Community concerns about chicken poo plant

Chicken power

Chicken power – photo by Maqi

Was the community given a fair deal when Redland City Council approved an 18 months extension for development of the chicken poo power plant at Mt Cotton?

The Council’s handling of this contentious matter leaves many questions unanswered, such as:

  1.  Have local residents been dealt with fairly?
  2. Why did Council not oppose the 2011 extension application during the court case?
  3. Did Council act properly in deciding to grant the latest extension?

 Have local residents been dealt with fairly?

This project was first proposed by Cleveland Power Pty Ltd more than 10 years ago. It resulted in 332 objections out of 333 submissions during the public consultation process. People were concerned about odour, health impacts and environmental issues. Proximity to Mt Cotton State School was of particular concern to many in the community. Regardless, the Council approved the project. Following a resident’s appeal, the Council’s approval was upheld by a court in 2007. The court decided that the development approval would expire in November 2011.

The 2011 application for extension and court case

On the last day of the approved development period Cleveland Power applied for an extension. This application was refused by the Council (led by Mayor Hobson) on the basis of an extensive report  by Council officers.

Cleveland Power appealed the Council’s 2011  refusal decision in the Planning and Environment Court. The Council is reported to have spent $340,000 on legal costs responding to the appeal. But when the matter got to court, in March 2013, the Council (now led by Mayor Williams) offered no arguments against granting the extension. This backflip has never been properly explained to the community. There is no account of it in any publicly available Council records or in the records of this court case: Cleveland Power P/L v Redlands Shire Council (2013) QPEC (Files 5192 of 2011).

The Judge said he put little weight on the Council’s change of mind. But we will never know what might have happened if the Council had advocated strenuously on behalf of the community with the benefit of legal advice obtained by Council, at considerable expense, prior to the court case.

The community deserves a full explanation of why the Council did not advocate against granting the extension during the 2013 court case.

The latest extension

The development approval was extended by the court to 20 March 2015. Again, the project stalled and on the last day of the development period a further extension was sought. At its meeting on 6 May the Council voted to extend the development approval period by 18 months to 20 September 2016.

In considering the application for an extension, councillors were directed by officers to Section 383 of the Sustainable Planning Act which states that in considering a request for an extension, the assessment manager (i.e. Council) must only have regard to:

(a)  the consistency of the approval, including its conditions, with the current laws and policies applying to the development, including, for example, the amount and type of infrastructure contributions, or infrastructure charges payable under an infrastructure charges schedule; and

(b)  the community’s current awareness of the development approval; and

(c)  whether, if the request were refused—

(i) further rights to make a submission may be available for a further development application; and

(ii) the likely extent to which those rights may be exercised; and

(d)  the views of any concurrence agency for the approval given under section 385.

Community awareness of the chicken poo power project

The Officers reported that the legal situation in 2015 was by and large no different to that in 2013.  This, despite reporting that since 2011 there had been more than 400 new lots in the locality. But since the application was lodged in 2004 it is estimated that there are now a further 1,000 new homes in the vicinity and the population has grown by 3,000 people. The normal churn as people move in and out of the locality means further changes to the make up of the community.

The project is located in Division 6 represented by Cr Julie Talty. She reported to the Council meeting that her community was aware of the application to extend the approval as she had written to the local community on the matter. This was disputed by a resident in the public gallery. It seems that Cr Talty did not issue her letter until 4 May which means that many people did not receive it until after the Council meeting. Cr Talty’s letter, with attached copy of the decision from the 2013 Court case, may have perplexed recipients not accustomed to the subtleties of planning law.

During the Council’s recent deliberation it was stated, by Deputy Mayor Alan Beard, that the developer’s community consultation had been “less than satisfactory” and “misleading”. Cr Talty advised other councillors that she had just resigned from the committee liaison committee.

Changing policies

Government policies relevant to planning decisions change from time to time as new information and issues arise.

There is an increasing level of concern about harm to people from airborne particulates, especially very small particles (pm2.5) and dioxins. This is discussed in a 2013 Senate Committee report on Impacts on health of air quality in Australia.

An Australian Medical Association submission to the Senate Inquiry stated:

In terms of potential to harm human health, particulate matter (PM) is one of the most important pollutants as it penetrates into sensitive regions of the respiratory system, contributing to significant acute and chronic health problems and, potentially, premature mortality. Despite a substantial and compelling body of evidence demonstrating the short- and long-term health impacts of particulate matter (PM), Australia standards and regulations relating to particulates lag behind international best practice and reveal significant shortcomings. Existing epidemiologic evidence indicates that there is no lower limit of exposure to particulates below which there is no impact.

In 2012 the Government issued planning guidelines for meat chicken farms. Driven by bio-security concerns(including Avian Flu) these guidelines call for separation of 1,000 metres between new and existing meat chicken farm complexes and 5,000 metres between a meat chicken farm complex and a meat chicken breeder farm. The implications of these guidelines and the issue of Avian Flu is another example of an issue that could be more significant now than when the project was originally proposed in 2004.

Legal costs

The majority group of councillors clucked knowingly about the need to make their decision only having regard to a strict interpretation of Section 383 of the Sustainable Planning Act which defines just four matters that Council must have regard to. Then they proceeded to peck away at the issue of legal costs in the event that they were to refuse a decision and have to defend this decision in court. This discussion was outside the scope of the four matters that they were supposed to have regard to.

Cr Ogilvie proposed that Council obtain expert legal advice about the prospect of making a legally valid decision to refuse an extension. Not much interest from the majority group of councillors.

The bigger picture

To arrive at their position most Councillors put great weight on Section 383  of SPA.  During the debate  there was no reference to broad intend of the Sustainable Planning Act.  But Section 5 of the Act deals with advancing the Act’s purpose which intends that decision-making processes:

(i)  are accountable, coordinated, effective and efficient;

(ii)  take account of short and long-term environmental effects of development at local, regional, State and wider levels, including, for example, the effects of development on climate change; and

(iii)  apply the precautionary principle; and

(iv)  seek to provide for equity between present and future generations….

The time lapse between the lodgement of the application and the recent request for an extension is almost generational. A massive population growth in the locality means that many people could have foisted upon them a heavy industry in the form of a power station.

How long should a development application be allowed to sit “in abeyance” creating uncertainty for the community?

The decision

Finally, the discussion ended and the Officers recommendation to approve an 18 month extension for the development application was approved by a margin of 6 to 5.

Surprisingly, Cr Talty voted against granting the extension. Would this have been the case if her vote was needed to achieve a majority vote for granting the extension?

Where to from here?

The chicken poo power project has development approval that is now valid until 20 September 2016. But does the project have a social licence to operate?

A social licence to operate has to be earned through effective community consultation. This project appears to have treated the community with contempt. If the developer wants to turn community perceptions around then genuine community engagement should be an early priority.


Redlands2030 – 14 May 2015

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7 thoughts on “Community concerns about chicken poo plant

  1. My great fear is the impact of the ammonia that was released into Native Dog Creek which flows right through the middle of Mt Cotton Estate. I have seen so many kids playing in that creek it is on the edge of the park near the playground equipment. I question if Council knew about this breach and whether they informed the residents of Mt Cotton? The chicken processing plant, the chicken abattoir and the proposed chicken manure incinerator are all at the head water of Native Dog Creek what plans are out in place to stop this happening again????

  2. This should Put an end to the Golden Cockerel Biomass plant for ever. Kids lungs at the Mt Cotton School Primary School will suffer.

    Abattoir fined $225K for ammonia release

    Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland·Friday, November 25, 2016
    A Mt Cotton abattoir has been fined $225,000 for releasing ammonia into the environment.
    The company pleaded guilty to charges of causing serious environmental harm, causing material environmental harm, and contravening seven conditions of its environmental authority.
    The sentence was handed down in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 21 November 2016. The Court was told Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) and Logan City Council representatives inspected sites downstream of the site, in Native Dog Creek, from June to October 2014 after reports of fish kills.
    The Court issued the fine and ordered the company to pay (1) the associated legal costs, and (2) $9655 in total to two downstream landholders.
    Testing revealed elevated levels of ammonia, which resulted from an uncapped pipe, two other separate broken pipes, and overland flow caused by over-irrigation.
    A departmental spokesperson said EHP took the protection of the environment seriously.
    “We expect all environmental authority holders to abide by the conditions of their authorities and we will take action if this does not occur,” the spokesperson said.
    No conviction was recorded, so under the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 the department is unable to name the company concerned.
    EHP is a strong environmental regulator which supports sustainable long-term economic development of Queensland. See our website for more about what we do

  3. Frightening stuff indeed! To think that school children some quite young will have to be all day at the school less than the 1000 metres buffer you mentioned! plus the staff for longer hours. But then should they live at Mt Cotton they go home to the same!
    It beggars belief that councillors (not all) turned a blind eye to the very things such as community health they should be looking out for. They had ample reasons to reject this tired old application and drag it into the here and now. Makes one wonder what their motives were?
    Certainly not chasing best practice in the interests of the community!
    Maybe there’s something in this for state and federal members because standards must surely come into this.
    (Oh yes, tell me again….the court approved all this….)

  4. After reading about our concerned councillors thinking of the bank accounts of the Redland City Council I would refer them to do some reading on the various health matters of 8 health society’s in America including American Lung Association, Massechusetts Medical Society, Massechusetts Breast Cancer Society, North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Medical Association, EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, Childrens’ Health Study of Southern California and the American Cancer Society. They all agree there is no known safe limit for emissions of particulates from biomass incineration. Any air pollution affects the growth of lung function during the period of rapid lung development , particularly during the ages of 10-18 years (Gauderman, 2007). Biomass combustion also releases nitrogen oxides, which help create ozone, a highly reactive oxidant gas. In the light of increased population in the vicinity, the technology running into problems in manufacture, lower returns for the electricity to be generated, current egg production contracts under question – questions have to be asked – how viable is this concern? And aren’t the risks to our children too high to put costs before the health of our children?

  5. Mt Cotton Biomass Second Approval.
    The one thing the people of Redlands and Mt Cotton especially should be concerned about are airborne particulates (pm2.5).Dioxins and chemicals from the Biomass burner, diesel particulates from the 100,000 truck movements from Mt Cottons 6 quarries, plus the fine Silica dust (2.5) particulates from the new Barro Superquarry right next door to the biomass plant. The 3 elements combined will have grave health consequences for everyone living close by, especially the 650 school children at the “Mt Cotton Primary School” less and 1kilometer from all these developments. Parents need to know young children will be the first to know if their lungs are affected as their lungs are still growing, if they get Silicosis there is no cure and it can take up to 3 to 10 years for it to appear. You will in future be able to sue these companies and the governments and councils who know that these chemicals can harm human life. Like others I received a letter about the council meeting two days after the meeting was over and council approved the Biomass extension quoting section 383. In 18 months time on their argument section 383 will apply again, to quote Breaker Morant council could have used rule 303 and shot it dead. Biomass burning contributes to global warming and does nothing for the environment, Golden Cockerel would be better off putting in a couple of acres of Solar Panels for half the price of the 20 to 30 million dollars they are spending on system that will fail in the end.

  6. It seems some Councillors put more weight on the hypothetical costs of losing an hypothetical appeal. All because the proponents legal advocate suggested that if the decision was not in their favour they might appeal (as is their right).

    Of course if they won an appeal they would consider seeking costs. And if they did seek costs a judge might award same.

    It seems the hypotheticals, suggestions, mights etc were enough to ward off the majority of Councillors on the mainly on the basis of costs … at least that is what they said …and … this time they won’t have to change their minds.

    It seems that at the very least there is some clarification called for at the next meeting. The people of Mt Cotton deserve an explanation.

  7. Great story, for me the fact that there are 1000 new homes since the community had the opportunity to lodge an objection legally. The last time there was a public meeting regarding the incinerator was in 2011 and in the last 4 years there hasn’t been a peep about this incinerator. The local Councillor was the Community Liaison person for the developer and yet there was no follow up info to the School or the local community. I reflect on the amount of newsletters that Mayor Williams and CrTalty send out talking up their achievements and yet not a word about this noxious industry.
    Also the fact that during the discussion in the Council meeting a week ago the Council officers and some councillors talked about losing the 2013 court case, having cost the ratepayers $340,000 but we now find out that the council officers didn’t defend the refusal of the extension but rolled over and supported the developer, shameful and all that was covered up, no one knew.
    The community group who were so concerned about the health and well being of the Mt Cotton community and prepared to go to court to fight the case were made to pay $2000 court costs to the developer. Terrible state of affairs

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