Still our land, but owners in limbo 

LANDOWNERS on the outskirts of Wyndham whose properties will be compulsorily acquired and turned into a native grassland reserve say they have been “left in limbo”.

Despite more than 100 landowners being told in 2009 that their land would be sacrificed to provide the Western Grassland Reserve as an environmental offset for Melbourne’s growth, a date has yet to be set for when they will be bought out.

Landowners say less than 7 per cent of the 15,000 hectares required for the reserves has been acquired in the past four years.

A recent statement from Environment Minister Ryan Smith said developer contributions needed to fund compensation to landowners could be 30 years away.

The latest Wyndham council rates notices, showing some property valuations have dropped by more than half, have raised fears that the lower figures could be reflected in the compensation. 

Mount Cottrell’s Sasha Janson said landowners had been forced to put their lives on hold.  “It’s like someone saying they’ll buy your car, and they can’t pay you for 20 years, but in the meantime you can’t drive the car and you have to keep it maintained,” she said.

“The money is not coming in from developers so, from our point of view, our lives are on hold and we’re into the fifth year.”

Ms Janson said her 35-hectare parcel of land had been revalued by council, from $643,000 down to $252,000.

 “It’s distressing to know that from our 350,000-square-metre property we may barely be able to buy a 400-square-metre block of land in Werribee, let alone build a house,” she said.

The reserve will cover two large areas around Mount Cottrell, south-east of Melton, and around Little River, west of Werribee.  Parcels of land were rezoned in 2010 to prevent them being sold.  A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries said it was committed to buying properties in the Western Grassland Reserve “as quickly as resources allow”.

Mount Cottrell’s Terry Pearce said landowners needed clarity

“Everybody’s trying to do their own research and find out what’s going on . . . ringing each other about what we’re hearing from the grapevine,” he said.

“The potential windfall could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but at the moment it’s just costing me money and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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