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February 5, 2023

Farmers and families ‘disappointed but not surprised’ by Bentley quarry decision

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Last week the Northern Regional Planning Panel handed down a decision to approve the Bentley Quarry to the dismay of many of the local farmers and families.

Dr Roslyn Irwin, who opposes the project, said the impact of the approval of the Bentley Quarry on the people of Bentley is significant for those who have had the courage and determination to oppose this quarry for the past five years. ‘This mega quarry has now been approved to extract 300,000 tonnes a year for the next 30 years, blasting every month and leaving a hole that is 10 storeys in depth on over 6.5 hectares.’

Devastating consequences

Bentley farmers Rosemary and Ross Joseph said that those of the Bentley community who are opposed to the quarry were not surprised at the decision. ‘Those of us in the Bentley community who are opposed to this huge quarry were not surprised at the decision by the Planning Panel last night. It will have devastating consequences in our valley and the wider region,’ said Mrs Jospeh. ‘It is the end of our quiet rural farming area and the beginning of large-scale industrialisation. 

‘So many fought successfully to save Bentley in 2014 but unfortunately this time the Planning Panel decided our future for us.’

Mrs and Mr Joseph spoke to the panel about their concerns.

Land Use Risk Assessment

Mrs Jospeh said she was troubled to see only a peer review of the Land Use Risk Assessment (LUCRA) had been undertaken rather than an Independent LUCRA as requested by the Panel.

‘Alarmingly, it contains many inaccuracies and misrepresentations. I refer the panel to Page 17 which raises the original LUCRA’s acknowledgement that there is likely to be some conflict due to objections from neighbours. The Review glibly dismisses this by saying that the predicted impacts are a “worst case scenario” and therefore unlikely to occur and, if they do, it would only be for short durations.

‘Both documents consistently assert that the extraction rate is likely to be only about one-third of the maximum and therefore impacts will only be one-third. So, don’t worry everyone – the worst-case scenario is unlikely to occur!

‘We all know that this is a DA for a maximum extraction of 300,000 tonnes per annum – not 100,000 tonnes! The so-called “worst case scenario” must be considered a real possibility – not brushed aside by saying that it “probably won’t happen”.’

Grave concerns

Mr Joseph said he had carefully read the Traffic Management Plan October 2022 and he had grave concerns. ‘Under the Plan, the quarry manager, who is also the owner, is given full responsibility for all environmental controls, monitoring and reporting. 

‘Nowhere is it mentioned that local council will have any oversight in the regulation and compliance of operations of this huge quarry. 

‘Given the well-documented history of non-compliance by this operator, it is difficult to feel confident – it’s rather like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house!’

Mr Jospeh said the manager is also given sole responsibility over the issue of complaints. ‘He will determine if the complaint is justified and whether or not he will investigate it. He will decide on the response and any disciplinary action. Should the allegation concern something illegal then he reserves the right to refer the matter to the relevant authority – why isn’t referral mandatory?

Complaints

‘The manager can provide the full details of the complaint to the person against whom the complaint has been made and ask for a response. We assume that this will include the name and address of the complainant.

‘Given the opposition to this development and the already menacing behaviour by “persons unknown”, who on several occasions trespassed onto private property and vandalised signage opposing the development, many locals feel so intimidated that they would not be game to make a complaint. But there appears to be no other avenue to make a complaint other than through the quarry owner manager – how on earth can the community feel that their concerns will be considered impartially?

‘How can this be in the public interest?’

The risk of injury to school children

Dr Irwin said that the Chair of the Northern Rivers Planning Panel, Penny Holloway, said they were approving the quarry on the basis of being permissible in the zone and public interest. ‘Yet in doing so the Panel clearly accepted that the reports they had requested the proponent to provide after the first meeting were acceptable despite the evidence provided by opponents that they had overlooked many things including the location of a water bore and a house on the property 400 metres from the quarry, the impact on other residents and the risk of injury to school children who travel on the buses that use Bentley Road. 

‘They also ignored the fact that the neighbour whose land will be impacted has already invested $2 million – far more than the less than $1 million investment by the quarry operator – with up to 100 new jobs compared to the two additional staff the quarry operator will provide.’

Nothing else matters

Dr Irwin said the locals were disappointed but not surprised by the decision, as Planning Panels approve 98 per cent of the DAs referred to them. ‘And several examples of their decisions in this region are DAs at Yamba and West Byron, which were rejected by the councils and faced strong opposition. To us it’s now clear that provided an activity is permitted in a zone and can demonstrate some public interest, nothing else matters!

‘I notice the celebration by some in the community at the outcome. I imagine that they will never oppose a development near their property no matter how significant the impact may be on them and their futures. 

‘I can only hope that there will be no loss of life on Bentley Road caused by quarry trucks. If there is, perhaps Penny Holloway and her two other panel members will reflect on their decision and regret not listening to the community.’

 

Updated December 15, 2022:

Upon asking for the Panel’s determination and statement of reasons report, as well as the audio recording of the 7 December 2022 public meeting, a DPE spokesperson replied they ‘are expected to be published on the NSW Planning Portal by the end of the week’.

For more information, visit: https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/planning-panel/bentley-quarry

The Panel members that decided this DA were Chair Penny Holloway, Stephen Gow and Marcia Doheny, according to the DPE.


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