They had been promised a Port Douglas-style marina, but the people of southeast Melbourne found themselves in a concrete jungle instead.
But it was dysfunction and discord instead of corruption that enabled development, according to Victorian ombudsman Deborah Glass.
She investigated Kingston City Council’s planning approval processes for the Patterson Lakes Marina area following concerns from residents and allegations that a senior planning officer and two former councilors had had corrupt and inappropriate relationships with real estate developers.
Planning began in 1988 for the marina’s mixed-use area to be used for boating, residential, commercial and entertainment purposes, as well as greater public access along the shore.
The plans showed restaurants, parking lots, offices and residences with heights of two to four stores, as well as access to open spaces.
Residents were sold on promotional material showing the new lifestyle the development would bring, with sunsets, boats on brochures – something similar to Port Douglas in far north Queensland.
But the ombudsman, who on Tuesday filed his investigation into allegations of collusion with real estate developers to Kingston City Council in parliament, said the reality was quite different.
“What the community ended up with is bigger, higher and less accessible. So it’s no wonder some locals are suspicious, even going so far as to allege corruption of councilors and council staff,” said Ombudsman Deborah Glass.
Witnesses told Ms Glass that the bribes and bribes were “common knowledge”, “coffee talk” around the marina, but admitted they had no evidence.
Although no evidence of collusion or corruption has been found, a senior council planner is accused of hosting annual Christmas lunches with developers for four years, with the developer “awarding allowances and concessions on several permit conditions “, in particular on the height of buildings and parking lots.
He also found that planners made “successive errors” that fell short of expectations, and the council “provided insufficient response to concerns raised by local residents about decisions.”
“In the end, the community seems to have had the worst of both worlds: neither embracing the original plan nor the opportunity to oppose it,” Ms. Glass said.
“But corruption is not always the explanation for changing development or overdevelopment, depending on your perspective.”
In a statement provided to the AAP on Tuesday, acting Kingston City Council CEO Tim Tamlin said he hoped the release of the ombudsman’s report would reassure the community that there was no evidence corruption and that the council was taking steps to ensure that the mistakes of the past were not repeated.
Associated Australian Press