The thin end of the wedge

Narre Warren North Green Wedges Coalition members Kate Rousseaux and Karen Cavanagh has led a petition against a ministerial planning application for the Lysterfield Lake College boys school development on Horswood Road. 335923 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

The fears of locals across the South East have been realised, with environmental advocates concerned an application for a Year 3 to 12 boys school in Narre Warren North would be a “death knell” for kangaroo populations in the Casey Foothills and Lysterfield Lake Park. The application came three months before the State Government released its action plan on planning for Green Wedge protection. Gazette journalist MATTHEW SIMS spoke to members of the Green Wedge Coalition about their hopes and fears in regards to the plan’s value.

The State Government has released its Green Wedge and Agricultural Land Action Plan with the aim to protect Green Wedges and agricultural land, ensuring that houses are built up and out.

Under the Planning and Environmental Act 1987, Green Wedge land is defined as non-urban areas of metropolitan Melbourne which lie outside the urban growth boundary (UGB).

Green Wedge areas contain a mix of agriculture and low-density activities such as major infrastructure (airports, water facilities), major quarries, cultural heritage sites, biodiversity areas and water catchments.

The action plan’s six major themes were protecting Melbourne’s food bowl, planning for future farming, securing the right to farm, establishing stronger protections, adopting smarter land use and setting tighter controls.

Minister for Planning Sonya Kilkenny said protecting Green Wedge land against over-development was important to preserve the state’s economy.

“From our iconic wine regions to market gardens, our green wedges contribute not only to our economy but make Melbourne one of the best cities in the world to call home,” she said.

“More housing doesn’t have to come at the expense of our green wedges – that’s why we’re providing better permanent protection for these areas against over-development.”

Green Wedges Coalition co-ordinator Rosemary West said they were in support of the plan’s “good intentions” and its support in resisting land speculation and pressure to convert farmland to urban uses, retaining rural land for non-urban uses and improving protection for agriculture and significant natural assets.

“We welcome the controls the Action Plan plans to tighten, including the new trigger requiring planning permits for cleanfill operations and the prohibition of data centres in the green wedges,” she said.

“Developers offering farmers millions of dollars to dump cleanfill over their properties are a clear threat to Green Wedge agricultural land.

“We welcome the extension of Green-Wedge-style protections for agricultural land in the peri-urban areas within 100 kilometres of the CBD.”

Ms West said the group was still concerned the general nature of the plan would allow for Green Wedges to be “threatened by death from a thousand cuts”.

“There seem to be no actions in this plan to effectively achieve these reforms,” she said.

“We are concerned that the Action Plan fails to address the perennial problem of urban uses encroaching into the Green Wedges.

“It has no actions to limit the spread of urban uses like schools, places of worship or secondary dwellings in the Green Wedges and indicates more flexibility for farmgate sales, potentially allowing corner stores at farm-gates, meaning agricultural land will continue to be lost to urban uses.”

Specific actions outlined in the plan included updating the Planning Policy Framework to encourage appropriate siting, design and scale of sensitive uses and development in rural areas within 100 kilometres of Melbourne to avoid conflicts with agricultural uses, updating planning practices to better direct green wedge planning at the local level and reviewing and updating decision guidelines and application requirements for planning applications within Green Wedge zones.

Ms West said they were “disappointed” a number of moderate proposals, including schools and places of worship to located adjacent to the UGB, on a main road with access to public transport and not in a Bushfire Management Overlay, were abandoned.

“Since the main purposes of the Green Wedges are to protect the natural environment/biodiversity, agricultural land and rural open landscapes, we are surprised there is no action proposed to protect the environment, which is left to councils to look after via their Green Wedge Management Plans,” she said.

“We fear Green Wedge protection will still largely be left to local residents, environment and green wedge groups and sometimes councils fighting unequal battles in VCAT against cashed-up developers with KCs and expensive expert witnesses.

“This will become even harder if residents’ rights to be notified and to object to applications for urban uses such as schools, child care centres telecommunications towers, and major developments in Green Wedges are not restored, or worse, are further eroded.”

A petition to reject a proposed school near Lysterfield Lake Park in Narre Warren North within the Southern Ranges Green Wedge has received more than 1400 signatures after a third permit application from the school has reignited local concern.

PARED Victoria lodged a third application on 15 December 2023 for the staged development of a non-government primary and secondary school and to remove native vegetation for the use as a non-government year 3 to 12 boys’ school.

The application followed on from PARED Victoria previously submitting two planning permit applications for a new private boys’ college for 239 students and 22 staff in grazing land on Horswood Road, which were both previously declined by both Casey Council and VCAT.

The boys’ college, which is proposed to be developed at 19-23 Horswood Road, Narre Warren North, was rejected due to incongruence with state and local planning policies intended to protect the Casey Foothills, and due to the site’s unsuitability.

Located next to Lysterfield Lake Park, which receives more than 500,000 visitors and tourists annually, the petitioners claimed the school would result in visibly intrusive urban development near the park, and a disregard for the rural expanse of green wedge land and its wildlife.

As home to a plethora of wildlife in its natural habitat, the proposed site is a ‘haven’ for animals like the kangaroo and the endangered swift parrot, along with seven other endangered species that rely on the park’s environment for survival.

Concerned locals have drawn attention to the foundation’s particularly troubling “Kangaroo Management Plan,” which was put forward during the VCAT case, and which proposed the culling and relocation of the kangaroos from their natural habitat.

One of the petition’s signers noted in their comment that “humans do not have the right to interfere with the wildlife just because they are ‘in our way’. It’s so overdue for us to learn that without nature and healthy ecosystems we cannot exist.”

Narre Warren North Green Wedge Coalition member Karen Cavanagh said the group had a number of concerns with the application, including noise, sewerage, bushfire risk and evacuation options.

“This ministerial application is a direct example of what should not be built in a green wedge area next to a National Park,” she said.

“Lysterfield Lake Park is home to many forms of wildlife, with eight species identified as endangered.

“The proposed school site is next to the spotted gum forest of the park, the favoured food of the endangered Swift Parrot which migrates from Tasmania to the Australian mainland each year – with only 300 genetically evidenced birds identified.”

For more information, or to sign the petition, visit

A PARED Victoria spokesperson said they were expecting a decision on the outcome of its application in the second half of 2024.

“The school is working with the relevant areas of government to ensure the success of the application,” the spokesperson said.

“A previous application by Lysterfield Lake College for the same site had been rejected by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for technical reasons due to the site’s topography.

“As stated by VCAT in that determination, it recognised that the school is beneficial in planning terms as it meets State policy seeking “a diversity of primary and secondary schools.””

The spokesperson said PARED Victoria were keen to expand the school to include Year 8 in 2025.

“Lysterfield Lake College is currently using a temporary location until its own site can be established,” the spokesperson said.

“It requires a new campus to continue to service the community of parents who value the school’s approach to education for their sons.

“Lysterfield Lake College is hopeful of a successful outcome of the application before the Minister for Planning.”