Developer Illegally Cleared Land and Receives Permission for Multi-Million-Dollar Project

         

Summary: Stakeholders are calling for an overhaul of Victoria’s planning laws after a developer illegally cleared land and was subsequently granted permission to build a multi-million-dollar development.

Stakeholders in Victoria are demanding changes to the planning laws of the state after a developer illegally cleared endangered native vegetation on his property and was then granted approval to construct a multi-million-dollar development project. The developer, East Rex Road Property, cleared approximately 1.4 hectares of vegetation without obtaining the necessary permit from the Hume City Council. As a result, the developer and the company were convicted and fined a combined total of $225,000. However, the developer later applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for permission to clear the rest of the land and build warehouses, which was ultimately granted.
In its decision, VCAT considered evaluations of the land’s environmental value conducted after the clearing had taken place. The assessments found that the vegetation had been largely removed and gave the site a low score in terms of ecological value. Despite this, VCAT determined that the land had a high industrial value, leading to the approval of the $6.8 million project under the condition that the developer relocates endangered species and contributes to environmental offsets. The case has raised concerns about the message it sends to other developers and has sparked calls for a review of planning laws to prevent misconduct from being rewarded.
RMIT conservation scientist Sarah Bekessy compared the situation to the illegal destruction of the Corkman Hotel in 2016 and expressed disappointment in the decision to allow the developer to proceed with their initial plans. While the developer and director were fined in criminal court, Judge George Georgiou argued that their actions were driven by commercial interests rather than a deliberate choice to bypass council permission. Environmental lawyer Brad Jessup highlighted two key issues revealed by the case: the lack of consideration for a developer’s character when granting permission and the ability for developers to benefit from illegal activities. Jessup suggested that Victoria’s planning laws need to be updated to address these concerns and ensure they serve their intended purpose. The government spokesperson reiterated the importance of following the planning system and enforcing the regulations.

Tags: Victoria, planning laws, developer, illegal clearing, conservation, endangered species, environmental value, approval, VCAT, Hume City Council

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