BASS Coast Shire councillors have dumped plans for a joy flight tourism business near Inverloch, bowing to the wishes of 21 objections, in a slim majority decision where Deputy Mayor Cr Brett Tessari waited until the 11th hour to make up his mind.
He voted against the proposal, on land at 5610 Bass Highway, Inverloch which would have provided a welcome boost for tourism in Inverloch, allowing flights to and from Wilsons Promontory, along the Bunurong Coast and towards Phillip Island.
Council officers recommended council approve the planning permit because despite 22 submissions, including one in favour, officers concluded it worked in with the Bass Coast Planning Scheme.
The joy flights, operating from just one aeroplane, would allow tourists to see the coastline, from the Island to the Prom, with minimal environmental impact.
However complainants, who claimed to have community backing, cited concerns around noise, impact on wildlife, property devaluation, misuse of farming land and potential for the aeroplane to fly over an objector’s house and swimming pool.
But in regard to noise, the Environment Protection Authority didn’t raise any concerns because it was a “low key” proposal.
Council officers also noted no native vegetation would be affected by the development. Planes already take off from the air strip for crop dusting.
At Wednesday night’s ordinary meeting, Cr Julian Brown instigated the alternative motion to reject the planning application, going against council officers’ recommendation.
Cr Clare Le Serve also foreshadowed an alternative but it never got up, because Cr Julian Brown’s amendment was voted in favour of, 5-4.
Cr Brown said the applicant Michael Malone of Inverloch had been trying to keep council officers and councillors up to date with his plans and vision for the site.
“I think everyone who lives around that farm also supports the use of flying for agricultural purposes,” Cr Brown said.
He noted from Bass Coast Planning Scheme that it was “pretty clear” the idea was to have operations that are closely associated to agriculture.
“The spraying absolutely does, but I’m not sure a joy flight operation really supports that agricultural aspect.
“There are quite a few people living around this location and when they bought their property, they did so perpetually.
“It is a very quiet area, I’m sure none of them thought that there was going to be a joy flight operation in that location, when they bought.”
He wasn’t as concerned about how loud the aeroplane would be, but said it could be constant throughout the day.
“If you get a good day in summer or spring, it’s possible you might have five flights a day, that’s five take-offs and five landings.”
The joy flights would’ve been open for business seven days a week, between 8am and 5pm.
Cr Les Larke looked at it as a little bit of tourism vs. community sentiment.
“I will always err on the basis of community sentiment and I haven’t heard strong arguments from the community that this should go ahead,” he said.
“From a safety perspective, I have concerns about aircraft coming across the Bass Highway.”
But the apparent community pressure got to the councillors, with Deputy Mayor Cr Brett Tessari still unsure of which way he was going to vote minutes before councillors were asked to decide.
“This one is one that has completely split me down the middle,” he said, adding that he’s been on joy flights.
Cr Tessari was for the original motion to approve it, but with tight restrictions.
Inverloch resident Ross Smith presented at a Community Connection Session the week prior and said it was “nonsense” that the noise from the road was greater than the noise of an aircraft taking off.
“I was delighted when Ross Smith set his questions forward saying that ‘If we were to OK it, to put tight strains on it,’ ” Cr Tessari said.
Cr Michael Whelan didn’t seem to have made up his mind either on the night of the council decision.
“We look at the large game-changer projects, but it’s really these small projects that provide the spice,” he said.
“I am seeking guidance from the local councillors in this regard.
“I will try and sit on the fence like Cr Tessari, no I won’t, I will form a view.”
Cr Bruce Kent spoke against the issue, and said Mr Malone doesn’t need a permit for planes to fly in, providing it’s not for a commercial reason.
“It’s only when we start talking about tourism that he has to get the permit,” Cr Kent said.
“For farming situations, he can have a crop duster, come down there, re-fuel and so forth.”
Cr Kent said a lot of the decibel readings for the planes were in the 60s and 70s, comparing it to a Harley Davidson driving past in the mid-90s.
“He’s made it quite clear that he wants to fly straight out to the water and then do his sight-seeing.
“People don’t want to see sight-seeing as a cow in the paddock, they want to see our coastline.
“I just think he is a small person getting a business up and going, and we should support him.”
Cr Clare Le Serve and Cr Stephen Fullarton spoke against the motion to reject the planning permit.
Cr Julian Brown closed the discussion and said, “Tourism is going to go ahead in Bass Coast whether this particular proposal ends up or not and generally I’m in favour of new additions to tourism.
“But I think one of the big issues with this is that it does affect nearby residents and more so than some other tourism operations and I find it hard to get around that.”
Voting in favour to reject the planning application was Cr Larke, Cr Whelan, Cr Tessari, Mayor Cr Pamela Rothfield and Cr Brown, while the rest of the councillors voted against it.
Following the decision, Mr Malone declined to comment, but was disappointed by council’s decision.
He has worked as a pilot with the Starlight Foundation, donating time to take kids up in the sky.
It’s understood the airstrip has also been used by the CFA to drop water bombs for fires, alongside agricultural use.
The family-run tourism business would have had one aeroplane for one runway, and two staff, a pilot, and a receptionist in the waiting room.
There were concerns by objectors about future development on the site, but any further upgrade of the tourism business would’ve needed another permit.
It’s understood the proposed route for the aeroplane was a north-south direction, and wouldn’t fly over any homes.
Objections relating to property devaluation were set aside by council as VCAT has ruled on numerous occasions that devaluation of land is not a planning consideration.