By Danika Dent

WHILE South Gippsland Mayor Jeanette Harding has come out swinging against French multinational Veolia’s proposal to turn the Leongatha South quarry into a dump for south east Melbourne’s waste, officers have said it’s too early to get riled up.
“I’m looking in nine-10 years, it will leech through, it will contaminate the water,” Cr Harding said.
“I now we’re selfish when we say ‘not in my backyard’ but I’m afraid we’re going to keep saying not in my back yard.
“I’m going to support the community very strongly about this.
“We’ve spent a lot of money organising our own waste [new cells and operations at Koonwarra tip,], I think Melbourne can take care of its own.”
However, officers have warned ‘it’s all hypothetical’ at the moment.
“We’re not anywhere near approvals,” council CEO Tim Tamlin said.
“We wouldn’t expect to see an application for at least three months.”
“Most likely longer,” director Development Services Bryan Sword said.
“All it’s been so far is a proposal, presented to the community.
“We look forward to having an informed discussion with the community.
“If and when a planning application is received with all the details, that would provide the information required to have an informed discussion.
“At the moment all we’ve got is a one-page proposal.”
Mr Sword said council didn’t even get a copy of the letter that was provided to residents.

No application, no decision

Mr Tamlin said as there was no application put to council, a council vote on the land use was at least a year off.
Even so, he did indicate the final decision may not even rest with council.
“The planning process is, if it’s left to council to decide, and council makes a decision, regardless whether it’s for or against the proposal, any person can take it to VCAT.
“We’re just a step along the process.
“The EPA has a big role to play in this as well.
“If the EPA don’t give them a licence, that’s the end of it.
“That’s why we need to see the detailed application.”
Mr Tamlin said if the State Government considered the project of state significance, the decision could revert to the planning minister.
But since there was much unknown about the proposal, Mr Sword said council was trying to ‘steer away from speculation until the details are received’.
“We are looking forward to having a transparent, informed conversation with the community and until we have the information before us to do that, that will be the point in time to have community meetings.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the proposal in its application form with all the detail that’s needed.
“… since there’s no application, [community meetings are] not the best use of resources or peoples’ efforts.”

What’s the process?

Mr Sword said there were a ‘number of stages’ the Veolia proposal would need to go through before it is even voted on by council, assuming that the council will actually have a decision to make.
The proposal could be judged a project of state significance, and taken out of council’s hands, with the decision to be made by the planning minister – as was the case with the Wonthaggi desalination plant.
• If a planning permit application is received, it will be considered by council at a future council meeting. Mr Sword predicted the earliest council could make a decision on the proposal would be “middle of next year”.
• The planning permit application will be assessed in accordance with the Planning and Environment Act (1987) and under the provisions of the South Gippsland Planning Scheme. Council’s role will be to approve or refuse the land use of the former quarry.
• The proposal will be referred to other agencies, including VicRoads, EPA and West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. EPA issues licences for operating landfills and transfer stations.
• The proposal would require approval of the Environment Protection Authority. EPA, as the relevant authority, would deal with the day to day operations of the facility and compliance with relevant legislation.
• The planning application will be advertised, and during this phase, the community can review the proposal and make a public submission (in writing).
• Mr Sword said community information sessions will be held in the future, following lodgement of an application. But while no application has yet been received, the council is waiting for Veolia to meet with planners in order to put in an application.
“We anticipate they will look to speak with us [before the formal application is sent].
“… Given they have released the proposal in a public forum, we’ve encouraged [Veolia] to put in an application sooner, rather than later.
“Rather than drag the community through this… which could go on for two or three years.
“But as the proponent, they ultimately decide, when, if and how they’ll put an application in.”