We’ll see you in court

THE proponent of a Towrang quarry is taking Council to court over its refusal of the development.

Figtree Reserve Pty Ltd started the action in the NSW Land and Environment Court last October, one-and-a-half years after Council refused the basalt quarry.

The action is in its early stages and it’s understood the appeal’s timeframe is just one subject of technical debate.

The developers wanted to extract 181,900 cubic metres from the basalt pit and 30,000 cubic metres (about 60,000 tonnes) of gravel over its estimated sevenyear life, generating 22 trucks daily.

The site is in Curlewin Lane, off Tiyces Lane, some 15km north of Goulburn.

The plan generated heated controversy and plenty of submissions, with residents arguing it should be treated as designated development and assessed by the Southern Regional Planning Panel, not Council.

The Council refused it on this basis and that there was “insufficient” supporting information to permit a “full and proper assessment”.

At the time, only Crs Geoff Peterson and Nina Dillon voted against in the seven to two vote.

Peter Miller, a former director of Figtree Reserve Trust Pty Ltd and now consultant to that entity, told the Post Council did not give him sufficient opportunity to withdraw and amend the application before its refusal.

“I’m disappointed that at the last minute they raised this issue, which hadn’t been mentioned in the previous two and a half years, and then didn’t give us any opportunity to address it,” Mr Miller said.

However, the question of whether the quarry was designated development and if the site covered more than the two hectare trigger for this assessment, was raised in submissions and planners’ reports. Residents also argued the application did not comply with Council’s development control plan.

Figtree Reserve’s consultant Keith Allen of Laterals Planning had asked on the night whether Council could defer the matter, allowing him to amend the application.

Councillors refused.

Mr Miller said one of the sticking points was whether an access track and shed formed part of the project, taking the total site area over the two hectare trigger for designated development assessment.

Council argued it did. Mr Miller said Council could have easily conditioned this aspect, so it was not part of the “disturbed area.” Alternatively, he could have been given the chance to amend the plan, taking the area below the 2ha threshold.

“That was very disturbing that after two and half years they brought this up when we had been doing everything possible to work with the council and community,” Mr Miller said.

He’s also rejected residents’ and a quarry operator’s claims that the quarry involved blasting, again triggering state assessment.

Mr Miller described the basalt as high quality and so fractious it could be “extracted with a backhoe.”

He told the Post he’d offered Council the chance to adjourn the case and allow the company to lodge a fresh application, thereby saving ratepayers’ money in court. This had not been taken up.

Council’s development control manager Richard Davies said submitting a fresh DA was always open to the company as the project was not prohibited in the zone. But if it was over the 2ha area, it would need the director general’s requirements and state agencies’ requirements up front.

However at this stage the case was going through technical arguments and the merits of Figtree Reserve’s appeal had not been tested, Mr Davies said.

“There has been no decision at this stage,” he told the Post.

“If the applicant is successful with legal debate, the onus will be on them to prove that they have grounds for appeal and it then up to us to decide whether we’ll go on with it.

“But at this stage we’re not aware of any changes to the (planning) rules surrounding designated development.”

A September 2011 report to councillors, when the project was refused, warned that defending a NSW Land and Environment Court appeal would have “significant cost implications.”

Council general manager Chris Berry has previously said $50,000 was the average for such cases.

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