Wetlands - Whitehorse

Eley Road – Graham Ross

By March 13, 2022March 15th, 2022No Comments

Eley Road Retarding Basin…A lost opportunity?

Graham Ross. Convenor KooyongKoot Alliance

Something doesn’t smell quite right at Eley Road Retarding Basin. Not that members of the public could find out the source, because this patch of green space, is ringed by a 3-metre high chain link fence hung with signs prohibiting entry. The five acres of green open space is tantalising in its potential as a tranquil park and wetland.

A potential oasis for both existing residents around the basin and the new and arriving residents of the adjacent Burwood Brickworks, the area remains fenced off for the foreseeable future. The future of this site could and should be very different.

The facts are difficult to establish, but as far as we can determine plans to construct a wetlands within the Eley Road Retarding Basin (ERRB) have fallen through following a breakdown in the discussions between Melbourne Water, City of Whitehorse and Frasers Property (the developer of the Burwood Brickworks Development).

Over two years ago, Melbourne Water apparently withdrew their support for the project on seeing the final plans of the developer. With the Brickworks development now largely complete, Frasers Property Australia want to amend the Development Plan to remove the proposed wetland at the Eley Road Retarding Basin.

Within the over 20 hectare site, it seems that roughly eight separate developments approvals were based on Fraser’s earlier commitment that a downstream wetland would treat some-to-all of the associated stormwater runoff. So prominent was this wetland that its image – specifically an earlier onsite iteration that has now been replaced by the ornamental pond – features on Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) Strategy.

The community was anticipating wetlands, public open space and best practice quality water flowing into Gardiners Creek, either on the Frasers site as initially proposed (around 2015/2016)  or on the Eley Road Retarding Basin. What the public has ended up with is a small ornamental pond, a modest retarding basin on the Frasers site and an out-of-bounds, fenced off, green space in the shape of the existing retarding basin.

The plot thickens as it seems that Whitehorse council also refused to contribute to the maintenance of the wetlands, despite the once in a lifetime opportunity to add 5.2 acres to public open space for the benefit of residents!

Melbourne Water is now giving Frasers the option to pay $222,000 to financially offset the pollution that was to be filtered by a wetland. Many reports show that offsets are not effective in preventing harm. The shopping centre associated with Burwood Brickworks has been honoured in the Premier’s sustainability awards. In our view there is more to sustainability than green buildings, that stormwater is an important piece of the sustainability puzzle, perhaps the most important piece. We are asking Frasers (and Melbourne Water and Whitehorse Council) to revisit the development plan and reinstitute measures to protect Gardiners Creek from the increase in polluting stormwater from the development. Stormwater is the biggest threat to biodiversity in urban waterways. It is unclear what Melbourne Water would use the offets funds for — and importantly where, though there is a good possibility it would not directly benefit the Gardiners Creek catchment.

The Eley Road Retarding Basin was built in 1975 as an area to hold back flood water and control its flow into Gardiners Creek. We understand it performs that function, though little else in terms of improving stormwater quality. It is vacant space, full of potential.

Graham Ross, Convenor of the KooyongKoot Alliance, consisting of 17 individual volunteer environment groups formed to be a voice for the Gardiners Creek catchment, is profoundly disappointed “It appears that the publics expectation of a wetland – either on the Frasers Site, or a bigger and better one as part of the retarding basin refurbishment has mysteriously vanished. In the end all the residents are going to get is a pond and a flood basin. This is a missed opportunity of epic proportions. We need to find out how we got to this position where a major high profile and responsible developer is allowed to pollute Gardiners Creek and the opportunity to secure more public open space is missed.”

Graham says it’s not too late “I desperately hope that there is an opportunity to get the parties round a table to see if we can get a positive outcome for the community and the environment and get the Eley Road Wetlands back on the drawing board. We must not let a potential legacy project slip through our fingers and end up with a negative result for our local environment.’’

‘’I am an optimist and believe perhaps with a fresh approach, and perhaps Federal funding, this legacy project can be revived and keep the environmental reputation of these well- respected organisations in- tact .”

The timing of the opportunity for public to respond to the proposed amendment was not ideal. The consultation period opened just before Christmas and finished 18th January when most of Melbourne was on holiday.

The opportunity to submit on the proposed amendment may now have passed, but it is in everyone’s interests including the stakeholders, that this terrible decision to cancel proposed wetlands and the lack of ambition shown by them is looked at in a fresh light.

We cannot keep taking from the environment, we are facing huge challenges to increase the resilience of our urban green spaces as the climate warms. We are in a climate and biodiversity emergency. The parties involved in this series of events must act as if this is so. We have to draw a line in the sand and say no more taking from, and dumping into, the environment.

Please note that we have attempted to describe what we understand of the situation at this time, based on our research including network discussions. As a volunteer group, the Kooyongkoot Alliance does not claim to fully comprehend the full story, nor to have full access to the facts. We are not saying that any of the parties are doing anything that they are not legally entitled to do. The only thing that seems clear is that a series of events and decisions have resulted in an outcome that would be immensely unfortunate for the local and regional people and environment, particularly in the current climate and biodiversity emergency. The purpose in this contribution is to advocate for places that support people, place and the planet.

Graham Ross KooyongKoot Alliance

Eastsider News Edition 10 February 2022