IT IS 27ha of prime real estate. There are expanses of open space, tranquil surrounds and breathtaking views of Melbourne's city skyline and the Yarra River.While traffic buzzes along Princess St and the Eastern Freeway only minutes away, you can hear the peaceful sound of birds and wind through the trees. Yet this pocket of the city has become a battleground. Since 1887 this land has been a safe haven for disabled residents of the former Kew Cottages. A tug of war has broken out over the future of the Kew Residential Services site between local and state government, developers, residents and lobby groups. Since 2001, when Premier Steve Bracks announced the land would be sold, numerous parties have staked their claim on a site used as the first government institution for the intellectually disabled. In a new development that will create a suburb said to be worth up to $400 million, the demolition of three heritage listed buildings has been approved and a new suburb has been proposed. Many residents have already been moved out. About 100 will stay on site in 20 new homes to be built amid 7.3ha of parkland and a $3 million health centre. But it remains to be seen how they will be integrated into the development and how local services will cope with an influx of new residents into an already developed area. The site has been listed on the Victorian Heritage Register for its architectural, historical, aesthetic, scientific and social significance. But the government's green light to partially demolish buildings has brought the bulldozers as close as ever. There are five key players. 1. When it comes to the future of the former Kew Cottages, Planning Minister Robert Hulls is the man. While Heritage Victoria has a vital role to play in protecting historic buildings on the site, its fate lies in the minister's hands. Mr Hulls will make the final decision on whether plans by Walker Corporation to redevelop the site receive the go-ahead. He is yet to declare when that decision will be made and says he is still waiting for the final plans and seeking advice on the matter. But after being told plainly by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that his decision must be transparent and all documentation used to make it made public, he said the interests of all stakeholders would be weighed up. ``Ultimately I have to make a decision in relation to this matter and I'll have to wait until I receive appropriate advice,'' Mr Hulls said. Yet he makes no secret of the fact the government wants to make the most of the site. ``The government and I fully support the proposal, it's simply a matter of getting all the documentation right,'' he said. 2. The Walker Corporation, a construction giant owned by Sydney billionaire Lang Walker, was named by the State Government as the successful tenderer for the redevelopment in June. . After lodging a planning application to the minister, the company came under fire from detractors who felt the proposal lacked detail. But the developer is still eyeing the prize and pressing ahead with its controversial plans for what will be a new Boroondara suburb. Company spokesman Kevin Hunt said Walker Corporation had ``done nothing wrong'' in its efforts to shore up the sensitive development. ``We do this all over the place, doing nothing different, and there's never a problem,'' he said.
Copyright, 2005, Nationwide News Pty Limited