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Questions asked on toxic site

17 Jul 2012

By Melissa Chen

New Southbank towers may have been built on contaminated land, had it not been for the intervention of the City of Melbourne and some observant construction workers.

The Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) and, by extension, the Minister for Planning in late 2010 failed to audit the land for contamination. The council was the only authority to recommend a site assessment.

Workers on the site discovered contamination, which forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the site. The authorities have still not revealed if the contamination has been cleaned up.

The site is not publicly listed by the EPA but has been named by the Auditor-General as Site D.

Southbank Local News understands that Site D is in Coventry St, Southbank.

According to the December 2011 Auditor-General’s report, an application for a high-density residential development project in inner Melbourne was submitted. Despite past uses of this site raising potential contamination issues, authorities including the EPA did not recommend a site assessment. The only authority that recommended a site assessment was the City of Melbourne.

According to a response from the Auditor-General’s office, the Auditor-General’s role is largely based on reporting to Parliament. The Auditor-General, Des Pearson said, “I have adopted the position that my reports and their associated recommendations should speak for themselves.”

The City of Melbourne initially recommended a site assessment on Site D when issues of potential contamination were brought up.

A spokesperson from the Planning department said: “City of Melbourne had advised a site assessment and a site assessment has been done.” The Planning department’s position uses the Auditor-General’s report as a safety net. “Everything is written in the report and there is nothing much we can say about it,” she said.

The Auditor-General’s report states the DPCD “Does not require peer reviews because it holds the view that experience resides in-house to determine whether a site assessment is adequate.”

Every fault in Site D seems to point back to the lack of site assessment initiated by the DPCD.

Questions directed to the DPCD regarding Site D have been left unanswered or ignored.

The Auditor-General’s office sent a copy of the proposed report “Managing Contaminated Sites” to the DPCD. In the DPCD’s response to the Auditor-General, it explained that an advisory committee was working closely with the EPA to review the operation of the planning system provisions for effective management of appropriate use and development of land.

A response by Andrew Tongue, secretary of the DPCD, in the Auditor-General report said: “The advisory committee will provide its report in early 2012.”

This report has not been released.

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