A recent Land and Environment Court ruling on a Tweed Valley quarry’s operations after a neighbour complained about noise, air and water pollution could have serious consequences for rural industries across the state, it was claimed this week.
Tweed Shire Council was told on Tuesday that Sandercocks Quarry on Harrys Road, Boatharbour near Murwillumbah, which had been operating for around 60 years, had closed down at the end of last month as a result of the costly court battle.
Owners Ray and Wendy Sandercock had spent more than $140,000 in legal fees on the court battle with their neighbour Beryl McCallum over her complaints and decided to settle out of court and discontinue quarry operations, rather than continue the legal battle.
An adjoining council-owned quarry and another in Harrys Road owned by the Singh family closed several years ago owing to complaints from the same litigant, council was told.
Council this week received around 600 letters from ratepayers and businesses in the shire supporting the continued operations of the quarry and fearing the consequences for other business of the closure.
Tweed mayor Barry Longland told council the court decision is likely to have wide and ‘grave’ implications for rural industries, not just for the shire but across NSW.
Cr Longland said the court finding over excessive noise may set a precedent with the risk that businesses and farming activities, whether sugar cane or quarries, could be closed down because of noise complaints.
‘The possible consequences could be quite dire because of proximity between many rural industries and residents,’ he said.
Council unanimously backed the mayor’s recommendation to seek urgent talks, involving members of the rural industries, with state primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson to discuss the ramifications of the ruling.
Support from local state MPs and the NSW Local Government and Shires Association is also being sought.
Cr Joan van Lieshout said farming activities could be put at risk because a farmer starting his tractor in the morning could attract noise complaints.
Cr Warren Polglase said the case was ‘in many ways a test case of the right to farm, of the right to quarry’.
Cr Polglase said people buying land next to a quarry that had been operating for 30 years now appeared to have the right to challenge quarry activities.
‘In other states they (rural industries) have their rights and if you buy a property next to them you know their rights, and the issue (noise, air and water pollution) is negated,’ he said.
The Sandercocks said in a statement provided to media that they had been ‘involved in difficult and protracted litigation in both the Land and Environment Court and the NSW Court of Appeal, and thankfully matters have settled, but unfortunately part of the settlement is that we must cease operating the quarry’.
They and many supporters packed the public gallery on Tuesday to hear debate on the issue, which included a failed move by Cr Phil Youngblutt for council to compulsorily acquire land around the quarry to create a buffer zone.
Council last month backed the move by Cr Youngblutt for staff to report back on the issue of compulsory acquisition of land.
However, staff said that because council could not ‘accord a public purpose for the acquisition, there is no justification to acquire the land by compulsory process, and any application to the minister will fail’.
‘If council intends to purchase the land, it must negotiate a private treaty agreement with the property owner,’ staff said.
Earthworks operator Neil Baker told Echonetdaily that local MPs Thomas George and Geoff Provest had offered ‘very little support’ for the plight of the rural industries.
Mr Baker said the case also had wide ramifications for small businesses, especially as the quarry operators had not been pursued by state authorities but by an individual.
‘This means one person could use state law to shut down any business,’ he said.
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