Catherine Santoformed the Yarra River Action Alliance in 2010. As a battle looms over a Coppin Grove, Hawthorn, development the group is renewing its call for the state government to protect the river.
IT MIGHTjust be the hype of the past week, but it feels like Coppin Grove could be the tipping point in people realising how vulnerable the river is to developers because of the total lack of control. It’s nonsensical – on the City of Yarra side you have former industrial sites where pretty much anything goes, and on the Boroondara side, sensitive environment overlays.
This part of the river is the boundary of six municipalities and as there is no set of overarching rules, the developers are driving a big hole through it. That is why the state government has to step in and have clear and consistent controls.
The river is being fundamentally altered block by block by developers and no one is asking how we want the river to look for our kids and our grandkids.
The alliance was born out of the realisation that what was going to happen on the former Honeywell site – three 11-storey towers – was a disaster and would set a precedent for the next big site on the river. People submitted 1600 objections to Yarra council.
Why not build something low-scale that would add to the community rather than take away from it? But none of that happened. It was devastating.
I hope it will become a demonstration of how broken the planning system is, and that change will come.
I never imagined we would go to VCAT, but we spent 10 days there. It was gruelling; the imbalance in power was very palpable. When developers buy a site, they put aside a budget to go to VCAT with a top QC. It is chickenfeed compared to the profits they will make.
We raised $80,000 to fight, which is a lot of money to raise from donations and raffles. We had a planner, an architect and sustainable-development expert, but we just didn’t have the developers’ firepower.
How does the community have a true say in their neighbourhoods? How do you have a second line of review that is fair and open to scrutiny? In the past few days I’ve been contacted by three community groups from the mouth of the river in Port Melbourne.
The more dense the city becomes, the more we need this natural landscape running through the heart of Melbourne – yet we seem hell-bent on pouring concrete into it.
It is insane.