ACT Labor’s surprise pre-election opposition to the proposed Fyshwick waste processing and recycling facility in Ipswich Street threatens to destroy confidence in the planning system, according to the proponent.
Capital Recycling Solutions partner Adam Perry has demanded a meeting with the Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman but the matter has been referred to the Director-General of the Environment Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate because a development application has been lodged and the ACT has entered the pre-election caretaker period.
Chief Planner Ben Ponton said the DA would now be assessed on its merit by the independent planning and land authority, in accordance with the requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2007, the Regulation and the Territory Plan.
In emails to the government seen by Region Media, Mr Perry says CRS is being stonewalled and the issue has become a political football, with serious financial implications.
He says Recycling and Waste Reduction Minister Chris Steel’s pronouncement on the proposal – after its Environmental Impact Statement had been accepted, paving the way for a DA – sent the wrong message to business and put the independence of the planning system in doubt.
”So what happens is when a proposal is submitted in good faith, within the parameters of the law, and then when an election looms, the politicians threaten to take away the independence of the planning directorate, to politicise it instead,” Mr Perry said.
”This sort of behaviour frightens developers and investors … set aside the merits of the project for a moment, there is a bigger issue here, and that’s confidence in the planning system.
”The government is sending a clear message to industry, to developers: that you might go ahead and put in a DA to build something that complies with all of the rules but then if we don’t like it, if it looks like costing us votes, we are going to reach into the Planning Directorate and pull the plug on you anyway, regardless of the planning laws.”
Mr Perry accused the government of refusing to engage and not following due process, and Labor of pre-empting the DA assessment.
He compared the situation to the associated rail terminal approval, which ended up in a multi-million dollar Supreme Court battle which the proponent won, with costs.
”We have followed the Territory planning process. Our recently submitted DA has been predetermined, before it is even on public display, by politicians on the eve of an election,” Mr Perry said.
”There is plain lack of procedural fairness and utter contempt for due process. This sends a significant warning to anyone wanting to do business in the ACT.”
CRS has taken three years and spent millions of dollars getting to the DA stage and believes its EIS has addressed concerns about traffic and odour, but inner south groups and the Fyshwick Business Association have been unmoved, unleashing a fierce pre-election campaign that drew commitments from the ACT Greens and may have contributed to Labor’s position.
CRS wants to divert Canberra’s household waste from landfill, recover recyclables and rail the rest to the Woodlawn bioreactor.
Truck traffic, stockpiling and odour are among concerns raised, as well as fears waste would be needed from interstate to feed the facility, although Mr Perry has consistently denied this would happen.
It also appears bureaucracy and the government is divided on the proposal, with Transport Canberra and City Services and government waste manager NoWaste raising red flags.
The issue has also morphed into a battle for the future of Fyshwick as an authentic industrial suburb or something lighter, with less social and environmental impact.
Other waste proposals such as the massive Hi-Quality project in Tennant Street and Mr Perry’s Access Recycling fragmentiser to shred end-of-life vehicles and other metals in Lithgow Street may now be in doubt.
The Inner South Canberra Community Council and Fyshwick Business Association want the cumulative impact of waste proposals assessed and a planning review of Fyshwick that reflects what they see as its evolving character.