Should Redland City Council grant more time for development of the proposed Mt Cotton chicken poo power project?
The original development approval was granted more than seven years ago but it appears that nothing has happened. People living close to the project site remain concerned about potential noise and emissions which could impact on them if the project were to happen.
This issue is on the agenda for the Council’s meeting on Wednesday 6 May. The officers’ report (Item 11.3.3) recommends that the Council grant an 18 months extension, as requested by the project proponent, Cleveland Power Pty Ltd.
UPDATE On 6 May the Council voted to grant an 18 month extension. See more at the end of this article.
- An application to develop a power station fuelled with biomass (chicken litter) was lodged with Council in June 2004
- The Council approved the development application in March 2007 but it was appealed by residents
- The Planning and Environment Court confirmed the approval (for four years) on 7 November 2007
- On 7 November 2011 the developer requested an extension for four years which the Council refused.
- The developer appealed the Council decision and on 20 March 2013 was awarded an extension, to 20 March 2015
- On 20 March 2015 the developer requested a further 18 months extension, which the Council is considering
What is the developer doing?
This project is taking a long time to achieve completion. On two occasions (7 November 2011 and 20 March 2015) an extension to the development approval has been sought on the final day of the period for development. What is the point of stipulating a period for development if it is not going to be enforced? Use it or lose it!
Information on the developer’s website about the project’s progress is incorrect. The latest update (September 2013) optimistically advises that:
At this stage we expect to begin construction in February  and have the plant completed by 2014 with it going on line and supplying power to the grid by early 2015.
The officers’ report to Council includes this advice as to why the project has been unable to achieve completion within the stipulated period:
The applicant states that these Biomass Power Plants are well established in Europe and North America, but that they remain something of a novelty in Australia. That fact has contributed to the difficulties in obtaining funding in Australia to pursue the development approval, and funding has been sought offshore. It has been taking longer than expected to seek the relevant funding, hence this second request for an extension to the relevant period. The applicant states that they executed a funding agreement in February 2014, and access to the funds is now anticipated.
So funding has been arranged for more than 12 months but there is little evidence of the project progressing.
It is not unusual for projects to experience delays but it is good practice for project developers to keep stakeholders well informed about the timing of project work. The lack of information about the progress of this project raises questions about the capability of the project developer and the viability of this project. The Council should require a detailed work schedule from the developer and be satisfied that there is a well justified prospect of project completion before granting any further extensions.
What does the community think?
The community has been opposed to this project. The officers’ report says: “Three hundred and thirty-three (333) submissions were received on the original development application. Three hundred and thirty-two (332) of these submissions were objections to the proposal.”
Since then, many more people now live in and around the area proposed for this development. The officers’ report says that if the developer is required to resubmit his application it is likely that a large number of submissions would be received. Is this a problem?
We have recently seen evidence of how keen the current Council is to listen to people. For instance, at the last Council meeting a change to local laws about riding horses in public places was made after Council received a form submission from just 25 people (presumably horse riders), as discussed in Councillors horse around on local laws.
So why do officers recommend approval of the extension?
In essence, the officers are saying that the proposed project complies with relevant planning rules. In particular, the project is not located in the Redland City urban footprint; or as the officers put it:
The site is located within the Regional Landscape and Rural Production Area in the SEQ Regional Plan 2009-2031. Within this designation, “urban activities” are heavily discouraged and are required to demonstrate locational requirements and overriding need for the development in the public interest.
Interestingly, the proposed Shoreline residential project is also in Redland City’s Regional Landscape and Rural Production Area.
The officers’ report suggests that if the developer had to submit a new application, no new matters would be raised. This is presumptuous. It is over ten years since the original application was submitted. There is every possibility that the project could be usefully reassessed with the benefit of additional knowledge about technology, environmental and health issues. Road traffic issues are more contentious now than when the project was originally put forward.
Other aspects of the project could have changed materially in ten years. For example, there has been a major shift in consumer sentiment towards free range chicken production, accredited to standards such as FREPA and RSPCA. How will this affect the proposed project’s long term access to chicken litter?
The energy market has also experience major changes over the past decade, as have government policies on climate change, carbon emissions and renewable energy.
What should the Council do?
Should the Council tick off the officers’ report and give the Mt Cotton chicken poo power project yet another extension?
Or should Council refuse the application for an extension. This would mean that a new impact assessable development application would have to be submitted if the developer is serious about the project.
Councillors should consider if the developer is at all serious about this project. A serious project developer would be able to provide a detailed and convincing work plan to achieve project completion by the date requested.
Even more importantly, has the developer earned a social licence to operate? The developer has been promoting the project for more than a decade but there is no evidence of community acceptance. If the project had been properly managed, there would be a well documented process of effective community liaison and evidence of community support.
Let your Councillor know what you think. Here are their contact details.
More about chickens?
Redlands2030 – 4 May 2015
Update 10 May 2015
On 6 May Council voted to grant Cleveland Power Pty Ltd an 18 month extension. The vote was 6-5 with councillors Bishop, Boglary, Elliott, Ogilvie and Talty voting against the extension.
During the Council Meeting the issue of poor communication was raised. In his summing up before the vote was taken Cr Beard described the project proponent’s communication with the community as “less than satisfactory” and “misleading”.
Cr Ogilvie proposed that Council obtain external legal advice about the prospects for Council withstanding a threatened legal challenge if council refused the extension. The majority of councillors did not support doing this.
Some question that should be clarified going forwards include:
- Why did Council not put forward any arguments in support of its refusal of an extension during the 2013 court case?
- What steps is Council taking to improve the planning scheme via City Plan 2015 to minimise the risk of residents being distressed by incompatible land use projects