New planning body upholds ‘god’s own country’

Community groups have welcomed the state government’s decision to appoint an independent committee to advise on planning protections for the Macedon Ranges.

The expert panel, announced by Planning Minister Richard Wynne at Gisborne last Wednesday, will give residents, businesses, councils and landholders the chance to have input to proposed changes, and raise concerns.

Mr Wynne’s announcement, which fulfils an election promise, was greeted by loud applause.

It came after he referred to the Macedon Ranges as ‘‘god’s own country’’ and said it was worthy of protection as the state’s population continues to grow.

Mr Wynne said there had to be a balance between the growth of towns and the need to protect the area’s environmental attributes and existing character.

‘‘We need to make sure planning controls stay up to date with how Victoria is changing,’’ he said.

‘‘We also need planning controls to reflect each region’s individual needs.’’

Positive reception

Both the Macedon Ranges Residents Association and Hanging Rock Action Group welcomed news that the committee will be operating by the end of this year.

Consultation hearings are likely to be held around the end of January, with Mr Wynne saying it was not a matter of whether the government protects the Macedon Ranges but how that protection is shaped.

Action group spokesman Luke Spielvogel said the challenge was to honour the legacy of Statement of Planning Policy 8, a state government planning statement formulated specifically for the Ranges, which defined the town and country principles that have shaped the area’s character since the 1970s.

“Those principles are being challenged now by council’s rural living strategy, which looks to degrade the last 40 years of planning protection,” Mr Spielvogel said.

“There has been much talk of the growth challenges we face on the fringes of Melbourne, but it [growth] also presents great opportunities for business, agriculture and employment.’’

Macedon MP Mary-Anne Thomas said the committee would help ensure the area was protected from growth and change.

‘‘I want to reassure our community we will work with them to protect what we love about the region while supporting growth and jobs,’’ she said.