Floodplains cemetery scrapped

A swollen Dandenong Creek runs under the Heatherton Rd bridge. 244720_70 Picture: GARY SISSONS

by Cam Lucadou-Wells

In what was termed a “win for the little people”, Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust has abandoned its controversial proposed cemetery on Dandenong Creek flood-plains.

In a statement, the SMCT said it had “listened to the community” about the proposed site at 1564 Heatherton Road, Dandenong.

“As part of considering its merits it has decided not to proceed with this site.”

Floodplain management authority Melbourne Water’s opposition is said to have sunk the plan.

“Following early-stage consideration, Melbourne Water … notified SMCT that it was not satisfied that the proposal met the relevant planning policies, and expressed significant concerns regarding the environmental impact,” Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams said.

“As a consequence, the Heatherton Road site was rightly ruled out.”

Ms Williams said this showed “the process working as it should”.

“I’m very pleased that the environmental significance of this area has been recognised.”

Greater Dandenong Council, residents and community groups fiercely criticised the proposal when it was revealed in Star Journal in February.

Concerns included the loss of open space, environmental impacts and flood risks.

Mayor Jim Memeti said the outcome was expected, once the site’s owner Melbourne Water appeared to not support the plan.

“The community was against the proposal, the council was against the proposal, and I think the right decision was made not to proceed with it.”

Councillor Rhonda Garad said it was a “victory for the little people”.

“This is what can happen when the community and the council is aligned and speak up.

“From the get-go, this (proposal) was clearly not a good idea from any perspective.”

Dandenong Community Association spokesperson Silvia Mastrogiovanni’s reaction to the news was “Hallelujah”.

“Common sense has finally prevailed. How did they think a flood plain was a good place for a cemetery?”

An “ecstatic” Greens ex-councillor Matthew Kirwan said the “irresponsible” idea would have greatly increased the risk of flooding homes, as well as destroying native vegetation and habitiat.

“Dandenong shouldn’t be the target for unpopular projects on the assumption that residents will just take it – this proves that they won’t.”

The SCMT stated it would continuing to look at alternative sites in Melbourne’s South East.

A new cemetery was the only way to meet the region’s forecast needs, with Springvale Botanical Cemetery and Bunurong Memorial Park “nearing capacity” in “just over a decade”.

“SMCT has actively been looking at sites that meet its needs for the new Memorial Park.

“This includes enough land, for both burial and memorial needs; a significant proportion for green open space for community use and providing for the conservation values in keeping with SMCT’s values and community expectations.

“When a site is at the stage of consideration for purchase it will be subject to a community consultation and environmental and planning approvals.

“SMCT will keep the community updated.”

Recently, the SMCT said there were “limited” alternative sites to Heatherton Road.

A Melbourne Water spokesperson said the SCMT had “withdrawn from the discussion” about the Heatherton Road site.

“Melbourne Water will continue to remain the owner of this land.”