An Open Letter to Logan Councillors

Dear Councillor,

Those of us living out here in the Harvest Rd/Farm Rd/Begley Rd area of Greenbank who have been lobbying for more than eight years to stop the proliferation of intensive hydroponic greenhouse-style horticulture, respectfully request that Logan Council move as quickly as possible to implement some definitive regulations governing all horticultural activities throughout the shire.

The current status quo is untenable for council, the farmers, and non-farming residents.  The longer this limbo-land of conflicting regulations is allowed to endure, the more likely Logan Council is to eventually find itself the subject of a class action suit brought by outraged residents.  This is not a threat but rather a warning of the likely path this conundrum will take if nothing is done soon.  No such class action is currently brewing as far as I know, but I have heard the idea vetted from some quarters.

Those of us who have kept our fingers on the pulse for the last eight years could be forgiven for growing cynical with the powers that be as councillors come and councillors go and nothing seems to happen.  We have engaged in the conventional legal processes available to us (as we discover them) and lobbied in every quarter – local, state, and federal – to little avail.

Events far beyond our control, like the amalgamations, the Hajnal Black train wreck (she was our representative for a number of years), and recently having to deal with a whole new batch of councillors unfamiliar with the history of this affair, have further delayed forward movement.

Anyone who dips their toes in the water of this ongoing debacle for the first time quickly discovers it is a complex, litigious, emotion-ridden – dare I say – disturbing swamp of intrigue. I completely empathise with anyone forced to address this topic wanting to just avert their gaze and put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. Quite honestly, if I wasn’t personally affected I would probably count myself in those ranks.  Unfortunately, I am personally affected and cannot ignore it and just hope it goes away.

You would have recently received (on August 22nd) an e-mail from me containing an open letter to the CEO of Growcom, Mr Alex Livingstone.  I hope you read the letter. I took this somewhat unorthodox approach for a whole host of reasons.  Some of these reasons are as follows:

1)     I was weary of Mr Livingstone’s arrogant dismissal of our concerns; his dissembling antics in the Jimboomba Times, his continual misrepresentation of our views, and his condescending tone towards anyone who dared to suggest that even one farmer on Planet Earth might not be a perfect angel.

2)     I was tired of trying to air our legitimate concerns regarding an extremely complicated issue via the local paper bound by a 350 word limit and the whims of a young editor.

3)     I was frustrated by some Logan Councillors abetting Mr Livingstone in his careless castigation campaign against us.

4)     Most importantly, I was angered at what I perceived to be a calculated denial by Logan Council and others to even broach or mention the phrases ‘buffer areas’ and ‘spray drift’ as if even uttering these verboten terms would bring a plague upon their houses.

As I said in my open letter to Mr Livingstone, I know that Logan Council has inherited this poison chalice, gifted to them by the indifferent fumbling of Beaudesert Shire Council, and it is now Logan City Council’s onerous task to try to clean up this mess. It is truly a mess. Some very difficult decisions will need to be made that will result in some noses being severely put out of joint and – I suspect – may even result in litigation and protracted negotiations into the future.  Nevertheless, these decisions have to be made as the consequences of inaction far outweigh the problems associated with trying to solve the crisis.

On August 30th, there will be a mediation meeting regarding an appeal against Logan Council’s January 24th, 2012 refusal of the Development Application for a ‘material change of use’ at 51-63 Harvest Rd. Personally, knowing what I know about the back story, I suspect that this appeal was more the brainchild of a local ex-town planner assisting the farmers concerned, rather than the desire of the farmers themselves. This appeal – in my view – has little chance of succeeding.  This ex-town planner knows this, but has chosen to continually throw petrol on the bushfire because there are profits to be derived in ‘assisting’ with the legal process. This unfortunate tangential issue is a classic example of the sort of shenanigans we have had to put up with again and again over the years.

If you haven’t yet begun to apprise yourself of the container ship load of data already generated by this affair, a good place to start might be the refusal/decision notice issued by Logan Council to the aforementioned Development Application on February 2nd, 2012. To save you the trouble of tracking down this document I have attached it to this e-mail.

I draw your attention particularly to item 1(b) iii: (Conflicts with the Specific Outcomes of the ML Corridor Zone Code are) [The DA]  ‘does not provide sufficient buffering between residential uses.’

For us, this is a profoundly seminal and important point.  This is precisely what we have been shouting from the rooftops for eight long years.  As far as I know, this is the first time such a statement has ever emanated from within the hallowed halls of Logan City Council.  Believe me, more than a few champagne corks popped when those of us barracking for ‘buffer areas’ read this simple little statement wedged innocuously into an, otherwise, obscure document relating to a single DA processed by the planning department of Logan City Council.   It seemed to indicate to us that someone within council had finally heard our message.

To reiterate for the umpteenth time:  All we have ever requested is that Logan City Council accept and implement the recommendations regarding buffer areas as proposed in the Planning Guidelines; Separating Agricultural and Residential Land Uses which was designed to provide ‘technical advice and guidance to local governments, developers, consultants and landholders on minimising conflicts between farming activities and residential uses’ which is Policy Principal No. 8 of State Planning Policy 1/92; Development and the Conservation of Agricultural Land.  As you may be aware, these guidelines suggest a minimum buffer area width of 40 metres if the buffer area is heavily vegetated and irrigated, and 300 metres if it is across open country.  You may view the Guidelines for yourself at:

www.derm.qld.gov.au/land/planning/pdf/public/plan_guide.pdf

I believe that these empirically derived and scientifically justified proposals are fundamentally sound and, if implemented, would alleviate 99% of all potentially adverse health effects such as we have seen in our neighbours, their children, their pets and livestock – the ‘sensitive receptors’ so prosaically defined in the Guidelines.

Having said that though, there remain other environmental issues still to be addressed; particularly the placement of some farms too close to and topographically above creeks and waterways.  This is a completely separate issue again and one which I will not pursue here.

If you have managed to make it this far in the letter without your eyes glazing over you probably have a sterling political career ahead of you. As for those of us with smaller ambitions – like simply being able to enjoy our dotage on our beautiful rural residential properties without having our daily lives compromised by industrial farming practices 15 metres from our living rooms – we live in hope that your decisions in the future may soon give us some relief.

Currently my wife and I are focussing our efforts on an internet-based approach.  We are in the process of developing a blog entitled ‘The Greenbank Mozzie’ which is essentially an open forum where all interested parties (including those who believe we are misguided) can explore all the relevant information in one place, have their say, and tell us their own stories. We hope to generate an informed discussion devoid of political spin, hidden agendas, and ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ as Mr Livingstone is fond of saying.  Please visit our site at:

safegreenbanknow.wordpress.com

Feel free to comment at length if you feel so inclined.  I remain,

Respectfully yours,

Kim Downs

26 August, 2012

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