THE Bass Coast Community is coming together in support of 87 year old pensioner Helen Hollole and her family.In June 2012, the council issued a ‘Road Occupation Permit’ to a neighbour in relation to an unmade road on an historical subdivision on Mrs Hollole’s farm just out of Wonthaggi.
Mrs Hollole was not given notice of the permit and only discovered that it had been issued by the council when her neighbour started to grade a large road through her front paddock.
No surveys or title searches were carried out.
After Mrs Hollole challenged its validity, the council then tried to sell part of her farm to that same neighbour – and when that failed – it purported to convert her 100 year old driveway and part of her front paddock into two new council roads.
Friends of the Hollole family have set up an online petition in a show of solidarity calling on the Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins MP to conduct a full investigation into the Bass Coast Shire Council. Friend and seasoned environmental and food campaigner, Stephen Powell has come on board to help the Holloles.
“It is obvious that this council has not managed this matter adequately from the beginning,” Mr Powell said.
The ‘paddock road’ is part of their farm that the Bass Coast Shire Council forced the Holloles to fence off.
“It has not given sufficient priority to assessing all options and resolving this dispute and it is clear that poor record keeping combined with a lack of experienced officers has adversely impacted on the council’s decision-making.
“It is clear that this council is using its powers inappropriately to bully Mrs Hollole into submission.”
Mrs Hollole’s daughter Eve said that it has recently come to light that a subdivision which was approved by the council in the 1980s has left the neighbour landlocked.
Eve said a sensible low-cost solution, such as an easement, should have been considered.
Serious questions have also arisen about the council’s decision to add these “paddock roads” to the Public Road Register in October 2014 and the circumstances in which that decision was made.
Eve Hollole said the councillors would have either passed a resolution in camera (i.e. in a session closed to the public) to declare the Hollole driveway and paddock “roads” on the basis that they are “reasonably required for public traffic” without giving notice to her family (which, like the council’s decision to issue the permit to the neighbour without notice, is unlawful) or alternatively, the council has determined that their 100 year old driveway and paddock (located in a Farming Zone) are now “public highways” under the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act.
Eve Hollole said she believes the “determination” is unlawful and that on multiple occasions the council has not followed due process.
She also said the council has then knowingly relied on this declaration to issue Supreme Court proceedings to intimidate her 87 year old mother into complying with its demands.
Even if the “determination” is held to be valid, it is likely to have serious implications for Bass Coast ratepayers in terms of the council’s Road Management Plan.
Eve said the cost of construction of these roads to the required service levels (as well as the cost to monitor intervention levels and maintain them) will be far from insignificant.
“I’m not a roads expert by any means but this project also involves removing our native tree plantation (funded and planted by Bass Coast Landcare), locating and relocating existing pipelines and water supply, realigning fences and gates, reconfiguring electricity supply (which also supports a neighbouring property) and removing our cattle grid.
“This farming infrastructure has been in place for decades and the council is taking our family to court because we are refusing to remove these ‘obstructions’ which are now located on these (newly declared) ‘council roads’.
“This is the basis for the Supreme Court action against our family. The decision to convert our driveway and paddock into fully formed roads is likely to cost Bass Coast ratepayers somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000.”
Mrs Hollole’s son Bernard who resides in Melbourne says the saga is taking a toll on Eve who’s simply trying to protect their 87 year old mother.
“At the end of the day my sister is a single mum with more responsibilities to manage than most but she is strong-willed and determined.
“Eve approached each of the councillors asking for their assistance and she received next-to-no response.
“For the past four years she has been holding the line not only for our family but also for the Bass Coast community where she grew up.
“She is a woman with a great deal of integrity and our family is immensely proud.”
Mr Powell’s partner Annelise Comins said there remains many unanswered questions.
“Many things do not add up. Helen Hollole is a pensioner. Her family can no longer afford to defend these proceedings and the council is well aware of that.
“This petition is set to go viral. We will ensure that this council and its councillors are held to account.
“The Minister for Local Government must step up and investigate this council. Victorians should be nothing short of outraged.
“I encourage everyone to get on board and sign this petition.”
Leader of the Opposition Matthew Guy has also labelled the case “an appalling waste of public money” and Member for Bass Brian Paynter has raised the issue in the Victorian parliament on a number of occasions.
A copy of the petition can be accessed online on the Sentinel-Times website and hardcopies are available at the Cape Woolamai Food & Liquor Xpress for signing.
The Hollole story was also broadcast to thousands on Twitter last weekend @HolloleFarm with hashtags #BassCoastLandGrab and #NotTakingItUpTheBass