AN alliance of community groups wants support to plant a carbon forest on the Parkdale Estate land in Dromana.

This proposal would see community members being given the opportunity to invest in their own carbon draw-down project while allowing public access onto the site for compatible activities.

The proposal utilises a platform that enables this investment and registers the carbon credits. It also pays for planting the forest.

The project would be a leading example in Australia and, while modest in scale, would be a highly visible model for others to follow.

“Strategic partners who can add value to the project include the likes of the Habitat Restoration Fund,” Greg Fitzgerald, president of Dromana Rotary Club, said.

“With the HRF, we have undertaken significant replanting and weed elimination to several sites around the peninsula, including on the adjacent Hillview Reserve.

“The community carbon forest will showcase how we can bring about improved habitat and environmental outcomes in general, and it will do it quickly.”

The group says “engagement by government” is the missing component to having the proposal considered.

“This land was donated by the Ross Trust for public conservation and recreation 40 years ago,” Simon Brooks, Dromana Association president, said.

“For most of that time the care of the land has rested with grazier Pat Clancy who has run cattle under a lease as outgoing land manager Parks Victoria has not had the resources to replant or allow public access.”

The group says it “fears” the land will be handed over to Mornington Peninsula Shire to manage, “the latest in a line of processes with no outcome in sight”.

“Unfortunately, the key community stakeholders do not have confidence in the shire to collaboratively deliver any project in any reasonable time frame,” Mr Brooks, a former councillor, said.

“As with many other agencies and organisations COVID has had a significant impact on the shire and its ability to plan, coordinate and deliver community projects.

“We wish it wasn’t so however, in our collective experience, we see examples of many years of significant strategies and plans which the shire then struggles or fails to deliver.”

Mr Fitzgerald said an example of this was shire’s failure to implement a master plan adopted in 2010 for the adjacent Hillview Reserve.

“We have had a successful partnership with Parks Victoria over many years, yet we cannot get the shire to implement a relatively simple roadside trail signage roll-out that is agreed to and ready to go,” Toby Meredith, Red Hill Riders president, said.

“We support the carbon forest initiative because it is doable, is a plan and aligns with better land management including support of recreational activities on the hill.”

Mr Brooks said the groups had not been given an opportunity to discuss the forest plan “despite multiple attempts at engagement with the minister, state government public servants and our Nepean MP Chris Brayne”.

“It feels to us that the state is just glad to hand this over to someone else to worry about and seems to trust that the shire is best placed to deliver something for community,” he said.

“We have voiced our concerns to the shire’s CEO [John Baker] in a letter co-signed with key stakeholders, regarding the commitment and capacity of the shire to deliver and to work with us.

“However, as with other correspondence, we have not had a response.”

Dromana Association member and former mayor Graham Pittock was “extremely disappointed” over the lack of response to the community’s concerns “and to the complete lack of progression of multiple strategies and plans for this area over many years”.

“At least we have managed to speak with state government bureaucrats who have been managing the hand-over process, however they do not appear to have any power or influence to change what appears to be a set process underway.”

Mr Brooks said the group’s early concerns about lack of consultation over management of the land “have not been addressed.”

He said the shire had dropped “budgeted monies” for pre-feasibility studies for the land from its mid-year budget reforecast. “They are apparently to be re-deployed in the next financial year.

“What sort of message does this send to the community about the commitment and capacity of the shire to develop this land for community?

“In the meantime, we have a plan and we have the means to do something of worth; something that ticks multiple boxes in terms of community–led actions; an amazing transformative example of local action on carbon draw-down that is self-funded, increases bio-diversity and adds much-needed planned public recreational space.”

Critically, it places the community on the site as the Ross Trust intended.

“We do not trust that this land will always be protected for public use and we are aware of what its value would be subdivided for housing,” Mr Brooks said.

“There is an emerging pattern of public land being rezoned and sold-off for development, including public conservation and recreation zoned land parcels such as this one.

“We have asked that the state government pause the process to hand over the management of this land to the shire and to consider the community proposal.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 15 March 2022