community

Down the drain

Published in Warrandyte Diary

By MICHELLE PINI

Photo by CLAIRE PINI

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Warrandyte residents angered by council backflip

Many ratepayers say they are “shell- shocked” with the officers’ disregard for the community voice and believe they are being railroaded by the process.

AFTER many months of deliberations between Manningham council engineers and Melbourne Hill Road catchment area residents, council officers have announced they will move ahead with their controversial scheme to overhaul the area’s drainage system.

Residents appeared en masse at last month’s council meeting to ask several questions and voice their strong opposition to the plan. After much ado concerning the number of questions that should be permitted, during which CEO Joe Carbone read out detailed local government proce- dures for council meetings, council moved to allow the ratepayers to be heard.

According to householders, Manningham council’s consultative process and previous resident survey – both of which illustrated overwhelming disapproval to the council‘s proposed stormwater solution – appear to have been ignored. Many ratepayers say they are “shell-shocked” with the officers’ disregard for the community voice and believe they are being railroaded by the process.

Council officers have defended their drainage scheme and say it is the only possible solution to flooding issues in the catchment, which have built up over a long period of time. They cite erosion, climate change and long-term deterioration of an outdated system as justification for the proposed major works.

Manager, engineering and technical services officer Roger Woodlock says: “The current system of open drains does not have the capacity to manage water flow during periods of heavy rain – the existing infrastructure is inadequate.”

But residents of the troubled catchment, many of whom are pensioners, say it is unfair to expect ratepayers to fund such a costly scheme to ad- dress a problem, which they believe is largely caused by council neglect.

The plan is “estimated” to cost around $1.9 million of which each household in the catchment would be expected to contribute up to $17,000. Householders say this will impose financial hardship on many residents in the catchment, particu- larly the elderly.

“That’s a figure everyone knows has been pulled out of thin air as no detailed costings have been prepared,” one resident told the Diary.

Other residents indicated they have worked closely with council and already spent thousands of dollars in projects and works to combat drainage issues.

After collective ratepayer rejec- tion of the council scheme, mainly on issues of impact to amenity and the prohibitive cost to residents, a Community Reference Panel was established to work with council officers to address the problem.

The panel representatives, 40 per cent of whom are flood-affected, presented a detailed, staged implementation solution for the consideration of council at a consultative meeting in early September. The alternative proposal also represented a significant cost reduction to the council upgrade. But at a progress meeting in December, council officers dismissed the resident-backed plan.

Director, assets and engineering Leigh Harrison explained a staged proposal would not cope with storm-water activity, which may occur during the process.

“Council officers have looked at everything and spent a lot of time at council cost but, at the end of the day, this is the best solution,” Mr Harrison said.

Resident Peter Hookey expressed ratepayer shock to the announcement. “We were surprised and disappointed to learn that council officers are continuing with such a grand scheme when the resident consensus is that minor adjustments to the existing system will do the job,” he said.

Residents raised questions regarding inconsistencies in the officers’ assessment of the problems, including drain maintenance anomalies and the effects of water run-off from the council-managed reserve at the top of the catchment. A video featured in the reference panel’s presentation to council, clearly shows water gushing from the reserve in copious quantities, despite the council officers’ contention that the flow was “insignificant”.

Another resident from the catchment told the Diary he believed two blocks of land were allocated by council as designated drainage areas many years ago, but were subsequently sold as residential blocks. “This could turn out to be a thorn in council’s side if it’s proven to be correct,” he said.

Additional community concerns include further unanticipated costs to residents once environment impact statements are undertaken, as well as the implications of a retrospective “special charge scheme” for other types of maintenance works. Residents outside the catchment have also contacted the Diary to point out they are apprehensive about the significance of what could be a precedent for other areas of Manningham regarding drainage issues.

Melbourne Hill Road resident Peter Noye told the Diary: “Everyone believes something needs to be done to prevent flooding, but there have been no drainage works in the catchment since it was developed decades ago. There is time to now plan and properly budget works using council rates over a number of years if necessary while adequately maintaining council assets.”

Council officers have adopted some minor suggestions from the resident proposal, including eliminating proposed kerb and channeling and removing a few houses in Lorraine Ave (who have already paid for additional drainage works) from the scheme. They say they have closely adhered to local government specifications and believe their position would be upheld by VCAT.

In a letter to Manningham councillors, Mr Hookey represented the collective ratepayer response to this approach:

“It continues to be a concern that council officers form their decision-making process based around VCAT, VicRoads and various other entities. The use of these bodies as a means to justify this scheme and absolve Council from past planning decisions and responsibility continues to highlight the gap between us. This is about doing the right thing for residents … not VCAT.”

  • Manningham council will vote on this issue at the next ordinary meeting to be held at 7pm on Tuesday, 25 March.
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