Nillumbik’s first Community Panel reviewing the Green Wedge Management Plan came together for their first full-day meeting on Saturday, 18 August.

Independent facilitators MosiacLab welcomed the 40-member panel, and community members who observed proceedings.

MosaicLab explained the importance of assessing information based on the principles of clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth and logic and to not be influenced by any one viewpoint. These principles will be relevant throughout the panel process.

The Panel spent the day hearing from a range of speakers, including Council staff who had authored the Background Report and led the earlier community engagement program. The panel had received the Background and Community Engagement reports at their meet and greet session the previous week.

Council’s Senior Strategic Advisor Geoff Lawler PSM addressed the panel, drawing on his more than 30 years’ experience in planning. He gave an historical overview of the planning system in Melbourne, explaining the policy context of green wedges in Victoria and Nillumbik more specifically.

Mr Lawler acknowledged and explained the special characteristics that make up the Nillumbik Green Wedge. He addressed the issue of future challenges for the Green Wedge particularly: planning rules, economic considerations including jobs growth and tourism; the environment and biodiversity, the community and social cohesion and population characteristics.

Brett Ellis ESM, General Manager of Risk and Resilience with Emergency Management Victoria addressed the panel on the importance of Indigenous knowledge in the context of land management and fire prevention. Mr Ellis identified the characteristics of a resilient community as being: connections, respect, empowerment and wisdom.

Later in the day, the panel broke into smaller groups for a “speed dialogue” during which they spoke to Councillors and Council staff. This session covered the broad themes of economic, social, regulatory, bushfire, the lived experience and environmental considerations.

The panel also discussed the challenge of the verbatim comments from the Community Engagement, in particular the unsolicited submissions Council received and included. After much discussion the Panel put forth this statement:

We, GWMP Review Panel, acknowledge that submissions were provided as part of the 'Community Engagement Report - Verbatim Responses' pack, despite no request for submissions by Council.

We understand some groups may feel disadvantaged and are mindful of this.

As we are a diverse range of Nillumbik residents we feel we represent the broader community.

We understand the draft plan will be open to public comment upon completion.

Thank you for your understanding.”

At the session’s conclusion, the Panel was given the opportunity to consider what further information gaps they have as a group, what additional data they require and which other speakers they wish to hear from. These requests are now being followed up by Council officers.

The Panel will continue to meet on the following dates: 1 and 15 September and 13 and 20 October 2018.

Community members are welcome to attend a panel session as observers. Expressions of Interest for Days 3 and 4 (15 September and 13 October) will open on 3 September.

It is important to remember, observers are able to observe the process but not the actual deliberations of the Panel. The Panel process is designed to allow members to work in groups but also to come together to read, listen, discuss, rank ideas. During these times, observers may not be able to hear what each group is saying.

There will also be occasions where the panel will deliberate in a closed session during which Council staff and members of the public are not able to attend.

Information updates about the panel process will be posted on Shire of Nillumbik’s Participate website and social media.

The Panel’s recommendations will be presented to Council in October 2018. The recommendations will inform the development of the Draft Green Wedge Management Plan which Council will consider in November 2018. The Draft Green Wedge Management Plan will be released in December for final wider community engagement which is due to conclude in March 2019. It is anticipated Council will then consider a finalised plan in June 2019.