Barwon River between Inverleigh and Murghebuloc

By Lach Gordon

Friends of the Barwon welcomes the Victorian Government announcement of new interim planning controls for our rivers.

The Announcement

In late December 2022 DELWP advised the gazetting of Planning Scheme Amendment VC201. The amendment delivers stronger planning policies and landscape controls to protect the Rivers of the Barwon, Waterways of the West and all rivers and creeks across Victoria. The amendment responds to short term planning actions associated with the Victorian government Rivers of the Barwon Action plan and Waterways of the West Action plan.

How did it happen?

Protection of the riparian zone of our local waterways was a primary aim of our group at our launch in 1998.

The passing of the Yarra River Act (December 2017), followed by permanent planning controls for the entire Yarra River in June 2020, demonstrated that community led advocacy could deliver protection for urbanised waterways.

We recognised the risks from inappropriate development and emphasised these in a discussion paper ‘Protecting and Restoring the Rivers of the Barwon System (2019)’ developed in conjunction with Environmental Justice Australia and delivered to the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) established by then Minister for Police and Water, Lisa Neville.

The Rivers of the Barwon Action Plan was finalised by the MAC in December 2021.

Over the last few years many inappropriate riparian development proposals have come to our attention and we have opposed them, sometimes successfully.

It’s no secret that land developed on waterways attracts a premium sale price around 30% higher than other land nearby – essentially a windfall profit. Constant attempts of developers to reduce lot sizes (sometimes unsewered), remove riparian vegetation and increase water extraction prompted FOTB to request (unsuccessfully) the then Planning Minister, Richard Wynne for a Moratorium on Development (February 2021).

In November 2022, the Government announced that new planning controls would apply to the Yarra River, and twelve key rivers and creeks in Melbourne (including the Maribyrnong), but this excluded the Werribee River.

The Werribee Riverkeeper organization was then able to convince the government that it should be included in the new controls.

Once this had taken place FOTB jumped to action because the Waterways of the West action plan and the Barwon action plan were developed contemporaneously under Water Minister, Lisa Neville. We moved rapidly to brief local politicians and parliamentarians that the Rivers of the Barwon should not be excluded from the amended planning controls.

Finally, the Concerned Waterways Alliance requested that these controls be applied to all Victorian rivers, and this concerted action from many groups has now resulted in gazetting of the new amendment.

A Word of Caution

The new controls apply only until 2026 and will need our support.

Nevertheless, it is a good start, and provides leverage for Shires and City Councils to reject voracious riparian development.

FOTB will be informing local governments on their obligations to comply with the new controls.

Photo: Barwon River between Inverleigh and Murgheboluc