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Mornington Peninsula to probe marina further on links to John Woodman

But the council confirmed this week it would separately conduct an independent legal review of the Martha Cove development process, because of its vast size and the many planning decisions that led to its construction.

The formal planning process for Martha Cove stretches back to at least the 1990s.

Mornington Peninsula mayor Sam Hearn said the council was collating all relevant documents for Martha Cove’s history and expected to hire an independent consultant by the end of the month.

The Moorings apartment complex at Martha Cove.

The Moorings apartment complex at Martha Cove.

The external legal expert will examine the “defensibility” of all decisions made for the $650 million project. The council may also hire a planning expert to assist the review as it investigates the “entirety of the Martha Cove development decision”.

Any findings of suspicious activity relating to planning decisions at Martha Cove will be handed to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission. “It is a very old and complex development with a number of decision points,” Cr Hearn said.

“Through this process the shire is committed to ensuring all decisions made were supportable in law, policy and fact.”

An aerial shot of Martha Cove.

An aerial shot of Martha Cove.Credit:The Age

Mr Woodman and his development company, Watsons, have been intimately involved in the Martha Cove development. The company is based on the Mornington Peninsula and is linked to numerous other permits in the area.

Mr Woodman himself is believed to own a property at Martha Cove.

The residential development sits on a 94-hectare site with room for well over 1000 residential lots. It is already home to hundreds of residents. High-end apartments for sale in a new complex at the estate were expected to fetch up to $1.8 million.

But the project has had a turbulent history with several changes of ownership. Many plots of land at the estate are yet to be developed.

The broader review by Mornington Peninsula Council is examining any projects linked to Mr Woodman across the municipality and other figures whose names were mentioned in public IBAC hearings.

IBAC has been investigating allegations of serious corruption in land deals involving Mr Woodman and some councillors at the City of Casey.

Public IBAC hearings last year heard Mr Woodman paid $1.2 million to two Casey councillors, Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett, in an attempt to win favourable planning decisions. The councillors have denied wrongdoing.


The corruption hearings are set to resume next month but a government-appointed monitor has already recommended the Casey council be sacked.

Mornington Peninsula ecologist Gidja Walker said she was worried about damage to environmentally sensitive grasslands at the Martha Cove development before construction began.

Ms Walker said she feared the Martha Cove development would cause irreparable damage to wildlife back in the 1990s. “I was concerned about the loss of endangered vegetation,” she said. “I was also worried about how close all the buildings were to the creek line.”

Kingston Council in Melbourne’s south-east is also conducting a special audit of planning approvals linked to Mr Woodman or other planners and lobbyists named in the IBAC proceedings.

The council’s general manager of planning and development, Jonathan Guttman, said the report was due to be delivered to the council at its next ordinary meeting on February 24.

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