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Update on solar farm directions hearing

Pile of newspapers wrapped in string.

A directions hearing on a proposed solar farm in Baringhup was held in Castlemaine on Thursday 13 June.

Friday 14 June 2019

Planning Panels Victoria this week held a Directions Hearing in Castlemaine on the proposed solar farm in Baringhup.

The hearing was attended by the applicant, a number of residents who oppose the development, and representatives from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Mount Alexander Shire Council.

During the 90 minute hearing the panel chairman Trevor McCulloch outlined the directions and process for the Panel Hearing, to be held in July. The three-day Panel Hearing will be held on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 July at the Bill Woodfull Reserve at Maldon, and Tuesday 23 July at a venue to be confirmed.

“The panel was able to offer flexibility to move the hearing dates to ensure objectors could attend. This is a good outcome for the community as we were concerned this level of flexibility would not have been possible if the matter was decided through VCAT,” said Council’s Director Infrastructure and Development Phil Josipovic.

There have been eight requests to be heard at the Panel Hearing, including objectors, DEWLP and Council.

Council will raise matters such as the potential loss of productive agricultural land, the visual impact of the proposed development, landscaping requirements and the impact of heavy vehicles on assets such as local roads and bridges.

The panel asked Council to prepare draft permit conditions for the proposal, which will be discussed without prejudice on Day 3 of the Panel Hearing. The draft conditions will assist the panel to understand Council’s concerns, and can highlight issues that would need to be managed if the development is approved by the Minister for Planning.

The planning panel will review the application, hear submissions and expert witness statements, before preparing a report and recommendation to the Minister within 30 business days of the hearing.

The Minister instructed Planning Panels Victoria to run the planning permit application process following Council’s request in March in recognition of the proposal to the Victorian Government’s renewable energy targets, conflicts between state and local planning policies, and to enable a more efficient and accessible planning process.

Council received a planning permit application (PA297/2018) for the use and development of a renewable energy facility (solar and energy storage) in Baringhup in October last year. The proposed development includes about 260,000 solar panels on a 292 hectare site on Baringhup West Road.

Council received 26 objections from local landholders and interested parties, one pro forma objection with about 250 signatures opposing the development, and one submission supporting the development. While the solar farm could contribute to jobs and reduce greenhouse emissions to contribute to Victoria’s energy targets, objectors have raised concerns about the impact of the development on amenity and the environment in Baringhup.

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