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By Derek Schlennstedt

The Olinda Precinct Plan is moving ahead with councillors approving the planning permit at the council meeting on 9 October.

The project will transform the 34-hectare former Olinda golf course site into public parklands and will include a nature-based play space, a sports oval and open space for markets and events, new walking tracks and picnic facilities, and shelters and seating.

On the night of the meeting council chambers were filled with residents and community groups who were vocally against the plan.

Elke Effler spoke on behalf of The Hills Common Alliance and noted the sites significance within the community.

“I find the desecration of such a beautiful unique site incomprehensible,” she said.

“I’ve heard it said the Dandenongs are the jewel in the crown but how can it be if right at the top there is this huge oval with bollards.”

The Olinda public golf course closed more than six years ago after being abandoned by its owners.

Since then the picturesque site, which sits adjacent the newly named Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, has been the centre of much debate over its future use, and in 2017 The Victorian Government committed $4.72 million to converting the 34-hectare zone to parkland, that included a sports oval.

That expansion has garnered criticism from locals who would prefer the site to remain the way it is.

Jenny Oxer told the Council that a project reference group organised by Member for Monbulk James Merlino refused to include the Hills Common Alliance.

“We approached James Merlino three times to ask for representation in that group, both the informal group calling itself a consultancy group and after when it became a steering group,” she said.

“Each time in writing and verbally we were declined admittance initially on the basis there was no more space in the room for another person and later on we were told we’re not a formal group.”

A big contributor to the sites redevelopment and inclusion of a football oval has been the increase in sport in the area.

A spokesperson for Parks Victoria said that there has been a massive growth in football in the area, particularly women’s.

“The local AFL participation has grown 20 per cent since 2015, and is predicted to grow another 36 percent by 2021,” he said.

“Summer cricket participation has grown by 15 percent and is expected to grow by another 15 percent by 2021.”

Councillor Tony Stevenson put forward an alternate recommendation that would approve the planning permit, but a number of requirements would need to be met.

These included an assurance for responsible car parking, and for no permanent fences or permanent structures to be erected around the Olinda Green.

The recommendation put forth by councillor Stevenson divided the room with councillors Heenan and Clarke unable to support the motion.

“It looks as if sport has won again over the environment … i don’t understand why all the other view apart from sport are important,“ councillor Heenan said.

“I don’t think we can ruin a landscape and I don’t think it’s well designed into that landscape… just by narrowing it down a fraction we could get a design that would suit that landscape,” councillor Clarke said.

Councillor Cliff said he felt the recommendation  balanced the concerns of residents and sporting groups best.

“We’ve catered to all the issues we could think of,” he said.

“This has been conditioned in such a way that every part of our community will be involved in how it runs.”

“I’m going to support it as I see it has benefits for more than just cricketers and footballers.”

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