By Kirra Grimes

THE OWNERS of a block adjoining the South Gippsland Highway at the northern entrance to Korumburra have challenged a recent decision by the South Gippsland Shire Council’s planning department preventing the installation of an 18 square metre advertising billboard on the site.
The owners have indicated that they may take the matter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) if council doesn’t change its stance and issue the required permit.
Representing KBI Holdings, the Leongatha-based group that owns the land in question, Ash Peters attended a public presentations session at Council’s Leongatha meeting rooms last Wednesday in a bid to convince the planning department to review its decision to refuse the planning permit.
The application was for the development and display an 8.3 metre x 2.2 metre double-sided “major promotion sign” at 15 Sanders Street, a vacant block which abuts the Korumburra Industrial Estate.
Council’s planning department knocked back the proposal on the grounds that it “would not enhance the visual amenity of the area,” and would in fact, “increase visual clutter across the landscape,” and potentially lead to “a proliferation of signage and visual clutter at the Korumburra township entry”.
In appealing the decision last week, Mr Peters himself stayed quiet during the meeting, allowing James Course, the director of the Eltham-based Regional Billboard Company, which wishes to lease the site for the purposes of advertising, to do the talking.
And Mr Course certainly did not mince his words when it came to explaining how he felt his company had been “dealt a hard card,” slamming the South Gippsland Shire’s planning department straight off the bat by calling it the “lowest ranked” out of any planning department his company had ever negotiated with.
“We felt there was prejudice from the start,” Mr Course told the councillors and other shire staff in attendance at the open session.
“We started the application process in September 2018 and basically the message [from the planning department] was ‘we don’t approve billboards’. The answer was just a ‘no’,” he said, calling out specific council employees before being interrupted by Cr Andrew McEwen, who advised it was “inappropriate” to do so.
But Mr Course was firm in his criticisms of the process, going on to say he’d gotten the impression from meetings with planning department officers that he’d “wasted two hours driving down here because they would never approve a billboard”.
“The quote we were told,” Mr Course said, “was that when the application went on advertisement it would ‘go down like a fart in an elevator’”.
“That’s not the sort of thing we expect in a town planning process,” he said, going on to highlight that the application had received “not a single objection” following the “pretty comprehensive” advertisement period, which included notifying 73 residents directly by mail, placing notices in local newspapers including the Sentinel-Times, and erecting a sign at the proposed billboard site for a period of two weeks.
Mr Course said his company and the other interested parties were considering appealing the council’s decision at VCAT, and that he expected the lack of community objections to the proposal to give the case a strong chance of success, but that that was “not the path [they wanted] to take”.
“We can take the decision to VCAT but we don’t want to shove anything down council’s throat,” he said, shifting the focus of the presentation to argue that the proposal would bring substantial economic benefits to Korumburra and to a lesser extent, Leongatha.
Using VicRoads and South Gippsland Shire Council tourism and traffic data, Mr Course argued advertising local businesses on the billboard for the majority of the year would inject $484,209 into Korumburra’s economy.
When questioned by Crs Ray Argento and Andrew McEwen about whether bigger, out of town businesses would be invited to advertise on the billboard, Mr Course replied, “for sure,” and that his company was “very open” to national advertisers.
But he added that a clause in the Regional Billboard Company’s lease with KBI Holdings guaranteed that local businesses would be “prioritised,” and that allowing national advertisers to use the space for “two to three periods out of 13 a year,” would help keep costs at a “bare minimum” for smaller businesses wishing to advertise at other times of the year.
“We’ve come here to show how it’s going to be positive for the economy. We think the economic benefits are very strong. It’s going to get traffic off the highway and into the town centre and local shops,” Mr Course said.
Several councillors raised concerns about the visual impact of the large-scale advertising, with Deputy Mayor Cr Alyson Skinner asking Mr Course whether there would be limitations on what advertisers could display on the billboard.
“There are pretty strict guidelines in terms of loud colours but it’s generally pretty open and up to the discretion of the advertiser,” was his response.
Cr Skinner also made the comment that the lack of objections during the application’s advertisement period was not necessarily a true indication of the community’s feelings towards such signage.
“People won’t object to it until they see it in place,” Cr Skinner said.
No decision was made at the meeting with Mr Course indicating he was willing to take on board Cr Lorraine Brunt’s suggestion to engage in further community consultations, especially with influential groups such as the Korumburra Business Association and Korumburra Roundtable.
“If you want more information on community reaction, we’d get it,” Mr Course said.