By Colin MacGillivray

A RESOLUTION to a contentious quarry proposed near Wallan is on the horizon after a directions hearing set a May start date for ministerial advisory committee proceedings.

The final decision on Conundrum Holdings’ North Central Quarry project, south of Wallan, rests with Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

Mr Wynne established a ministerial advisory committee to consider an amendment to the Beveridge North West Precinct Structure Plan, PSP, that would allow a quarry to proceed.

The original PSP was exhibited publicly and approved without the inclusion of a quarry.

At a directions hearing on Friday, February 4, a start date of May 9 was decided for the advisory committee.

The Review understands a date of April 4 was initially proposed, but both Conundrum Holdings and Mitchell Shire Council, which opposes the quarry, argued for an August start date to give them time to assemble appropriate legal teams.

The Review believes May 9 was chosen instead due to the State Government’s desire to finalise the matter before November’s state election.

Mitchell Shire councillor Rob Eldridge said council had been able to secure barristers for the May start date and was determined to make its case to the committee.

“This is one of the most significant and complex planning and development matters before this council,” he said.

“The long-term negative impacts of the quarry and its buffers will stifle development, stifle economic growth and stall the construction of major roads, schools and sport fields for many years. It does not make any economic sense.

“Council will continue to advocate for its current and future residents to ensure that as we continue to grow, we develop healthy, connected and sustainable communities.”

Conundrum Holdings managing director Ron Kerr said the quarry operator was also prepared for a May start date.

“As a servant of the state and our customers for over 40 years, we agree the expedition of the Beveridge North West Precinct Structure Plan … is paramount in supporting the state’s aim for economic reinvigoration, and our aim to offer more local choice and opportunity,” he said.

“We will work with and respect the ministerial advisory committee. With this more than decade-long planning journey, we will again readily adjust our preparations and representation to meet the required process scheduling directives.”

A map showing where the proposed quarry will be located.

Several parties made submissions during the directions hearing.

Wallan Environment Group president Claudia James made two submissions, one on behalf of the group and one as a private citizen.

Ms James raised concerns that two members of the advisory committee – John Hartigan and chair Nick Wimbush – were previously part of a Victorian Planning Authority independent panel that recommended the quarry be included in the Beveridge North West PSP.

“Two of the members on the advisory committee, who were supposed to be independent and who were appointed by the Planning Minister himself … were the very same members who were on the original panel that recommended a quarry could be built in the middle of a dense housing development,” she said.

“I sent an email to the minister’s office the day before [the directions hearing] saying ‘this is ridiculous, what’s going on here?’

“It makes people feel uncomfortable, as though there’s something going on in the background.”

Ms James also questioned whether the quarry’s approval was a foregone conclusion in light of a 2018 ministerial pact between Mr Wynne and former Resources Minister Tim Pallas agreeing to prioritise quarry projects by streamlining the approvals process and preventing development in quarry buffer zones.

Cr Eldridge said council would not act to change the makeup of the panel.

“Council did not pursue any application of apprehended bias. Given that the advisory committee has not yet given its directions on this, it is not appropriate to comment further,” he said.

Planning Panels Victoria, PPV, received about 1000 submissions on the PSP amendment, many through council’s website, which encouraged people to make submissions against the quarry.

However, the Review understands many of the submissions were outside the terms of reference for the ministerial advisory committee, meaning they would not be considered.

Cr Eldridge said council would fight to make sure the submissions were weighed by the committee.

“Council’s view is that all submissions to the recent process will need to be considered by the advisory committee irrespective of what aspect they are considering; that is the amendment or the permit application,” he said.

Mr Kerr said Conundrum Holdings had found public support for a quarry and decried council’s anti-quarry stance.

Council sent out anti-quarry flyers with its recent rates notice to all Mitchell Shire ratepayers.

“We would also like to note the increased proactive personal support and encouragement we have received, and the general community dismay we have felt following yet another ratepayer-funded Mitchell Shire distribution of negative propaganda about our industry,” he said.

“We are humbled and incredibly appreciative of not only our long-term supporters, but also the increasing number of impartial observers who are finding their voice to counter this most recent council-led aggression towards a local family owned and operated business.”

Wally Mott, the owner of the land on which the quarry is proposed, is also the owner of the Review.