By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A touted Chain of Parks parkland at a former landfill in Springvale South has been quashed in favour of a controversial 68,000-panel solar farm.
On 3 September, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruled that proponent Clarke Road Solar did not have to provide a public park on the perimeter of the 47-hectare site along Clarke, Spring and Rowan roads.
The portion will instead be fenced off from the public and vegetated to help screen the solar farm from neighbours.
The ‘largest urban solar farm in Australia’ will comprise four-metre high panels on top of a steeply-banked five-metre plateau and landfill cap.
Among the farm’s 162 objectors are residents who say the site was long promised as “proposed core parkland” with footways and bike trails as part of the Chain of Parks policy.
An “absolutely gutted” Spring Road neighbour Belinda Beciric said residents had been betrayed by an “unforgiveable deceit”.
“Justice has been denied to the residents of Springvale South by VCAT.
“I had hoped we would get something after years of promises.
“So now we will have an eyesore that I will need to stare at everyday and I will be unable to use any of the land.”
Ms Beciric said locals were left without any parks with Spring Valley Reserve, also an ex-landfill, being closed for remediation works.
She was considering moving out in response to the VCAT outcome.
“There was no consideration by VCAT on the impact such a decision would have on us, the everyday people who live here.
“I do not wish to live next to a hideous solar panel farm.”
Defenders of the South East Green Wedge spokesperson Matthew Kirwan said the council should “seriously consider” a Supreme Court appeal.
“As well as a very sad decision for local residents, this appalling VCAT decision also sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the Green Wedge and the Chain of Parks by favouring private interest over the public good.”
Greater Dandenong Council acting city planning director Brett Jackson said the council was “disappointed with this outcome”.
“The provision of this open space land was a key element of supporting the solar farm proposal.”
VCAT members Susan Whitney and Gregory Sharpley found the solar farm, with landscaping of the outer slopes, was a sensible, productive use and compatible with Chain of Parks.
Its “relatively benign appearance … should not detract from the open and green feel of this area”.
The farm is expected to supply 39,000 megawatt hours of electricity, enough to power about 10,000 homes a year.
Ms Whitney and Mr Sharpley stated there was no compulsion for Clarke Road Solar to provide the park, footpaths and bike trails “against its will”.
The VCAT members noted that Greater Dandenong rejected the owner’s offer to transfer a portion of land to the council.
The council wished to avoid potential liability for contamination from the ex-landfill, the members stated.
“What the Council is seeking from the Applicant is tantamount to acquisition of part of the Land for public purposes.
“The liability and maintenance of these areas would remain the responsibility of the Applicant, although it derives no benefit from this arrangement.
“We can see no justification for requiring the Applicant to do this against its will.”
The farm was found to be “relatively low impact” with “minimal or no potential” for glint, light spill, vibration or electromagnetic interference.
The members stated caution over the “unknown” location of underground waste so “it is not clear at what depth one will encounter waste at any point on the land”.
But given that the farm would be built on top of the mound, they were satisfied it would not impact on the landfill cap.
VCAT deemed Greater Dandenong’s push for an environmental audit on the landcap risk was “unnecessary”.
The EPA, which raised no objection, imposed controls on the landfill gas extraction system. The EPA was managing the site through PCPAN audits.
The proposal was heard at VCAT after Greater Dandenong Council failed to decide upon the permit in time.
The council argued its delay was due to uncertainty whether the farm was inconsistent with a section 173 agreement on the land’s post-landfill use.
Clarke Road Solar, also known as Progress Solar, was contacted for comment.