Saturday, 30 July 2016

Addressing misconceptions about the approval and appeal process

There is currently a lot of talk on the closed Facebook page group Memories of Gatton about the proposed motocross facility and the opposition to it.  Unfortunately a lot of what is being said is based on misunderstandings or misinformation.

I think it's time to address some of the claims being made.

Only six people are opposing the motocross facility

232 people formally opposed the proposal during the Development Application process.

The advertising of the proposal in late November 2014 led to 232 objecting submissions being lodged with the Lockyer Valley Regional Council by the cut-off date in mid-December.  This was an incredible response, given that because of the way it was advertised the proposal did not begin to be known by more than the immediate neighbours until there were only 10 days of the public notification process remaining.  Had the process gone on longer there would have been many more objecting submissions.

Those objecting submissions will be considered by the Judge of the Planning and Environment Court who will decide whether or not the appeal should be allowed.

Only two supporting submissions were made.

When the developer (technically Drywound Pty Ltd, but it's sole shareholder is Colby Steer) lodged an Appeal in the Planning and Environment Court against the Council's unanimous refusal of the development application, the Lockyer Valley Regional Council was the "Respondent" i.e. they formally opposed the appeal which sought to overturn their decision.

Six members of the community nominated to become "Co-respondents" to the appeal.  That is, they agreed to respond alongside the Council, to oppose the appeal.  In effect, they stand as the representatives of the much larger group of those in the community opposing the motocross facility.

This is a particularly brave stance for ordinary people like retirees, farmers, and small business owners, because in 2012 the LNP State government overturned a long-standing principle that people who stand up for their rights in town planning appeals should only have to pay their own costs.  The LNP changed the law so that there is the potential for co-respondents to be required to pay the costs of the appellant.  Had this not been the case there would likely have been several tens of co-respondents, as in the Bella Creek moto park appeal in the Gympie Regional Council area some years ago, prior to the LNP changes.  By the way, like many motocross proposals these days the Bella Creek proposal did not go ahead.

In addition, a local community group also elected to become a Co-respondent in the appeal.

None of this changes the fact that the main respondent to the appeal is the Council, acting on behalf of the Lockyer Valley community, because they made a decision to refuse the application based on what was in the best interests of the whole community, not just the wishes of a single-interest group.

"The six complainants have hardly spent a dime..."

The six co-respondents have to raise the money to pay their solicitor, barrister, noise expert, koala ecology expert, and town planning expert.  As you would expect, this is an expensive proposition.

Luckily, because there is so much opposition to the proposed motocross facility, the community has been willing to assist with the costs and a large number of people (including the co-respondents) have contributed several tens of thousands of dollars.

As the number of objecting submissions showed, the proposal is opposed by a community, not by six individuals.

The motocross proposal comes from a "locally owned and operated business"

The proposal comes from a company with only one shareholder.

That company is not registered to an address in the Lockyer Valley Regional Council area.

The sole shareholder does not live in the Lockyer Valley Region and does not own any operating business in the area.

Those opposing the motocross proposal are putting a financial burden on the community by way of Council's legal costs

Once someone lodges an appeal, the Council has no option but to oppose an appeal against their properly made decision.

That the Council took nearly six months to assess and evaluate the proposal shows that they did not make their decision in haste or carelessly.  Further, the Council's decision was unanimous.  It wasn't a "near thing" - every Councillor was opposed to the proposal.  Not only that, the Council's planning staff, who submitted their report to the Council meeting where the decision was made, recommended, for a wide variety of reasons, that the development not be approved.

Thus, the situation is this:
  • a record number of objecting submissions were received by the Council; 
  • the Council planning staff recommended for a range of reasons that the development not be approved; and 
  • every Councillor voted to refuse the development application;
 and in the face of this, the developer (Colby Steer) still decided to lodge an appeal!

It's clearly not those opposing the proposal who have been the cause of the Council's expenses in fighting this appeal.

People don't understand why there is opposition to the motocross proposal

Colby Steer has posted the Council's grounds for continuing to oppose the appeal on the Memories of Gatton website.  Admittedly those grounds are framed in difficult to understand town planning terms, but that is because the application was made under the Gatton Planning Scheme which uses the same language.

To get a more digestible version of the reasons you could go to the minutes of the Council meeting where the application was refused and read the staff report which recommended against approval.

You could also have gone into the Council office any time in the nearly six months when the application was under consideration and had a look at the submissions from the 232 people who don't want this development to go ahead.

Or to get a feel for the reality of motocross impacts you could have a look at some of the heartfelt comments of people who have had to live with motocross operations in their area.  There's more here  and here.

A lot of these impacts on people living with motocross activities have to do with noise.  It often isn't until people have to live with motocross noise that they realise that the problem isn't just the loudness.  Check this out for an overview of the health impacts of motocross noise.

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