THE LEONGATHA Motorcycle Club is not giving up the fight to host racing events in bushland at Leongatha South.
Club representatives appeared before the South Gippsland Shire Council last week to argue that proposed events would not unduly affect neighbouring residents, and that therefore there were no grounds for the refusal of a planning permit.
The council’s Development Services Directorate has recommended that council issue a notice of refusal for Leongatha Motorcycle Club president Darrell Van Den Borne’s October 2017 application to use privately owned zoned farming land on Merricks Track and Koonwarra-Inverloch Road for two racing events: a two day competitive motorcycle event, as part of the Yamaha Victorian Off-Road Championship Series, as well as a separate ‘club day’.
The directorate based its recommendation to refuse the application on the grounds his proposal was “inconsistent with key State Planning Policy Framework (SPPF) provisions relating to noise abatement and applications achieving net community benefit” and that the proposed racing events would “result in unreasonable amenity impacts on nearby dwellings by way of noise…”
But at a Public Presentation Session last Wednesday, Leongatha Motorcycle Club (LMC) members Burgan Gardiner and David Fleming were determined to convince the council otherwise, arguing that noise produced by motor cycles at the proposed events would be at a low enough level not to disturb neighbouring residents.
To back up this claim, Mr Fleming, LMC’s vice-president, cited acoustic reports prepared by two different firms (Watson, Moss, Growcott Acoustics; and JTA Health, Safety and Noise Specialists) on behalf of the motorcycle club as well as a group of local residents who’ve been campaigning against the club’s proposal.
Pointing to the maximum predicted noise levels in each acoustic report, Mr Fleming said both firms’ findings were well within the maximum acceptable level of noise emissions for day time circuit racing events, according to a 1992 Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) discussion paper.
Mr Fleming said the EPA had viewed both acoustic reports and had made no objection to the club’s proposal.
He said the predicted maximum decibel levels during the racing events would have the same impact on neighbouring residents as the level of noise from “a quiet suburb during the day, a conversation at home, [or] background music”.
Responding to the directorate’s delegation report, which stated that the acoustic report proffered by the LMC was “not considered to adequately assess the potential amenity impacts on nearby sensitive receivers”, Mr Fleming questioned why council’s planning department had failed to follow the EPA’s advice to contact the club and club-commissioned acoustics consultant to request further information and clarification.
Mr Fleming also argued that the EPA guidelines council planning officers were using in making their assessment of acceptable noise levels were not relevant to sporting events.
He highlighted a section of the EPA’s Noise from Industry in Regional Victoria (NIRV) guidelines which appeared to support this claim, with noise from sporting events included in a list of “types of noise… not assessed by these guidelines”.
The EPA’s State Environment Protection Policy (Control of Noise from Industry, Commerce and Trade), also cited in the delegation report, contains a similar statement excluding sporting events from its scope.
Following the motorcycle club’s presentation, Cr Ray Argento asked whether the vegetation at the proposed event site would reduce noise travel. Mr Fleming responded that it likely would and added that riders would be using very narrow tracks through the bush during the events, meaning they would “very rarely” be using full throttle.
Mr Fleming said the flat landscape at the event site would also help keep noise levels down, as “going up hills makes more noise”.
Cr Alyson Skinner asked if the club had investigated any other suitable locations for the proposed events, and whether it was necessary that these events be held in bushland.
Mr Fleming said the ‘off-road’ nature of the events meant that a bushland setting was necessary, and that suitable blocks of land were “very hard to come by”.
He acknowledged there was a site at Hedley suitable for off-road riding, but said this site was already being used for other events and that the LMC did not want to see the same site hosting events “10 times a year” as that would “destroy the ground” and “annoy the neighbours”.
At the conclusion of the session, the LMC presented a petition containing around 400 signatures in support of Mr Van Den Borne’s planning permit application. This petition was accepted by Cr Alyson Skinner.
The outcome of the planning permit application will be decided at the next ordinary council meeting (Wednesday, July 25, from 2pm), after a presentation from the CEO of Motorcycling Victoria.
But the LMC says the fight won’t stop there.
“I don’t think it’s going to matter which way the [councillors’] vote goes,” Mr Fleming told the Sentinel-Times after last week’s presentation. “If it goes against us, we’ll take it to VCAT. If it goes against them [the objectors], they’ll probably take it to VCAT.”
Mr Fleming was “very confident” the club would get what it wanted, and possibly even more, if the matter were to proceed to VCAT, given that the tribunal had recently granted approval for a ‘ride park’ at Stony Creek to operate 250 days a year, after council had refused the related planning permit proposal.
“I’m very confident we’ll get it through for two weekends if it goes to VCAT,” Mr Fleming said. “It’s just going to take more money and more time, which is unfortunate.”
“Noise is the only issue,” he said. “And the noise reports were referred to the EPA and they didn’t object. So, I don’t know why the planning department didn’t listen.
“If it goes to VCAT, they’ll rubber stamp it very quickly. And they might even allow us to operate on more days than just the two weekends we’re asking for.”
Paul Norton, uncle of Stuart Norton who owns the Leongatha South land at the centre of the dispute, attended the public presentation session to show his support for the motorcycle club’s proposal.
“The land’s been in the Norton family for 60 years. What’s the use of it just sitting there, not being used?” Paul said.