Last year, this block was underwater. Now a developer wants to build homes on it

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A Victorian council is investigating its own decision to approve the construction of 16 townhouses on land that just seven months ago was inundated by floodwater.

Developer Dale Denham wants to build the homes at 166 Bowen Street in Echuca, which in October and November was on the “wrong side” of the levee that was hastily constructed to protect the majority of the regional city from flooding.

Developer Denham Design wants to build 16 townhouses at 166 Bowen Street, Echuca (rear), which was flooded late last year.Credit: Chris Janson

The matter is also before Victorian planning tribunal VCAT, which is considering whether the local water authority and residents can object to the development under planning rules.

Echuca residents claim the Campaspe Shire Council failed to follow proper processes in giving conditional approval to the development, which was also strongly opposed by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA).

Council chief executive Pauline Gordon said this week that the council would hold an internal investigation into claims its officers failed to follow procedural fairness.

“Campaspe Shire Council takes allegations of procedural fairness and lack of transparency of process very seriously. Internally we are investigating the allegations made, however, the Bowen Street development is the subject of a VCAT hearing, and we will not be making further comment at this stage.”

Nick Butler, the authority’s waterways and floodplain officer, said the NCCMA “strongly contends that the proposed development is inappropriate given the significant flood hazard on the property”.

“It is likely to result in danger to the life, health and safety of the occupants due to flooding on the site,” Butler wrote to the council, urging it to block the development.

“It relies on low-level access to and from the site, it is likely to increase the burden on emergency services and the risk to emergency personnel [and] it is likely to increase the amount of flood damage to public or private assets.”

The development was also likely to raise flood levels or water flow velocities, “to the detriment of other properties”, Butler said.

The levee that for months divided Echuca.Credit: Jason South

“Development should not transfer flooding problems from one location to another.”

When the Murray River hit its highest flood levels in more than a century late last year, the 2.5 kilometre earthen levee – built along Echuca’s suburban streets – saved most of the town from inundation.

But the makeshift levee essentially trapped floodwater behind the river’s banks and prevented water from receding, which left homes on the flooded side with higher volumes of water while their neighbours were kept dry.

The $4.7 million development at Bowen Street was conditionally approved by the Campaspe council this year, despite the NCCMA’s strong objections.

The council issued a notice of decision to grant a permit in February, subject to the developer resubmitting his application to include plans for the dimensions, landscape and drainage discharge.

The council also instructed the developer to ensure floors in the new townhouses were three centimetres higher than the one-in-100-year flood height of 95.7 metres above sea level.

Residents claim the council failed to follow due process in advertising and giving conditional approval to the development, and gave them two weeks to object to the development in November – while their homes were still inundated by flooding.

They are also angered by council officers failing to take notes or minutes of a consultation meeting in December, a fact confirmed by an email sent by a council planner and seen by The Sunday Age.

At a VCAT hearing on Friday, resident David Ujimoto told tribunal member Susan Whitney he felt like Darryl Kerrigan from hit Australian movie The Castle, representing himself and a group of residents objecting to the development because they could not afford legal representation.

“We’ve got our properties [that] were behind the levee wall that we are fixing up, and a lot of our money is going into fixing our homes,” he said. “That’s why we’re self represented.”

VCAT is not examining the process by which Campaspe Shire Council gave conditional approval.

Denham did not return calls requesting comment.

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