Chris Vedelago at The Age has exposed a fascinating land-play by Stonnington Council, enforcing scarcity and lifting land prices in the most valuable residential municipality in Melbourne by adding to insatiable demand with its own house-buying to demolish and make parkland.

“Stonnington Council has blocked the release of a secret report that would reveal to hundreds of inner suburban home owners and businesses whether the city is planning to buy their properties to turn them into parks.

“The document contains a list of up to 450 sites in South Yarra, Toorak, Armadale, Glen Iris, Prahran and Malvern that have been selected under a controversial new 20-year planning strategy.
Less than a dozen affected land owners have so far been officially notified by the council that their properties have been identified as “strategic opportunities” for transformation into parks and open spaces.

More parks will be very popular with Stonnington’s wealthy and conservative ratepayers – and the land price boost equally welcome. It would be ill-mannered to speak of the financial benefits, but ratepayers remain free to blow a fuse over any negative consequences:

“The decision to withhold the full list of properties has angered owners, residents and businesses, who complain they are being “kept in the dark” about something that could dramatically effect their lives in the coming months and years.

Stonnington’s secrecy about the sites they want to buy is entirely understandable. Landowner demands for ‘certainty’ by making plans public would immediately inflate land prices nearby, just as the announcement of a new rail station or library does – even before the community facility is built.

I wrote about an identical program unveiled by neighboring council Boroondara in 2011.

Boroondara very helpfully provided maps showing the approximate locations of their new parks – a gift to speculators, to either be taken out at a premium in compulsory acquisition or have their land values enhanced by a new park within spitting distance.

Stonnington appears to have picked up a partial lesson from the Boroondara experience.

However, and this is important, councillors and top management are privy to the secret plans.

While I don’t have evidence of corrupt practice, private conversations do go on, and a well-timed wink to a knowing player is enough to earn their undying gratitude, usually expressed in the form of campaign contributions or brown paper bags stuffed with cash.

All this just so the children have somewhere to play, perhaps under a statue of the civic benefactor who made it all possible.