Proposed chicken farm cracks council
GOLDEN Plains Shire councillors were left with egg on their face after an attempt to deny a planning permit for a broiler chicken farm twelve kilometres north of Shelford never received an official decision.
At council’s most recent meeting on 24 August, a lengthy debate about the multi-million-dollar development resulted in mayor Cr Helena Kirby and Crs Brett Cunningham, Ian Getsom and Gavin Gamble voting against the proposed recommendation that the farm be approved.
Meeting procedure required the proponent receive an official decision in the form of a motion either approving or rejecting the application.
However, none of the three councillors who were against the project and could have initiated an alternative did so and the issue went unresolved.
Along with Crs Les Rowe and Clayton Whitfield, Cr Owen Sharkey supported the original motion, and subsequently attempted to get a resolution on the application during the meeting.
“We have to make a decision here tonight,” he said. “We haven’t made a decision… we’ve just refused that recommendation.
“Obviously the councillors that have voted against this will have an alternative recommendation.”
However, Cr Kirby sought to progress from the issue without a resolution.
“It’s already been moved,” she said in response to Cr Sharkey. “So we can’t go back into that.”
A few days later Cr Kirby acknowledged there had been a procedural issue with the decision and that one of the councillors who voted against the recommendation should have put forward an alternative.
As chair, she was unable to move a different motion but was responsible for adhering to set protocols and rules during the meeting.
“At the time I probably wasn’t thinking along those lines,” she said. “After the vote I conferred with the CEO [Eric Braslis] but it was too late because it had already been put to the vote with no alternative recommendation.
“Those three are very new councillors, it’s been put to them that even if they have an inkling of something they want to change on the night, always have an alternative available.
“I don’t think it’s a bad look. It’s something that’s come up in the councillor group and something we need to work a little bit harder on.
“We have done a fair bit of training this year, especially for a lot of the new councillors, so that they understand the process.”
In the days following the meeting, a group calling itself the Shelford Environment and Amenity Alliance, which was set up on Facebook on 23 August, issued a press release claiming, “Council executives… failed to produce an alternative recommendation which would have enabled the council to make a ‘determination’.”
The group also championed a letter published in a Geelong daily newspaper that claimed Shire CEO Mr Braslis should have also provided an alternative motion for councillors to consider, or should call an unscheduled meeting of council to re-examine the issue.
Cr Kirby rejected those calls and was clear about the CEO’s role in council meeting procedure.
“The CEO can’t [do that],” she said. “It’s not the CEO’s responsibility… It is up to the councillor group.”
A statement issued by Golden Plain Shire was just as emphatic about Mr Braslis’ role in council meetings.
“Under the Local Government Act 2020, any councillor may propose an amendment to a motion or put forward an alternate motion at a council meeting,” a spokesperson said.
“The chief executive officer does not have the authority to propose an amendment to a motion or put forward an alternate motion or recommendation during a council meeting.
“Rule 12.3.2 (unscheduled meetings) of council’s governance rules provides that the mayor or three councillors may, by written notice, call an urgent and special unscheduled meeting of council, not the CEO.”
During last week’s regular meeting, the Shire’s infrastructure and development director Phil Josipovic said the property at 1115 Shelford-Mount Mercer Road, where the development is planned is currently used for grazing and cropping.
“The application proposes the use and development of the land for a broiler farm with the capacity of 400,000 birds,” he said.
“The proposal consists of eight chicken sheds and includes a machinery and staff amenities building, 12 feed silos, four LPG tanks, eight water tanks, access road construction, and a new dam.
“The application fully complies with the Victorian code for broiler farms. It’s considered to be appropriate as it will facilitate the establishment of an important productive agricultural industry in a matter that is consistent with orderly and proper planning.”
To further confuse matters, after failing to make a formal decision on the broiler farm itself, councillors subsequently approved a separate planning application for ancillary buildings on the same site tied to the project.
-WITH EDWINA WILLIAMS