An independent reviewer has criticised Transgrid's community consultation methods surrounding its bid to build a major transmission line through the area.
The company will now "reset" its engagement with landowners along the proposed Maragle to Bannaby transmission line route.
It's welcome news to Upper Lachlan Shire Council mayor John Stafford, who said consultation to date had been "very poor."
"It's incredibly important we understand where the lines are going but at the moment we are none the wiser than the landowners," he said
"...I'm extremely pleased we've got to this stage but (consultation) has been poor to date. It's frustrating when people ask us what's going on and we don't know."
Transgrid wants to construct HumeLink, a 630km 500-kilovolt transmission line to better harness renewable energy sources and the Snowy II scheme, and to increase the amount of energy available to NSW and the ACT.
But landowners along a draft route, including many around Bannister, near Crookwell, have deeply criticised the company's consultation methods. One, Russell Erwin, claimed Transgrid was "riding roughshod" over property owners and giving scant information.
Four action groups have also formed along the proposed route, including Resist Humelink in this area.
The criticism triggered Transgrid's appointment of former NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe. Mr Stowe undertook an independent review of the company's community engagement plan, looking at it from a landowner's perspective.
The two-month review, completed in June, found that consultation had not met "best practice," was not open and transparent and did not include all appropriate people in the process, Mr Stowe's report stated. Further, landowners did not feel they had been treated with respect or that they had been heard, and engagement methods were not always "appropriate, up to date and user friendly."
Mr Stowe told The Post that Transgrid had not supplied the same information about the route and the process to everyone and there was a need for "one source of truth" on the company's website. In addition, landowners had supplied information about their properties, but didn't feel this had been considered or updated on the website.
In the same vein, they didn't feel suggestions about alternative routes to avoid property impacts had been taken on board.
Mr Stowe also cited instances of five company representatives speaking to one property holder and said the latter felt "intimidated" by this.
"It's important people feel their voice has been heard but up until now that hasn't been the case," he said.
"But I think if they (Transgrid) pick up on my recommendations, we will see progress."
Transgrid has pledged to implement all 20 recommendations, including the establishment of community consultative committees.
They also include:
- "Reset" landowner and community consultation via a meeting with all potentially affected parties to examine the route, explain its feasibility and why some areas were excluded. Experts should also be available to discuss technical aspects;
- Hold information sessions with each regional group along the corridor at the start of each new consultation phase;
- Review the list of landholders Transgrid is consulting with to ensure everyone is included;
- Transgrid to provide training for consultation staff and review their suitability;
- Consideration of a newsletter to update communities on consultation.
Mr Stowe said in some areas Transgrid "lacked the "experience and expertise" to be conducting the consultation but this wasn't necessarily the case for all its projects.
He met with four Bannister landowners in Goulburn.
"People were not happy about the prospect of the (electricity) easement coming through their land, potentially impacting property values," he said.
"For some at Bannister, the time and effort they'd put into revegetating their properties was a major issue and the prospect of that being removed was quite devastating."
Mr Erwin, who has lived at Bannister since 1982, previously told The Post he had planted hundreds of trees on his holding. He described residents as being "collateral roadkill" in the state's bigger energy picture.
Mr Stowe also recommended that Transgrid better explain why it believed this technology was the most suitable and the reasons why it couldn't go underground. Further, it should broaden its consultation to include business groups, councils and indirectly affected people.
He said the company had given him strong support during the review.
"I'm really pleased all the recommendations have been accepted," he said.
"Having completed the report, I won't just leave it and walk away but monitor its implementation and work with Transgrid to hold them to account."
The company's acting CEO Brian Salter said he'd heard the message that people weren't satisfied.
"...We take their concerns seriously," he said in a statement.
"The Landowner Advocate's report provides the path forward for a genuine re-set of our processes and we will continue to listen and work respectfully, effectively and transparently with communities as we plan major transmission projects."
People will be able to nominate for membership of community consultative committees in the next month. An independent chairperson will select members.
A company spokesman said a narrowed study corridor for the line would be published on the HumeLink website later in the year.
Cr Stafford said Transgrid had contacted the council since the Stowe report's release and the parties would meet.
The council also met with Hume MP Angus Taylor who put them in contact with the national wind farm and transmission line commissioner, Andrew Dyer. As a result, the council will disseminate more information to people about their rights, Cr Stafford said.
- For more information, visit www.transgrid.com.au/humelink
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