The flood investigator resigns over his role at a flooded retirement home
“Mr. Wimbush’s appointment met all probity and appointment criteria and he was eminently qualified to fill the role,” a spokesman said.
“Melbourne Water is committed to demonstrating the integrity of the verification process, we have taken this step together with Mr Wimbush. This is necessary in order not to distract from the important work of the assessment.”
Age attempted to contact Wimbush directly and through the State Planning Department but was unable to reach him in a timely manner.
Shing declined to comment Tuesday night.
Following planning changes supported by Wimbush, the exclusive retirement village – first approved in 2006 following an application from a previous owner of the site – began construction on land no longer considered a flood plain.
Melbourne Water appointed Wimbush in December to chair its October flood review, which includes an inquiry into the Rivervue flooding.
Wimbush has sat on several expert panels on major government development projects including the West Gate Tunnel, the North East Link and the East West Link. Age does not indicate that he would not act independently in his role as Chair of the Melbourne Water Review, only that his previous recommendations on Rivervue land could lead to a perceived lack of independence.
On January 24, at Melbourne Water’s first October flood review briefing, Liz Nairn confirmed that Rivervue would be taking part in the inquiry.
“We are certainly aware of the concerns being expressed regarding the Rivervue development in Avondale Heights,” she told the meeting.
The change of plan approved by the Andrews government in 2016 – after Wimbush backed it – meant arriving residents did not need to be made aware of the property’s past flooding, and after the October flood Rivervue management reassured residents that no houses were built on a floodplain.
In January, Nerina Di Lorenzo, managing director of Melbourne Water, said Age that Wimbush “would be a very good independent chair and has a lot of experience in this area”.
“We have probity checkers at the forefront of the process to make sure it’s clear and transparent,” she said.
Avondale Heights is two kilometers west of the suburb of Maribyrnong, which drew widespread attention after a wall of water struck 525 homes in the early hours of October 14.
In Rivervue, most of the lower floors of houses damaged by flooding had to be completely dismantled.
Their residents — some of whom paid nearly $1 million to secure a 99-year lease on the top-of-the-line mansions — expect to be left without a permanent home until at least April.
Plans for the Rivervue development were initially rejected by Moonee Valley City Council, but the decision was overturned at VCAT in 2006. The VCAT member raised concerns about the suitability of the development for older people. “The country’s proximity to the flood plain poses a certain risk. However, all shelters would be above the 1:100 annual flood level.”
Moonee Valley Council approved several minor changes to the planning permit for the development between 2009 and 2022.
Ron Sutherland is a civil engineer and was Melbourne Water’s land development manager for 12 of his 20 years. He left the agency in 2002. He said the Rivervue flooding should never have been changed. “The overlay was changed incorrectly. The developer wanted it changed so they could build more units.”
He said he felt it was “completely and utterly inappropriate” for Wimbush to be chosen to chair the inquiry.
And he said the flooded houses in Rivervue should eventually be removed. “These houses should never have been built.”
The devastated residents of the village, which sits on a 7.4 hectare property, are wondering why their homes were flooded and most of their belongings destroyed.
Karen McKay, 76, sold her long-term home in Maribyrnong and moved into a $550,000 mansion in Rivervue with her late husband Jim in 2019 to escape life in a floodplain.
McKay, who is now in temporary shelter on Phillip Island, went to sleep on the night of October 13 not expecting flood waters to pour into her home.
“I’m still staring at it in disbelief. Our greatest fear had come to us,” McKay said. “As far as [Jim] was concerned that he was picking the safest spot for us and that was so important to him.”
Rae and Colin Waters, both in their 70s, said they asked about flood risk before paying $825,000 for their home, which sits on the outskirts of the village overlooking the river.
“We never worried,” Rae said. “If we thought we had even a chance of being flooded, we wouldn’t have gone or we would have gone higher.”
Another resident, Cheryl Korkliniewski, was also shocked when the flood water poured into her home.
“I just didn’t think that was going to happen,” she said. “When we came back the next day, everything was just gone.”
The Greens have proposed a parliamentary inquiry into the floods. Green Party water spokeswoman Ellen Sandell said Parliament would rather than Melbourne Water consider past decisions “that may have exacerbated the impact of the flood”. She said the government should “support the Greens’ motion for a proper parliamentary inquiry into this mess”.
A spokesman for Tigcorp, the owner of Rivervue, said the retirement village was built in accordance with the council’s approved permits and planning controls and was reviewed by Melbourne Water. “We didn’t build on a floodplain and never would.”
https://www.smh.com.au/national/victoria/floods-inquiry-chair-quits-over-role-in-swamped-retirement-village-20230207-p5cilo.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national The flood investigator resigns over his role at a flooded retirement home