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Tourist garden with clout endangers quarry expansion

A NSW operator has been left waiting ‘indefinitely’ for an outcome to its development application (DA), despite local council and government agency indications that both are satisfied with the information supplied.

Oberon Earthmoving – the owner and operator of Middle Creek Quarries in Oberon, NSW – had lodged a DA with Oberon Council in March 2015 before amending as requested by council and resubmitting in May 2016.

The strongest opponent of the DA is the neighbouring Mayfield Garden, located approximately 5km away from the quarry and one of the world’s largest privately owned cool climate gardens.

As part of the DA, Oberon Earthmoving has proposed an expansion in the land area to approximately 15ha and sought to increase the rate of extraction and production up to 250,000 tonnes per annum (tpa). Oberon is also seeking under the DA to import up to 25,000 tpa of raw mulch and up to 50,000 tpa of excavated natural material, with the aim to process the organic matter into high grade garden mix.

Oberon Council recommended approval for the DA at a determination meeting held in mid-March this year by the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP). However, after a review of objections from several speakers linked to Mayfield Garden, the JRPP deferred the final decision pending further information on the rehabilitation and traffic impacts of the quarry. Oberon Earthmoving complied with this request and made a further submission to the council addressing these impacts on 28 March, 2017.

A garden with clout

According to the local Oberon Review, Mayfield Garden owner Garrick Hawkins has said he may have to close the garden in the event the DA is approved.

In a statement from Oberon Earthmoving, Hawkins is said to have cited concerns that the expanded quarry would give anticipated visitors a “negative experience due to visual impact, dust, noise and traffic movements”.

The closure of the local tourist attraction, according to the Oberon Review, would potentially cost the Oberon economy $33 million per year for the next five years.

Middle Creek Quarries owner Zac Rowlandson told Quarry he was not aware Mayfield Garden had expressed objections until public submissions were made available. However, he said feedback from the rest of the local community had otherwise been positive.

“We are a 100 per cent local company with a fairly large presence in our community,” Rowlandson said.

“I believe this has helped to get our message out that we can co-exist with the garden and our neighbours without negative impacts.”

Rowlandson said Oberon Earthmoving has since March this year ‘continually attempted’ to demonstrate to Mayfield Garden representatives that the perception of visual impact and truck movements on the public road 7km from Mayfield Garden were ‘significantly overstated’ and could not ‘reasonably’ be considered to impact on anticipated visitor numbers.

Ironically, Mayfield Garden is a past customer of Middle Creek Quarries, having purchased roadbase from the quarry for use on its internal roads and walking tracks.

In the spirit of promoting local business, Oberon Earthmoving has even sought Hawkins’ interest and input in the design and landscaping services to upgrade the entrance to Middle Creek Quarries. This would reduce the visibility of the expanded quarry from viewpoints around Mayfield Gardens.

“This was part of a verbal conversation I had with Mr Hawkins,” Rowlandson said. “I didn't really get a clear response on the matter.”

Delays to the DA

When asked why he believed there had a been a delay in the DA, despite indications Oberon Council and NSW Road & Maritime Services were satisfied with the information that Oberon Earthmoving had supplied after the JRPP meeting, Rowlandson said: “I believe the pressure related to Mr Hawkins’ claim that Mayfield might close has caused council to be very thorough with their assessment. Beyond that I see no reason why things have taken so long.”

He conceded the drawn-out wait had been 'frustrating'. “[We] have gone above and beyond with our mitigation effort to ensure we do not have any impacts on our neighbour,” he said.

“We believe this is a good site with no negative impacts on outside receivers [and that it] will be excellent for the local economy, ours and other local businesses and our employees.”

Rowlandson said he would very disappointed if the DA was knocked back.

“If we are unsuccessful with the application, it will definitely stop the growth of our other operations and in turn it would affect the long term stability of our business group as a whole. We directly employ 30 people. Ninety per cent of those are local and it would be great if those numbers could continue to grow off the back of this proposal.”

He did not rule out an appeal in the event the DA is unsuccessful. “We stand by our work, and that of our consultant RW Corkery,” Rowlandson said. “If the decision from JRPP goes against us, we will do our best to address the issues presented in justifying that position. If we feel that we can address these issues adequately, then we will continue to pursue an approval.”

Oberon Earthmoving owns and operates four businesses in Oberon: Oberon Earthmoving, Oberon Concrete, Industrial Maintenance Company and Middle Creek Quarries.

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