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Minister calls in controversial quarry

The Victorian Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, recently “called in” an application to establish a quarry in Ombersley, Victoria. The application proposed to quarry basalt from a 64ha area with a production rate of 200,000 tonnes per annum.

A similar quarry application for the same site was lodged with Colac-Otway Shire Council in 2010. After the council resolved to issue a notice of decision to grant a planning permit in March 2011, some objectors lodged an application for appeal with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). VCAT ultimately ruled in the objectors’ favour, deciding that a permit was not to be issued.

The latest proposal also faced community opposition from 32 objectors. Some were worried the quarry would negatively impact the groundwater upon which they relied, while others feared its blasting activity would affect their livestock. Concerns were also raised about traffic noise, the nearby road’s ability to handle increased traffic, and the impact on the “rural character” of the area. 

Request for ministerial input

In December 2014, the council’s planning committee recommended once again that a notice of decision to grant a permit be issued but the council voted 3–2 that the permit be outright refused instead.

The applicant lodged an appeal with VCAT, at which point the council decided to refer the matter to the Victorian Minister for Planning.

“In September, council unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the Minister for Planning call in the planning application,” Colac-Otway Shire mayor Frank Buchanan told Quarry.

“[This resolution was] based on the proceeding raising an issue of policy in relation to the impact of stone extraction uses on agricultural areas, and the fact that the determination of this proceeding would have an impact on planning objectives related to agricultural areas and environmental issues.

“On this basis, council welcomes the minister’s decision to call the application in.”

Wynne declined Quarry’s invitation to provide further comment on the matter, but stated that the Victorian Government was “committed to improving community confidence in the resources sector” and that it would ensure that the community’s concerns would be “appropriately taken into consideration through any approvals process”.

Media attention

Last month, the so-called “Birregurra quarry” gained media attention – such as in The Age and ABC News – after allegations that the state’s mining regulator had “coached” the applicant on how to deceive VCAT so that it would be successful in its appeal.

When asked if these allegations played a role in his decision to call in the proposal, Wynne responded: “No, prior processes do not have anything to do with a call-in. [I] intervened because of the significance of the project, particularly given the agricultural and water sensitivities in the area.”

It was said that as part of the call-in, an independent panel would be established and public hearings would be held in order to determine the outcome of the quarry proposal, although details of timing were not provided.

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