A PLAN to build a “Kingston Memorial Park” in Kingston’s Green Wedge is shrouded in secrecy amid a bid to effectively gag a Kingston councillor from publicly speaking about the controversial proposal.
Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust wrote to Kingston Council late last year to demand Cr Rosemary West (photo) “withdraws from all further discussions on the Green Wedge development as a Memorial Park”.
The letter from trust CEO Jane Grover dated 21 October, seen by The News, addressed to council CEO John Nevins claimed Cr West’s “continued public comments in the press, together with her misrepresentation of confidential discussions held to date, lead SMCT to believe there is a possibility of real or apprehended bias on the part of Cr West and that SMCT may not and will not receive a fair and balanced hearing by council and the community”.
SMCT has refused to publicly comment on its plan to build a memorial park in Heatherton while it is being considered by the state government (‘Cemetery plot for Green Wedge’ The News 16/9/15).
“I think this complaint is an improper attempt by the trust to suppress community debate on this matter,” Cr West said.
“I think it’s outrageous that they’d be gagging a councillor. They came and presented to council and gave us the ‘soft sell’ by telling us all the nice things but they didn’t tell us they have the power to compulsorily acquire land and they didn’t tell us they were going to be filling the land because it’s subject to inundation [flooding].”
Cr West said the trust never requested that its meeting with councillors be regarded as confidential as claimed in SMCT’s October letter to Mr Nevin.
SMCT spokesman Allan Craig declined to comment about the trust’s attempt to effectively silence Cr West when contacted by The News.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on private correspondence,” he said.
The News understands Mr Nevin wrote back to SMCT asking for “further details of the public comments” by Cr West but also stated councillors can say they support or oppose a proposal before a meeting without it being deemed apprehended bias.
Councils cannot ban councillors from publicly discussing any particular subject.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy will have to give the cemetery project the go-ahead before the trust can negotiate with land owners in the area, near the Capital Golf Club, to buy land located between Boundary Rd, Heatherton Rd and Centre Dandenong Rd.
Some of the land earmarked for the cemetery contains market gardens.
Opponents of the cemetery plan, including the Defenders of the South East Green Wedge, do not want green wedge land used to locally produce food to be lost since agricultural land on the city fringes will struggle to supply Melbourne’s fresh food in future thanks to a rising population and development pressures on existing agricultural land (‘Food crisis on the horizon’, The News 16/12/15).
Cr West noted the cemetery trust had no objections to Cr Geoff Gledhill publicly discussing the cemetery plan “as is his right”.
When mayor last year, Cr Geoff Gledhill told The Age it could be a “win, win” if an organisation such as SMCT “was to take ownership of the land and then undertake maintenance of the land”.
Source: First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 3 February 2016