Council welcomes the Ombudsman’s investigations and the final report. Council is particularly pleased that the Ombudsman expanded the scope of her review to include fundamental recommendations that will bring this long running saga to an end.
Council acknowledges the Ombudsman’s findings that Wellington Shire Council co-operated fully with the investigation, had inherited the problem and has attempted in good faith to resolve this matter working with land-owners, the State Government and other stakeholders. Council notes the Ombudsman’s finding that overall, Council’s administrative processes have been transparent and lawful.
A key recommendation however is that the State Government facilitates the compulsory acquisition of all undevelopable land and return it to public ownership, such as Parks Victoria.
To date, all acquisition of land has been voluntary with many property owners choosing to retain ownership. Council will immediately commence a dialogue with the State Government to determine their position on compulsory acquisition and how that process might unfold.
To support the recommendation of compulsory acquisition, the Ombudsman has also recommended that Council, as a “gesture of good will”, refund rates on affected non-developable properties. Council has already advised the Ombudsman that it is happy to consider this and is seeking legal advice to understand the mechanisms available to Council to implement such a plan.
There are in the vicinity of 1500 affected coastal property owners who have been recently paying a rate of around $60 per year based on the low value of the land. Council has calculated that the maximum liability of all properties back to 2006 to be in the vicinity of $300,000 (prior to 2011, annual rates averaged $30 per property).
Council will formally receive the Ombudsman’s report at its 20 August meeting. At this meeting Council will receive updated advice regarding rate refunds and importantly, seek direction from the State Government regarding its preferred process for compulsorily acquiring all undevelopable properties.