Cherry Tree Range wind farm supporter sets record straight

Infigen Energy are seeking approval to build 16 wind turbines atop Cherry Tree Hill in Trawool, Victoria.
Infigen Energy are seeking approval to build 16 wind turbines atop Cherry Tree Hill in Trawool, Victoria.

Sarah Durrant is a Kilmore local who is passionate about a wind farm proposal in her region. Durrant was an observer to the first round of VCAT hearings on the Cherry Tree Range wind farm. Here’s a letter to the editor by Durrant, correcting the assertions of wind farm opponents. It was published in the Seymour Telegraph:

When authors (R and L Stephenson , letter to Seymour Telegraph, 14th August 2013) drop the word ‘fact’ into their letter a reader might hope that there’s some truth to be found in the content. Instead, the letter highlighted an ongoing lack of understanding in regard to just what Council’s role has been in the Cherry Tree Wind Farm planning application process.

No, Council did not vote against the Planning Application from Infigen. ‘In fact’ our Councillors didn’t vote on the Application at all! Council purposefully chose not to make a decision. They neither approved nor denied the application and it was this – Council’s ‘failure to determine’ within the requisite 60 days – that forced the matter to VCAT. Thus, the waste of ratepayer money that’s referred to can indeed be said to be as a direct result of Council’s inaction. 

The vote that R and L Stephenson are referring to was simply a hypothetical, as VCAT required to know Council’s stance on the matter. It was a vote taken after Council knew it had forced the decision making on up the chain to VCAT; a vote around a motion based on a supposition.

Council said that IF they HAD chosen to address the Application, they would have voted against it, and they then went on to list several vague notions about why they thought it didn’t comply with planning policy. Had the councillors actually followed the procedures recommended in the Municipal Association of Victoria‘s very helpful publication ‘Land Use Planning in Victoria – A Guide for Councillors’ we might have avoided a great deal of expenditure, in terms of both finances and effort. MAV also advises councillors to utilise the skill and expertise of their Planning Department and Planning Officer. No, they don’t have to agree with the Planning Officer’s ultimate recommendation, but MAV states that councillors must be satisfied that their alternative view is justified.

In the case of Cherry Tree Wind Farm, where the Planning Department had already advised Council that the Application was in keeping with all the relevant planning considerations, the councillors clearly rejected that professional judgement. The result? Weeks on end in a VCAT Hearing, where the Council’s costly legal team attempted to defend the indefensible. Yes, the councillors’ every recorded objection to the Infigen Planning Application was overturned by the VCAT panel.

Another recent letter to the Telegraph by Lee Stephenson highlighted a television report about the apparently large number of Council decisions that VCAT overturns. I myself ask: Is it any wonder? If Mitchell Shire councillors just ignore their own planning policies (or simply opt out of the responsibility of making any decision at all) it would be unsurprising if other councillors across the State are doing just the same.

Sarah Durrant, Kilmore

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