We respond to WEASEL WORDS from Councillor and Council Bureaucrat

The background to this post can be found under previous posts titled ‘Where Does our Local Councillor Stand?’ and ‘Treeclearing and Burnoffs – Bodgying the Paperwork ‘.  In a nutshell, we wrote to Logan City Council some weeks ago complaining about the actions of an independent town planner representing farmers.  We claimed that paperwork submitted have been compliant (barely) with the Sustainable Planning Act, but are quite clearly not in the spirit of it.  We argued that Council’s Planning Dept needs to be more rigorous before accepting paperwork and rubber stamping it.  We received 2 responses, from our Councillor and a City Standards Manager, containing excuses and weasel words, which led us to write back to outline the actions we referred to in more detail.

October 22, 2012
We finally received a response from our Councillor on Friday the 19th.  His response basically said there is no problem because this person is a ‘qualified town planner’ – but our complaint was about the ethical practices of this person in pursuing their desired outcome.  (As an aside, I’d say, well, Jayant Patel was a ‘qualified doctor’ too, but clearly, like this person we are discussing, he was in need of more oversight and ethics training to avert the disaster we saw in Bundaberg a few years ago …)    Our councillor’s esponse indicated he was not really even familiar with the issues surrounding the recent Backwater Road burnoff, despite information about the circumstances of this event being sent to him by three different constituents in our letters of complaint.
But he did say he was ‘trying to help’.  (Go figure – I’d suggest reading information people send might make a good start.)  This ‘trying to help’ took the form of sending my letter on to a Council ‘City Standards Manager’, whose response also arrived on Friday.  Unfortunately we can’t post these letters as they are bound by ‘confidentiality rules’ that could expose us to legal threats.  But I will say that this letter contained a lot of the usual bureaucratic BS we’ve become accustomed to.
I have responded today to both our Councillor and the City Standards Manager, and sent on the entire correspondence to the State Government as, amazing as it may seem, Campbell Newman’s response to our letters on these matters was more informative, transparent, and respectful of us as citizens with genuine concerns than ANY responses we have received from Logan City Council’s bureaucrats or Councillors.  Premier Newman even gave us an update on the progress of Logan City Council’s not-yet-released Planning Scheme, and remarked that some of the problems we’ve experienced could be avoided in future if LCC agrees to amend the scheme to include SPP 1/92.  But whether they will adopt this amendment remains to be seen.
Below is today’s letter to Cr Smith:

Hi Laurie

Respectfully, passing on my letter to some bureaucrat to parrot the same BS we’ve been hearing for years is not particularly helpful.

Not fully reading the material I have forwarded to try to help clarify the issues from the residents’ point of view, and therefore not fully understanding the problem, doesn’t help either. I am disappointed.  Your responses below indicate (particularly in regard to the ‘Burning Off’ issue) that you remain clueless despite our best efforts to keep you informed. 

 Kim and I, XXXX XXXX, XXXX XXXXXX, and the other 50-plus residents who’ve been asking for help with this issue for so long could be forgiven for believing we are fighting a lost cause, with a representative only too willing to believe the lies that have continued to be peddled by those who want to maintain the status quo to make their own lives easier. 

I don’t know if you received a copy of the letter XXXXX XXXXXXXXX (City Standards Manager) sent me on Friday, but I have attached it to this email, along with my reply.

Perhaps you will take the time to read these carefully this time, so you are then able to represent our views – should you choose to.  You will note XXXXX’s ridiculous assertion that the farms in this area are not a ‘commercial activity’.  They sure as hell are not a ‘residential’ one.  We are sick of semantics; we are sick of being patronised, and sick of being sent from one Council lackey to the next with our complaints, with NO real result.   

 I’ve had better, clearer, more honest responses about Logan Council’s intentions with the new Planning Scheme from the Qld Premier than I have received from anyone on Council.   And will therefore be forwarding this email to him also.

Regards

Liz Hall-Downs

(Readers will note that we are carefully removing people’s names from information we post so as to avoid legal threats.  But we consider that persons in public office would expect their actions to be remarked upon in public forums such as this, so have left Cr Smith’s name intact.)

Below is my response to the ‘City Standards Manager’s recent missive. (Again, names have been expunged.  But my responses should make the contents of his letter we are loath to publish pretty clear.) Apologies for the length, but if, Dear Reader, you have come this far, you probably require this level of detail!

City Standard ManagerLogan City Council

Dear Sir,

Thankyou for your email of 18 October.  I appreciate your taking the time to respond, and now I am responding, below, to what you have written – using your headings for ease of reference. 

Burning off

Firstly, yes, I know that the ‘burn off’ at XXX-XXX Backwater Road was not permitted under the conditions of the original tree clearing permit from 2009.  The green waste was to be mulched and removed.  The reason Mr Griffiths and other residents were unhappy with the burnoff occurring was because of Ms XXXXX’s dissembling, and Council’s collusion in this.  The permit was amended to allow burning off because Ms XXXXX claimed mulching was too expensive for the applicant. But the applicant could clearly afford to pay her as his representative, and to pay a ‘donation’ to the fire service, so to my mind this economic argument does not hold up, and the submission appeared to be more about the farmers’ convenience.  Your statement that ‘this activity could be undertaken with minimal impact upon the neighborhood’ was not borne out in reality.  Nearby residents and firies almost came to blows over this burnoff.  And the pile of burning green waste (amongst which were found several tyres) was left to smoulder for three days before a resident called the fire brigade and asked them to extinguish it, as it posed a clear nuisance and fire risk to this neighbourhood.

 Use of a Town Planning Consultant

I have no problem whatsoever with the use of consultants, and I want to stress that I have not ‘adopted a personal position’ over Ms XXXXX.  I have met her only once and have no personal feelings about her one way or the other. Ms XXXXX and others have sought to paint this stoush as ‘personal’ to bolster their own position, but from the residents’ point of view this is simply about protecting our lifestyle and amenity from the impacts we have endured for the past decade as these farms have continued to encroach on us.  I’d also like to add here that just about everyone who submitted objections to the Harvest Rd development expressed dismay that, while we only had Ms XXXX’s Post Office Box and mobile phone number as a contact for the landowners, our names, addresses and signatures were openly posted on Council’s website!  Identity theft, anyone?  I believe these processes are unfair, as they hide the identities of the landowners while discouraging dissent from constituents for fear of backlash.

I have adopted a position based on observing the questionable ethics of her practices, and observing their impacts on my neighbours over several years.  And I and my neighbours have adopted a position of trying to get Council to recognise what is actually happening in this part of Greenbank and to protect the amenity of the residents by being more stringent in its processes. I’m quite certain that what I know is only the tip of a very large iceberg, but here is a sample of the kinds of things that I have observed.

  • Ms XXXXX submitted a DA for the farm on XX-XX Harvest Road in the summer of 2011-2012 to increase the size of their shed.  She was required to show the plans and get written approval from the immediate neighbours.  XXX XXXXX at XX Harvest Rd showed me this paperwork, and it was clear from the drawings that under the guise of this ‘shed application’ she was also seeking approval for a large number of ‘proposed greenhouses’ on the block.  These greenhouses were, in fact, constructed years before, so this development reinforced my belief that the construction was not approved at the time, and now retrospective approval was being sought.  Myself, my husband and another six of our neighbours signed a letter objecting to this sneaky inclusion of the greenhouses, but before we could even submit it, Ms XXXXX informed Mr XXXXthat his written approval was no longer required, that the public could not make submissions on this matter, and that the application had already been approved.  Does the law shift and change this quickly? Or is it that the Planning Dept aids and abets Ms XXXXX in achieving her desired outcomes?  Any thinking person would ask these questions under the circumstances.  I did go ahead and submit this letter anyway to Cr Bradley’s ‘waterways audit committee’ with a cover letter explaining these anomalies and our dismay about them, and asking that the committee please consider the impacts of this farming activity so close to Crewes Creek.  We received no reply.
  • Her Public Notification practices may, as Laurie Smith claims, adhere to the letter of the law, (‘Publish a notice at least once in a newspaper circulating generally in the locality of the land that is subject of the application’) but they clearly are not designed to achieve the purpose of the Act, which is for residents to be informed of proposed developments in their neighbourhood, with adequate time to make submissions.  I have lived here for 12 years and have never once purchased, or in fact, even read, the Beaudesert Times, where she posts her notifications. Nobody here reads news of what’s happening in a town that is a 40 minute drive away in another Shire; we read local publications.  As I said in my previous letter, ‘her public notifications for any DAs in this area are invariably put in the Beaudesert Times, which we do not receive here, in an attempt to appear to comply with the Act, while making sure residents are kept in the dark.  If she REALLY were to comply with public notification, she would take out Public Notices in the Jimboomba Times, which is delivered to every home.’  To not do so is, to my mind, unethical.  For Council to accept this as legal and proper is a betrayal of the residents, who deserve to be properly notified, and treated honestly and transparently, in such matters.
  • The other requirement of the SPA, to ‘Place a notice on the land that is the subject of the application in the way prescribed under the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 (SPR) for all of the notification period’ presented, in the case of XX-XX Harvest Road, another opportunity for Ms XXXXX to attempt to paint her clients as victims of ‘redneck farmer-haters’ by being originally printed on a flimsy piece of cardboard, which fell apart as soon as we had a storm.  I note that Ms XXXXX then presented paperwork to Council claiming the sign had been ‘vandalised’, and the signs were remade and reposted.  I know my neighbours and I can assure you that no one who lives here did any such thing!  The whole southern end of Harvest Road is being worked as farmland by the applicants, so barely anyone but the farmers, their ONE supporter in this street who lives opposite,  and the occasional resident who has to pass by to access homes in Wirrebarra Drive would have even seen this notice.   Just like none of us saw the notices in the newspaper we do not receive here.
  • Submissions in support of the material change of use application for XX-XXHarvest Rd were accepted by council and posted on its website.  It was only the vigilance of Mr David Hogan, of Farm Road, that picked up that the same letter (probably written by Ms XXXXX for her largely non-English-speaking clients) had been submitted 17 times, signed and dated by various people who we believed to be the applicant, his friends, family and employees.  Since when has accepting support submissions for YOUR OWN DA been Council’s practice?  Mr Hogan petitioned Council over these submissions after collecting further evidence of false names, false addresses, and in one case multiple submissions from the same person.  As residents and ratepayers we would argue that it is Council’s job to check and ensure the legality of submissions before accepting them and posting them online, and that, had Mr Hogan not made his petition over this matter, these submissions would  have been allowed to stand alongside legitimate ones from residents.  That residents feel they have to continually keep tabs on what is going on, and continually visit council’s website to check which part of our neighbourhood is at risk of becoming another ‘igloo farm’, is damning evidence of Council’s failure to protect our amenity.  I’d also like to point out that this impost on residents has impacted on many lives, costing time, money, and in at least two cases I know of, marriages.

Moving on from Ms XXXXX I disagree with your statement that ‘The allegation of ‘rubber stamping’ is dispelled by Council’s refusal of the intensive agriculture application over XX-XX Harvest Road’.  On the contrary, I, and my neighbours, believe that the 58-plus objection letters this community submitted in this case finally made it impossible for Council to continue to ignore our concerns.  No doubt the numerous presentations and submissions to the State Government by many in this community, asking them to pressure LCC to adopt the State Planning Guidelines, (in particular SPP 1/92 regarding buffer zones), probably had some impact too. 

So we were very gratified to read the Planning Dept’s report in this case and their acknowledgement (at last!) of the impacts residents have been reporting for years, and we saw this refusal as a sign that our long years of concerted activism had finally borne some fruit.  Up until this point, it seemed farm approvals  were happening thick and fast all around us, and complaints to Council about negative impacts from existing farms were met with the claim that the farms were ‘non assessable’ and therefore nothing could be done about them – despite their lack of compliance with the State guidelines, despite their lack of compliance with earlier existing guidelines for ‘self-assessable’ farms, and despite ‘greenhouse igloos’ being located far too close to homes and water tanks.

Your statement, ‘With regards to the liability of objectors in this action, it is appropriate for the concerned persons to seek the advice of their own legal representative’ is tangential to my statement.  What I was attempting to communicate was that Ms XXXXXdistressed my 80 year old neighbours who live at XX Harvest Rd (and have lived there for many years)  by telling them that they’d ‘better have a lot of money’ if they wanted to object to the proposed development next door to them.  But it is Council who would have to fight any appeal from the applicant and pay any legal costs, not residents. And residents are quite within their rights to lodge objections.   Misinforming and frightening elderly people into silence is simply bullying, and yes, I do object to this in the strongest terms as being unprofessional and unethical.

Rural Residential Uses

I strongly disagree with your corresponding with residents ‘explaining that these farm uses are not commercial or industrial but are rural’.  There’s a big difference between ‘gardening’, or even ‘market gardening’ and these igloo farms.  If you have not yet read the community submissions on XX-XX Harvest Road, I strongly suggest you do so.  The impacts so many residents have complained of are a result of these noisy, dusty, chemical-spraying farms being allowed to set up way too close to homes, in a way that does not comply in any way with the state guidelines. The impacts of this are every bit as bad as living next door to a panel-beating shop, and to claim these igloo farms are ‘not commercial or industrial’ is simply playing semantics.  I can guarantee that if you had to live next door to one of these farms for a few months, your views would be very different.  So please read what the residents have written to Council about these matters.  The Planning Dept’s grounds for refusal also paint a picture of an ‘industrial-style’ activity that is incompatible with residential uses.  These farms are undoubtedly a commercial business, existing purely to make money for the owners, who mostly live elsewhere.  To say this is not a commercial use, but a ‘rural’ use is utter rubbish.

I totally agree that ‘persons on all these blocks have the right to develop their property for (the various uses you describe)’ but would suggest that negatively impacting on your neighbours is not a part of this right.  Where residents are expected to comply with planning requirements regarding greywater, runoff, sewage, etc, the farms have for many years got away with inadequate washing and toilet facilities, clearfelling large swathes of high-value habitat, erecting structures and digging dams without approval, in one notorious case filling in Crewes Creek causing severe flooding to neighbours upstream, and storing dangerous combustible chemicals in sheds where, in hot weather, they present a serious explosion and fire risk. 

My immediate neighbours have had to put up with their house foundations being affected by uncontrolled farm runoff, forcing them to redo their drainage at considerable expense.  Another neighbour had his access road washed out after a ‘dam enlargement’ caused flooding.  Residents have had to put up with farm workers defecating on their fencelines and leaving their waste uncovered; heavy machinery use in the middle of the night; agricultural chemical spraying close to their homes and water supplies; tractors with no lights using public roads to move between farms under cover of night.  I have heard several reports of exploding sheds.  And on several occasions residents have been threatened by these farmers in a fashion serious enough to warrant notifying police (which is another good reason that people were concerned about their personal details being made public as part of the process of objecting.)

Residents’ requests that planning approval should be mandatory to protect our health, safety and amenity has seen us viciously attacked and vilified in local media by the CEO of Growcom, as well as farmers from elsewhere who have believed the misinformation being peddled by those who stand to financially benefit from these farms’ continued operations.  Mr Livingstone from Growcom seemed particularly put out that anyone would even suggest that any farmer on the planet might behave inappropriately, or that any regulation of any kind is required.  His repeated claims that the farms are already ’heavily regulated’ turned out to be complete furphy. Our investigations revealed that a 2 day course in chemical handling every 5 years is the only requirement for the farmers; outside of that they are left to comply or not with any guidelines, with no oversight.  Crs Dalley, Pidgeon and the Mayor have all been quoted in the Jimboomba Times in the past stating that the existing farms won’t be affected by any changes to the planning scheme.  In fact, Crs Pidgeon and Dalley attempted to introduce amendments to make existing farms completely exempt from development approval. 

Bizarrely, our drawing attention to several recent cases of birds dying following spraying by farms – which was readily observable to those of us who witnessed these events – was turned into a media circus, with Cr Pidgeon stirring the pot by accusing the residents of poisoning wildlife, people who don’t live here with little knowledge of the reality of this issue accusing us of ‘attacking farmers’, and various others accusing us of being a ‘radical activist group’.  We regard all of this as ‘spin’ designed to allow the farmers to continue their activities by painting those who object as greenie extremists.  This is completely unfair, and completely untrue.  Noone living here is anti-farmer; some objectors are, in fact, small-scale organic farmers themselves; others are well into their twilight years, having lived here for decades. We just don’t like being treated like we have no rights in the face of this activity you claim is ‘not commercial’ taking over the neighbourhood. 

It’s hardly worth bothering going into the DEHP’s processes in ‘investigating’ the source of the chemicals that killed these birds, beyond saying that they took 6 weeks to come out to conduct soil and water testing, that the farmers removed and replaced their soil in this period, that the DEHP then tested this replaced soil, and on finding ‘no dangerous levels’ of chemicals, vilified the residents in the media, claiming we need ‘educating in the use of garden products’.  A silly and obvious circus indeed, where bullying and coverups took the place of the truth and destroyed any remaining faith we might have had in government agencies to assist us.

Your final statement, ‘I trust this assists your understanding of council’s position with regards to these developments’ is, I’m sorry to say, simply patronising.  As a resident, I understand only too well the long years of lobbying by many local residents, the many years of begging two successive Councils to treat our concerns seriously and stop allowing these farms to take over our neighbourhood, in a fashion that impacts on our lifestyles, amenity and property values.  And they are continuing to try to buy up land here for this purpose – while Council continues to paint these clearly commercial activities as benign and fob off residents’ legitimate concerns.

I have recently received several letters from a Sunnybank Real Estate Agent (interesting, as Ms XXXX’s business address is also located in this area) boasting of his many ‘wealthy Asian business migrant’ clients who are ‘cash buyers’ who would like to buy my property.  Like most people, I would be very suspicious of any ‘cash buyer’, and can only speculate on what these people’s plans would be for my currently pristine and environmentally significant property – but I can guarantee they would be ‘commercial’, and that my large koala habitat trees would not survive such a buyout. Given that we’ve seen some ‘busts’ of these ‘farms’ in this area for activities such as cockfighting and methamphetamine labs, one also wonders about the sources of all these ‘cash buyers’ funds.  Although it’s difficult to know how these farms are connected, there’s little doubt that they are connected, and that what we have seen in this area in the past ten years is a consortium prepared to buy up as much of our rural residential land as possible, not to live on, but to turn into intensive horticulture farms, close to our homes, and in contravention of the State Guidelines which, having been devised in consultation with farmers’ groups, they are well aware of. 

What we are asking for is a workable solution. Clearly it is difficult to force existing farms to comply with a new planning scheme, but some action by Council to lessen the well-documented impacts from the farms located too close to homes would be a big help.  In the case of XX-XX Harvest Rd, the XXXX’s at XX Harvest Road (next door) were promised by their neighbours several years ago that a buffer zone would be planted. But, like all these farmers’ promises, this never eventuated.  Clearly the farms will continue to do nothing to address these impacts unless they are forced to. And I would argue that Council’s not requiring buffer zones to be supplied by farmers creates a risk to public health and safety, and that making this a requirement would help overcome some of the problems associated with the poor placement of these undoubtedly ‘commercial’ farms in the midst of our rural residential neighborhood. 

Recent correspondence received from the Premier’s Office and other Qld Ministers’ offices has been far more helpful and transparent than the obfuscatory bureaucratic justifications you and your colleagues have sent me on this issue, and from these letters we have gleaned that the new Planning Scheme will enforce SPP 1/92.  This is encouraging after so many years of inaction. But it doesn’t help those of us living here in the midst of these farms.  And SPP 1/92 is primarily concerned with urban sprawl encroaching on farmland, when this situation is the opposite – intensive agriculture encroaching on a rural residential neighborhood that has been so since the 1970s.

Mr XXXXX, I await your response.  And I will also be sending a copy of this letter to the Premier’s Office for comment.

Sincerely

Liz Hall-Downs

And here are some intensive agriculture greenhouses (or igloos) that have been erected on previously ‘rural residential’ properties in the Greenbank area. Most of these are between 10 and 30 acres. In the time we have lived in the Harvest/Begley/Farm/Thomson Rds area (12 years), we estimate (roughly) that 100 acres of either forested or selectively cleared land (ie large habitat trees retained) has been transformed into this type of farm. In addition, we have seen several other properties that had previously been cleared and used for housing and small acreage/hobby farm uses also become ‘igloo farms’.

Before, Greenbank was mostly small acreages with, typically, a house, a shed, perhaps some cleared areas for goats or horses, or a track for the kids to ride their bikes, and a vegetable garden or small orchard.  Many properties retained (and still do) native forest on their properties and there is a high takeup of Land for Wildlife conservation agreements. There were also a few small open farms growing tomatoes and parsley, and the operators lived on their properties.  There were some issues, even then, with the use of agricultural chemicals on the open farms – particularly because boom spraying was common – but visually at least, this small area was bucolic, pastoral, and what I would have described as rural residential.

BELOW is what we now see proliferating.  I like to call it ‘Invasion of the Daleks’ ;P   Some representatives of Logan Council have insisted that this is a ‘rural’ use and, furthermore, is not ‘commercial’.

Don’t get us wrong. We have nothing against farming per se – even intensive farming – we support farmers and wish everyone would buy Aussie –  and most farmers we’ve met have been good people. But this type of industry should NOT be allowed to exist on small acreages, so close to neighbouring homes that people’s health and amenity can be affected – in some cases these greenhouses are located only 10-15 metres from people’s living rooms and water sources.

NOW GO TO THE TOP OF THIS PAGE AND CLICK ON THE “BEAUTIFUL GREENBANK” PAGE.  SEE WHY WE ARE RUNNING THIS CAMPAIGN.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s