HOW many broiler farms is too many?
Going by what happened in the South Gippsland Shire Council Chambers last week – one broiler farm is one too many.
But it’s a general question that the South Gippsland Shire Council is now being pressured to consider after a battle royal erupted over an application to establish an intensive, 400,000 chicken production operation at Wooreen.
Because it seems that the “largest integrated poultry producer across Australia and New Zealand”, Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd, has its eyes firmly fixed on these green rolling hills.
Speaking at a briefing session, prior to the meeting last Wednesday afternoon, when council voted 6:3 to refuse the application for the broiler farm and a related subdivision at 80 Pitt Road, Wooreen, the applicants revealed something of Ingham’s intentions for South Gippsland.
Jack Kraan, a specialist broiler farm planning consultant for the applicant Chris Freney, told council that his client had 30 years’ experience owning and operating similar ventures, mostly in Queensland, and he had been “invited by Ingham’s to set up farms in this area”.
Not “a farm” but “farms”.
Priced out of areas such as the Mornington Peninsula, Ingham’s is looking for new areas in which to establish and with grown chickens to be transported back to its plant at Sommerville for processing, economies of scale dictate that several chicken growing operations in the same area are better than one.
In fact, there’s already one large-scale chicken growing concern supplying Ingham’s from Stony Creek. The one at Wooreen would have been the second.
And it’s not as if Ingham’s haven’t received strategic encouragement, as one of their supporters on council, Cr Meg Edwards, revealed after the meeting.
She said a report prepared for Bass Coast and South Gippsland councils by Essential Economics entitled ‘Southern Gippsland Food Futures Economic Analysis’ in June last year had specifically identified “intensive meat production, especially small-scale intensive activities such as broiler farms, pigs, deer etc” as key future opportunities for the region’s food sector, recommending a diversification away from dairy.
“I don’t know what the status of that report is now, whether council adopted it or not, but it’s on the books as being something we want to encourage,” Cr Edwards said.
The good folk of Wooreen certainly don’t agree.
During the meeting, while debate was still running hot in front of a packed gallery of objectors, sitting forward on their seats, Cr Edwards revealed the council had actually eaten chicken for lunch.
But they ate the applicants, Chicken Farms Australia Pty Ltd, for afters.
Well, six of the councillors did with Crs McEwen, Kiel, Skinner, Argento, Rich and Hill bowing to the views of the objectors and refusing to grant a permit, while Crs Brown, Brunt and Edwards voted in favour.
They gave the following grounds of refusal: 1. Unreasonable loss of amenity, including dust, odour and noise effecting existing sensitive uses in the locality, due to local topography and climate. 2. Increase in the volume of large vehicle (truck) traffic and the adverse impact on road safety.
The decision was greeted with cheers and applause from the public gallery.
The applicants, represented by Mr Kraan and Mr Freney filed out of the chamber with the elated objectors, indicating that the proposal wasn’t yet dead.
Asked if they would be challenging the decision at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Mr Kraan said the applicant would be “considering his options”.
During recent information sessions about the Wooreen project, however, Mr Kraan regularly pointed out that few such developments had been rejected by VCAT so it seems a likely course of action.
Earlier in the day, some of the 159 objectors had taken a further opportunity, following similar statements the previous Wednesday, to again state their case.
The operator of Black Duck Farm BnB Tom Daffy raised concerns about the narrow access road which he alleged would be made “scary” by a large increase in B-double trucks supplying feed and taking away adult chickens. His partner Deborah Brown said an applicant for a similar project outside Noosa was required to carry out 12 months monitoring and modelling prevailing conditions in the area.
Former councillor David Lewis also weighed in against the broiler farm application:
“We know with certainty that Broiler Farms adversely effect the amenity of nearby residences. We know this because of the buffer distances and other measures that are specified in the State Government Broiler Code. We also know that odour; a most significant amenity effect of Broiler Farms, doesn’t stop just because a buffer distance has been reached,” he said.
He went on to acknowledge many of the issues raised by other objectors but he also addressed the prospect that more boiler farms would follow:
“Overall it seems that population and land value issue are progressively pushing broiler farms out of areas closer to Melbourne and into nearby shires such as South Gippsland.
“The sourcing of chickens from broiler farms is highly centralised, and is organised by a very small number of large chicken meat processors. Shires that are seen to be supportive of broiler farm developments are likely to be noted and receive a lot more applications. Unfortunately the population density in South Gippsland is already too high for broiler farms to be acceptable by residents anywhere. It would be more appropriate if broiler farms gravitated to the flat, low population broadacre regions available in large areas elsewhere in Victoria.”
He went on to say that the low number of jobs created (2.5 positions on-farm) didn’t justify council chasing this sort of development.
In short he advocates a change of direction by the shire on broiler farms in general, whether located in allegedly unsustainable terrain at Wooreen or elsewhere.
The councillors who voted against the proposal were of a similar mind.
“The problem for me is that while it conforms with the regulations I do have concerns about its impact on individuals and also its impact on the shire as a whole,” said Cr Alyson Skinner.
She went on to address many of the issues raised including the likely impact on “such a narrow, winding road”, the odour and visual amenity among other things.
Cr Skinner also said that the fact it created few jobs was also a drawback.
“If there are enough broiler farms in the future, there may be manufacturing (processing) in this area in the future but that’s well into the future.”
Those who voted against had similar views.
Cr Edwards said she feared that by allowing the application to go to VCAT it would end up with fewer protective conditions than those proposed by the shire’s planning department which had recommended support.
She claimed a vote against indicated South Gippsland wasn’t open for business.
The Mayor Cr Ray Argento, himself a former resident of Wooreen summed up.
He said he was well aware of the particular issues relating to the Wooreen valley and would be voting against.
But he said council had to give the whole subject further thought.
He said the challenge was for council to do more work and come up with locations in the shire that were more suitable to broiler farms than the undulating to hilly land at Wooreen.
He suggested the council might be able to help the applicant by identifying better locations – good luck with that, Cr Argento.