A GRANTVILLE sand mining company does not have to meet the same environmental standards as other land users, the company’s lawyer has told a planning panel hearing.
James Gobbo, QC, was summing up in Dandy Premix Quarry’s application to expand and deepen its current sand pit and to open a new one.
Mr Gobbo said the quarry had been identified as a priority mining site, in an extractive industries area of interest, which meant it was subject to looser constraints than other land users would be.
The company’s application to deepen its current sand pit at Grantville, open a new pit and expand its operating hours drew 73 objections before Planning Minister Richard Wynne called in the application in November at the request of the company.
He sent it to an independent planning panel which concluded a 12-day hearing on Wednesday after submissions by the company, council and objectors. The planning panel is expected to report to Mr Wynne within 40 days and he will make the final decision.
The most contentious aspect of the proposal is the clearing of a 13-hectare stand of bushland that serves as the only wildlife corridor between The Gurdies Conservation Reserve and the Grantville Bushland Reserve.
"There will be circumstances where there will be a loss of some species during the interim situation."
The proposal is counter to the Bass Coast Biolinks Plan, adopted in 2018, but Mr Gobbo pointed out that the plan has no force in law.
“The council correctly notes the document is not a reference document or an incorporated document in the planning scheme … It’s important not to elevate this notion of a biolink to something that’s been enshrined in the planning scheme. It’s aspirational that it be delivered.
Consultant ecologist Aaron Organ, an expert witness called by the company, had earlier conceded that some species could disappear from the area if the biolink was severed.
However, Mr Gobbo said the consequences should not be exaggerated.
“I think it’s over-dramatising the thing to say fauna are going to be killed – they’re all going to die – because of course he [Mr Organ] didn’t say that. He said there will be circumstances where there will be a loss of some species during the interim situation.
“It’s not a perfect outcome, we accept that, but we do so knowing that the identification of this area for extractive industries, the identification of this site as a priority site, allows us to advance the case that the impacts that are permissible in the circumstances are perhaps a little greater than would be the case if you were just any old developer wanting to knock down trees and habitat for a petrol station or a block of flats or a hotel.”
“We would treat the habitat corridor as an existing corridor. It has value that will be compromised to some extent but not destroyed and that can be brought back to a high level of functionality in the medium to long term.”
Mr Gobbo’s summary was so convoluted that at times it was difficult to work out what he was trying to say. He seemed to be simultaneously arguing that no wildlife corridor existed on the site at all, because there were gaps in it, that the wildlife corridor had no protection in the Bass Coast Planning Scheme, and that the company had every right to knock it down should it so desire.
‘Just ignore them!’
In his written summary, Mr Gobbo advised the panel to ignore objectors’ submissions since the objectors were not experts.
“None of the objector parties came forward as experts in scientific or technical matters such as ecology, water or ground water. Notwithstanding, many of their submissions were in truth opinions on such scientific or technical matters. …
“To the extent that objector parties’ submissions conflict with the expert evidence which was tested by Council, the objector parties and the Panel, those submissions should be rejected or given little (if any) weight.”
Save Western Port Woodlands spokesman Tim O’Brien said Mr Gobbo’s comments highlighted how the Victorian Planning Panel process was balanced in favour of the applicant.
“We are fighting an applicant with the resources to produce an army of ‘expert witnesses’ to sing from the applicant’s song sheet, most providing their analysis of the impact of this mine on Grantville locals and the amenity of this coastal community from the distance of Melbourne offices.
“Grantville residents and the many objectors to this application would be rightly shocked by the unfair imbalance inherent in this panel process, and the disadvantage it places local communities and their ability to have fair input into what happens in their local community.”
One of the objectors, Anne Heath Mennell, said: Yes, we all declared that we were not experts, simply community members wanting to be heard on matters of concern. Why would anyone waste time with something not of real concern to them?"
She contacted the panel after Mr Gobbo’s comments and was assured that all submissions would be considered.
“We have to accept we are skinnying down the opportunity for movement on both sides of this pit. But are we preventing or eliminating it? No. The evidence from Mr Organ is that he believes the link will continue to function notwithstanding that it skinnies down. He’s supportive of the proposal and the revegetation.
“We’re talking about rehabilitation and offsets. We’re talking about making a positive contribution going forward. What’s the current situation, and what’s being proposed and how does it stack up?
“I’m sure you understand this is always a balancing act. I’m not for a moment running away from the fact that there are going to be some ecological impacts here. We are seeking to proceed knowing that the impacts are not going to permanently devastate this habitat corridor.”