By Colin MacGillivray
ABOUT 40 Wallan community members attended a Mitchell Shire Council community forum opposing a proposed quarry south of the town last week, but quarry operator Conundrum Holdings claims council denied it a chance to state its case at the meeting.
Council officials and other community leaders spoke against the quarry during the meeting at Wallan Multi-Purpose Community Centre, including three local members of Mitchell Shire Youth Council who said they were concerned about the effect a quarry would have on the region’s future.
The quarry was twice knocked back by council before an independent planning panel recommended the Victorian Planning Authority, VPA, added it to the Beveridge North West Precinct Structure Plan, PSP. The Beveridge North West PSP had already been publicly exhibited and approved without the inclusion of a quarry.
Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne called in a subsequent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT, appeal by council against the panel’s decision.
Mr Wynne convened a ministerial advisory committee, which is now hearing evidence for and against the quarry and will make a recommendation to Mr Wynne, who has the final say on whether the project proceeds.
Members of the public who attended Thursday night’s meeting said they felt they had been ignored in the planning process.
Uncle Andrew Gardiner, a Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Elder and former Wallan resident, said the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation opposed the quarry as it would be detrimental to culturally significant sites near Wallan because neither Conundrum Holdings nor the government had engaged traditional owners.
“Fobbing us off at a ministerial advisory council is not good enough,” he said.
“It’s all about how much they can make out of an extraction process, and bugger the rest. How does that affect people’s living circumstances?
“People have moved here because they want to have quality of life, and now they’re going to be challenged about whether they’ve invested wisely.”
Mitchell Shire Youth Mayor Georgia Fletcher said she was concerned the quarry would stunt the growth of her home town of Beveridge.
“Personally I don’t want to see … opportunities taken away for the next 30 years,” she said.
Conundrum Holdings managing director Ron Kerr said the group was denied a chance to present its side of the story at the community forum.
Mr Kerr said council had chosen to ‘create and foster division with their ratepayer-funded partisan approach’ rather than engage in an open dialogue about the quarry.
“We, as the quarry proponents and members of the community, waited patiently for an invitation from council to present key facts to this forum,” he said.
“Instead, we were left to directly contact the council on May 10 seeking to participate. However, this request was ignored – disappointing but consistent with council’s lack of genuine engagement.
“Council’s one-sided campaign is denying jobs and opportunity in our region, while also ignoring our company, our workers, and customers as local ratepayers.
“It disregards a genuine community sentiment seen on commentary on council’s own social media posts.”
Council strategic planning manager Travis Conway acknowledged the appearance of pro-quarry comments on council social media posts, but said they represented a minority of Mitchell Shire residents.
“There is clear community opposition. Yes, on social media there is some commentary, but overwhelmingly the community is against this,” he said.
“At the [Wallan Market] … there was one night where we spoke to 150 or 200 people and there were two people who said they wanted the quarry, and the rest said no. That’s a clear sign of how the community feels.”
Mr Conway said the ministerial advisory committee was now hearing evidence from expert witnesses and that council would present its submission on June 6.
“Based on where we’ve got to, the whole planning system is unbalanced,” he said.
“To date, the government seems to be favouring resource policy, but there are other policies that need to be balanced against that. That has not seen the light of day yet.”
Wally Mott, the owner of the land on which the quarry is proposed, is also the owner of the North Central Review.