– Bruce Lindsay, EJA Lawyer
It has been a busy time over the past month for EJA’s work on rivers and waterways, both on the law reform and litigation fronts.
Two Ministerial Advisory Committees (MAC) working on waterway issues are moving toward completion of their work by the end of 2019.
The MAC investigating protection of the Barwon River system in the Geelong region recently published its Discussion Paper. In collaboration with Friends of the Barwon (FoB), we provided a detailed submission on how best to manage this precious river system. This submission was also underpinned by a report we prepared out of workshops undertaken with FoB. This report, Protecting and Restoring the Rivers of the Barwon (Barra Wallee Yulluk) system, recommends new protective legislation alongside improved planning and reforms to Victoria’s environmental water reserve in order to establish pathways for getting these waterways back to health.
The MAC investigating options for protection of the waterways of Melbourne’s west including the Maribyrnong and Werribee Rivers, also issued a Discussion Paper. We partnered with Friends of Steele Creek and the Werribee River Association to make detailed submissions on how to best protect and restore this vital urban river systems.
Both advisory bodies are due to present final reports in December.
We are also anticipating the publication of a draft Yarra Strategic Plan in December, which is a document central to the implementation of the Yarra River Protection (wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017 that we were integral in getting up.
In all of these policy and law reform exercises, the key issues include how to protect urban waterways as critical ‘green infrastructure’ in urban areas in the face of increasing environmental damage in our cities, due to development, infrastructure, closer subdivision, and suburban sprawl.
In the same context our river laws work has led us to represent the Yarra Riverkeeper Association at public hearings into the North East Link Project, arguing for forms of ‘biodiversity sensitive urban design’. More recently, we represented the Chirnside Park Residents’ Action Group in seeking to curtail overdevelopment on Brushy Creek, a tributary of the Yarra River, in panel hearings on Amendment C176 of the Yarra Ranges Planning Scheme. This hearing was also an opportunity to pursue arguments of new stormwater controls now in all planning schemes. Stormwater, alongside loss of habitat, represents a critical degrading impact on our urban streams.
A second scheduled seminar on urban rivers which was due to be held this month has been postponed until the new year, so that everyone can have a breather! The next one will be on planning and waterways.
On a final note, we congratulate our long-term supporter Helen van den Berg for her VCAT challenge to a development that would have imposed on intended public open space along the Maribyrnong River. In the recent decision Van Den Berg v Moonee Valley CC  VCAT 1830, Helen successfully argued for the Council decision to grant a permit to be set aside, in protection of public space along the Maribyrnong River corridor. She was ably assisted by Melbourne Water, who were co-applicants in the case. Well done Helen!