Solar ‘snub’

The site of the proposed solar farm at Clarke Road, Springvale South.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A VCAT decision has struck a blow for a proposed solar farm on Green Wedge land in Springvale South – despite the 47-hectare site being “promised” for parkland.

More than 160 objectors opposed the 68,000-solar panel project on the former landfill site at 66-88 and 98-100 Clarke Road.

“There hasn’t been community engagement, but above all else, this land was promised to us after so many years of landfill, smells, noise,” resident Barbara Beciric said.

“I feel like we are forgotten.”

The site is part of the Chain of Parks concept plan – a span of open space that runs between the cities of Kingston and Greater Dandenong.

In the meantime, the neighbourhood’s other park has been closed for landfill remediation works for about six months, Ms Beciric says.

“Because this area may not be a high socio-economic area, we have to put up with these things.

“It’s not fair.”

Ms Beciric is worried how the solar farm will manage the risk of bushfire as well as landfill gases from below and the “Dingley side of the previous landfill”.

“Homes are so close to it, there’s a nursing home, a Cambodian community’s temple – I’m worried about the direct impact of it.”

On 16 February, VCAT senior member Philip Martin struck out a ‘section 173’ agreement’s clause ensuring the “after-use” of the land for “recreation purposes”.

The clause stated the after-use should be in accordance with the “Heatherton-Dingley Chain of Parks Concept Plan 1988”.

But Mr Martin said the concept plan was “now missing” and its contents were subject to “a real extent of speculation”.

“While Council might join Cher and Aqua (from the movie Sliding Doors) in wishing that it could ‘Turn back time’, the applicant could rebut by quoting The Rolling Stones that ‘You can’t always get what you want’.”

Mr Martin interpreted that the clause “simply imposes certain remediation obligations on the owner”.

He said Greater Dandenong Council “over-reached” in arguing the site could only be used for recreation purposes for “some indefinite period”.

“There would be a legitimate argument that from the owner’s perspective, this is in practice ‘sterilising’ the long term use of that private land.”

The ruling will be considered as part of a VCAT appeal on the solar farm proposal on 5 May.

The proponent Progress Solar appealed to VCAT after Greater Dandenong Council failed to decide on a permit within the statutory timeframe.

Greater Dandenong Council city planning director Jody Bosman said the council didn’t make a decision because “a decision was first required on the status of the Section 173 agreement to determine if the proposed solar farm complied with this agreement or not”.

The council would decide whether to oppose the solar farm at the VCAT appeal “as soon as possible”.

Defenders of the South East Green Wedge committee member Matthew Kirwan said it was “deeply disappointing” that VCAT ignored the 1988 concept plan earmarking a “significant part” of the site for public recreation.

The outcome potentially “deprived Springvale South residents of an important connecting section of parkland to the broader Kingston chain of parks”.

“I hope the council explores whether there are grounds for challenging this in the Supreme Court.”

The former Greater Dandenong councillor said ignoring the Green Wedge and the Chain of Parks vision “seems the fashion at the moment” – a reference to the recently proposed Suburban Rail Loop railyard in Heatherton.

 The $38 million project is said to be capable of powering 10,000 average homes, according to proponent Progress Solar.

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