately lawful, is in these
unusual circumstances not fair. I have asked the council to stop levying rates
and other charges on land that can’t ever be developed, and to refund charges
to those people who can provide evidence of payment but I’ve also recommended
that ultimately the land that can’t be developed should be returned to public
ownership for the benefit of all.