A decision to approve a free range piggery at Clarence Valley Council’s ordinary meeting on October 18 was a contentious one in the minds of three councillors.
Councillors Greg Clancy, Andrew Baker and Peter Ellem weren’t convinced that the proposal, at 550 Tullymorgan Road, Lawrence, was properly assessed on environmental grounds.
Following Cr Arthur Lysaught’s motion to approve the development application (DA) as per the council officer’s recommendation – seconded by Cr Richie Williamson – Cr baker foreshadowed a motion to defer the DA “until Council receives an opinion from a legal counsel”, who is an Environmental Planning & Assessment Act expert.
Cr Baker wanted to specifically know if a Section 5A threatened species assessment was required and whether the DA should be classed as ‘designated development’, which would require the applicant to provide an environmental impact statement (EIS).
The rotational piggery, which is spread over five paddocks, will typically accommodate 75 sows, yielding 1,500 piglets per year on average.
Environmental Planning & Assessment (EP&A) Regulations 2000 state, in part, that piggeries that “accommodate more than 200 pigs or 20 breeding sows and are located … within 100 metres of a natural waterbody or wetland” are designated development.
It also states that a piggery with more than 2,000 pigs or 200 breeding sows would be designated development.
Detailed submissions from the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW, which purchased an adjoining property in 2007 “due to its outstanding ecological merits”, and the NSW Environmental Defenders Office contend that the proposal is designated development.
However, the officer’s report to council says that the applicant has altered its proposal so as not to “encroach into 100m of a natural waterbody”.
Arguing in favour of the DA, Cr Lysaught said that he believed the independent consultant’s assessment – Blackwood Ecological Services was engaged by CVC at a cost of $6,000 to assess the site’s ecological values while referencing an existing flora and fauna impact review completed in 2004 by Boambee Forestry Services.
“[The consultant] said a section 5A was not required,” Cr Lysaught said. “If we pay a consultant we should accept what they are telling us; the people [councillors] in this room are not qualified to knock it back.”
Cr Lysaught said that the piggery would provide fulltime employment for five people.
“I put people over frogs,” he said.
Cr Greg Clancy read from the Office of Environment and Heritage’s (OEH) submission, which recommends, among other issues, that the piggery should be assessed “on threatened species, populations, ecological communities, or their habitats, in accordance with a section 5A of the EP&A Act”.
Cr Clancy was not convinced that this recommendation had been met.
“Two site inspections in 2004 and a two-hour drive [by Blackwood Ecological Services] over the site in 2016 hardly constitute detailed field studies,” he said.
“A typical field study in line with NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife) or OHE guidelines would be a three-night or four-day [study].”
“… I have no problem assessing [the DA] once reports have been submitted, but for us to do that without [concurring with] the EP&A Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act, we are putting ourselves in grave danger of a legal case that we will not be able to justify.”
Cr Baker said: “We have an expert consultant employed by CVC and a lawyer at the EDO in the field of the law … I believe when we have competing experts, it’s not up to councillors to say what is the preferred expert opinion; we should go to a senior expert … then we will have made the safest possible decision.”
Cr Peter Ellem concurred with Cr Baker’s argument and wondered why the councillors didn’t go to the site and observe the “full lay of the land”.
Cr Richie Williamson posed a question to himself: “This should be approved today … why? It complies with the EP&A Act.”
He quoted condition 1 from the DA’s conditions of consent, which states it complies.
“If it complies, it complies,” he said.
He said the DA had been assessed by an “outstanding professional [Blackwood Ecological Services]” and that the “conditions of consent are not easy … there is no free kick here”.
“This is an agricultural business … the foundation of the Clarence economy … so it should be approved because it complies; we are in dangerous territory if it is not approved today (it could be a dangerous area anyway),” he said.
Meanwhile, Crs Jim Simmons and Jason Kingsley excused themselves from the August council meeting, at which the matter was deferred, declaring non-significant, non pecuniary interests; however, they participated at the October meeting.
Voting recorded as follows – For: Crs Lysaught, Williamson, Kingsley, Novak, Simmons; Against: Crs Baker, Ellem, Clancy.