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    A CASE STUDY: TECHNO PARK DRIVE RESIDENTS EVICTED

    Date:

    The housing crisis in Melbourne’s west continued: A special feature by RMIT journalists Annelise Ireland and Peter Whelan

    In May this year the residents of Techno Park Drive in Williamstown received notices from the Hobsons Bay City Council advising them to vacate their homes immediately, or face legal action.

    The Council’s grounds for eviction were Techno Park Drive’s industrial zoning due to its location adjacent to a ExxonMobil fuel storage site, regulations that had been in place for over thirty years but not enforced until May.

    As you enter Techno Park Drive, the Mobil tanks are instantly visible. The Techno Park Drive community were quick to garner community support via social media and were soon being interviewed by multiple news outlets. Their main question: Why take this measure now when Council had turned a blind eye for decades. Council had even been accepting payment for residential pet permits from some residents.

    ‘Council’s decision to threaten people with eviction and legal action now, in a time of housing crisis, is heartless, bureaucratic, arbitrary, and wrong,’ reads the community’s change.org petition protesting the evictions, with more than 20,000 signatures to date. ‘It has caused tremendous harm to people and caused them to fear losing their homes.’
    The petition advocates for Hobsons Bay City Council to use the precedent set by the Yarra Council in 2015, which saw a neighbourhood in Abbotsford re-zoned to ‘mixed-use’ rather than evict its residents.

    ‘I have my office here. So I’m legal to be here, being part of industry. But everyone else, according to the zoning, is illegal, which is stupid,’ says John Link, owner of Link Pumps and landlord of Block 11 at Techno Park Drive. Link’s car shed has become a meeting place for the community as they navigate the conflict together.

    ‘I’d like to see them change the zoning as they did in some of the inner suburbs. Like apparently they put a thing called an overlay on it, which they’re allowed to do. And so if it was changed to mixed use, it would suddenly become legal,’ he said.

    Hobsons Bay City Council Sustainable Communities Director Penelope Winslade has said it was ‘not practical’ to rezone the land due to its proximity to the ExxonMobil facility, classified as a Major Hazard Facility, or MHF.

    ‘It’s technically possible to rezone the land, but in a practical sense, it’s extremely unlikely that the state government would agree to a rezoning of this land because of its proximity to what’s known as a state-significant petrochemical site,’ Winslade told a council meeting in July.

    This is despite the fact that hundreds of people in neighbouring Spotswood live just as close to petrochemical storage sites with no industrial zoning covering their homes. Other examples of similar conditions are widespread in the western suburbs. Some residents however aren’t optimistic about rezoning.

    ‘If you realised what was underneath it, you wouldn’t want your kids playing there,’ Geoff Mitchelmore, former senior scientist in the oil and gas industry and volunteer on Mobil’s community liaison group for the past 20 years, told the ABC’s Elise Kinsella in June.
    ‘I would say that whole area, particularly where the refining took place would be really, really heavily contaminated, and I doubt whether they would ever be able to completely remove all of the contaminants,’ he said.

    When The Westsider followed these comments up with Mitchelmore he clarified that the quote from the ABC interview didn’t refer to the Techno Park site, but to land that Mobil owns. However he did say that land nearby to Mobil sites, including Techno Park Drive and JT Gray Reserve, could possibly be contaminated.

    ‘It’s possible,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to know and I couldn’t be sure. I don’t even know if Mobil has tested those sites.’

    The Westsider has asked Mobil if they’ve tested Techno Park Drive and JT Gray Reserve sites for contamination and is yet to receive an answer.

    In a letter to Local Government Minister Melissa Horne and Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny, City of Yarra Cr Stephen Jolly urged Hobsons Bay City Council to consider mixed zoning, writing, ‘many homes in Hobsons Bay sit within the ‘inner advisory area’ of MHFs, including a new development at Waterline Place in Williamstown, where a 3-bedroom apartment is on the market for 1.75 million dollars.’

    However, the Council’s newly unveiled Draft Industrial Land Management Strategy projects an increased scarcity of industrial zoning between 2030 and 2040, and aims to maintain its industrial zones to capitalise on this shortage. Meanwhile, the future of Techno Park Drive hangs in the balance. At October’s HBCC meeting councillors voted to establish a ‘Techno Park Housing Solutions Group’ with the aim of finding alternative accommodation for residents by May 2024.

    Owner occupier John O’Hagan has slammed the decision as just another re-branding of their existing plan to force people from their homes.

    ‘The Council’s latest media stunt is yet another kick in the guts for me and my family,’ he says. ‘They are completely ignoring residents’ pleas to work with them to find solutions that allow them to stay in their homes, and rigging the game by ruling out any such solutions in advance.’

    At this stage the majority of residents seem committed to staying in their homes and continuing their fight.

    ‘We personally think that the state government will step in at the end and say solve it,’ says another resident Matt Robinson. ‘Otherwise, we will.’

    RMIT special feature
    RMIT special feature
    RMIT journalism students investigate important issues for the west.

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