Howlong residents have received an early Christmas present after news that Cleanaway’s approved development application to build a compost facility within the Howlong tip will be surrendered.
The news broke late on Friday with many residents taking to Howlong’s community Facebook page to express their relief that the $8.5 million facility would not be built on the edge of town.
Former Federation Council Administrator Mike Eden and former General Manager Chris Gillard supported the development but Howlong residents put up a fight and, with the return of elected councillors in September, the support was reversed.
It is unclear what legal costs may be imposed on Federation Council after reversing its support for the development application, however the decision to surrender means the Howlong Community Committee (HCC) avoid doing battle with Cleanaway in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
HCC chairman Stuart Sizer told the Free Press that the right outcome had been achieved after a 15-month fight.
“The reality is that the whole process should have been reviewed and researched more thoroughly from day one by people in authority,” he said.
“The community needed to be consulted and listened to but we were instead ignored.
“We said from the start that the community was not against composting but we were against a facility that was proposed for a site a mere 650 meters from the nearest home and only 1500 meters to the Howlong’s residential areas.
“You will recall that in October 2016 the community rallied against the proposal and out of that the
HCC was formed with the sole purpose being to stop the facility being built.”
Mr Sizer said despite meetings between the HCC and the then Council Administrator and former General Manager requesting that they not lease the land to Cleanaway and hold over any decision until the election of a new council, the DA application was allowed to go ahead unchallenged.
“It’s annoying that a decision could be made and supported by, for instance, a general manager in conjunction with Cleanaway and taken to a state before they had actually consulted with the community,” he said.
“It’s just frustrating that those things happen and the community didn’t know about it early enough to make a stance.”
Mr Sizer said that with a new council elected in September 2017 common sense finally prevailed with the passing of two separate motions, with the second being that council “would not lease land in Howlong for the purpose of a compost facility”.
The HCC, Federation Council and Cleanaway have signed all legal documentation related to the Surrender of the DA and all actions in the Land and Environment Court.
Mr Sizer said the financial cost to the Howlong community had been tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the right outcome.
“The outcome was probably because of Federation Council’s change of stance but we feel that that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t have done what we had done, if there wasn’t a hostile community fighting for it then council may not have done what they did,” he said.
“The other side of it is that our fight made it very difficult for Cleanaway anyway because the conditions placed on the whole project were very vigorous and really to the extent that the operations of it were going to be a lot less efficient and time consuming regulations and extra costs had already been put in place, so there’s a whole range of things as to why they probably backed down.”
Mr Sizer said after news got around that Cleanaway had surrendered there were many residents rejoicing.
“There were a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” he said.
“On behalf of the HCC we want to thank the Howlong community.
“The strength of working together has helped this community achieve what it set out to do. And, it has united us as a strong community.
“To the HCC, I as current Chair, thank you for the tireless hours that you and others including the late Ken Walton have put in to achieve this outcome.
“To the newly elected Federation Council, the Howlong community thanks you for your level headed and timely decisions regarding this matter.”
Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke confirmed to the Free Press that council had accepted the voluntary surrender of the Howlong Compost Facility development consent.
“This is a great result for the Howlong community who have made it very clear, right from the onset that they did not support the location of the proposed facility,” he said.
“Federation Council will be looking to work with other councils involved in the long-term waste management contract for the region, as well as Cleanaway to come up with a sustainable waste management solution moving forward.
“Council will be seeking to collaborate with other councils to ensure we can support the regions waste management needs and that the solution best suits our growing communities well into the future.”
Cleanaway provided the Free Press with a statement on the decision to surrender its development application.
“We invested considerably in the development of our application, undertaking a rigorous review process with important environment, planning and community issues tested at length,” the statement said.
“We were disappointed that the Federation Council changed its position to not grant a lease on the property.
“We have subsequently surrendered our development approval and are currently considering our options, but are looking forward to resolving outstanding issues with Federation Council.”