By JOHN DOOLEY

YOU just can’t wipe the smile off their faces!

Since Vince and Tenah Caristo learned the Victorian Government made a landmark ruling that will allow landholders in the Mildura Older Irrigated Area (MOIA) to develop small blocks they have been on Cloud Nine.

The Caristos have not been able to build their dream home on a parcel of land in Irymple since they got caught up in the MOIA dispute back in 2016.

The dispute centred on an amendment to planning regulations that restricted development on MOIA lots between 0.2-2 hectares.

The ’Weekly introduced readers to the couple in our May 15 edition, and have been following the story ever since.

Now, we can happily report a breakthrough, and the Caristos are thrilled.

Mr Caristo said that the couple will now be able to re-visit their building plans and commence a process that will hopefully see them start construction on their dream home.

“Yes we are very pleased,” Mr Caristo said. “We will now rework our plans and see what else has to be done with applications – it was quite a number of years ago that we submitted our plans to Council and so that process will have to be revisited. We built another house in the interim so we will see what we decide to do now, but it is definitely good news and gives us the freedom to build on the block.”

The Government originally stopped all housing development in the MOIA in 2009 to try and protect horticultural land being lost to residential expansion, but the 2016 ‘Amendment C89’ meant landholders like the Caristos couldn’t build residential dwellings on the their block which was not a suitable size for horticulture.

Victorian Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, wrote to the Member for Mildura, Ali Cupper last Friday, advising her that “Planning applications will be allowed for lots between 0.2 and 1.2ha, where the land is not suitable for horticulture, the dwelling will have no adverse impact on horticultural activity and the land is suitable for rural residential development”.

A clearly relieved Ms Cupper said that based on the types of homes being built, the decision has potentially opened up $100million of development which will help stimulate the construction sector at a time when it’s most needed.

“Apart from the huge economic boost, this is also a win for landholders’ social and mental wellbeing,” she said.

“We know for a fact, the incredible mental toll the restriction on development has placed on people, many of whom just want to be able to build their dream home – now they can.”

Ms Cupper said that the MOIA was an issue that had been on her agenda for a longt ime. 

“Before entering Parliament, I was a Councillor for six years, and we would often receive applications for building permits from hard working citizens with very sound cases as to why they should be able to build on a property,” she said.

“As a Council, we would find ourselves in the awkward position, where we could either go against planning regulations and say ‘Yes’, at the risk of having our planning powers taken away from us altogether if that pattern was to develop – something the State Government had shown it was prepared to do, and so we would just have to say ‘No’ to people.”

Ms Cupper said that the result of implementation of the MOIA was that there were blocks of land that simply weren’t going to be brought back into production and were sitting idle.

“These properties had lost massive amounts of value and were causing extreme emotional and financial hardship for families,” she said. 

(The Caristo’s being a case in point – they purchased their land for $126,000, only to see it value fall to $8000, after ‘Amendment C89’ was passed in 2016, restricting development on small blocks).

“The one key point that we kept making to the Minister – because it was important in our negotiations – was that there was a solid rationale for limiting the expansion of residential development in the irrigated area. We knew that the State and Federal Governments had invested more than $100million in modernising the irrigation infrastructure.” 

Ms Cupper said that unlike dryland farming, where you can expand the area you plant crops on to some degree, when it comes to irrigation there is a finite grid of infrastructure.

 “If you fill that grid up with houses, you can’t produce anything, and that’s no good for the local economy – it’s not good for the state economy, the national economy and food security,” she said.

“So there was sense behind trying to limit that residential encroachment. Our argument was that those limits needed to be sensible and reasonable and fair.

“Therefore, the blocks of land that were less than 1.2 hectares – between 0.2 and 1.2 ha, had been sold and purchased as house-blocks. In order to have been sold and purchased as a house-block, they had to have that irrigation infrastructure removed.”

Ms Cupper added that in the 11 years since the incorporated document came into place (2009), blocks of that size haven’t been brought back into production and have basically sat idle.

“The Minister may have had good reason to have assumed that there was every possibility they would have been utilised for horticulture, but evidence and experience has shown that they weren’t brought back into production. The fact is they were just not viable – therefore what has evolved was the right thing to do and I am delighted with this just result,” she said.