‘The Valley does not need this’

Michelle Slater

Hazelwood North community members were “surprised and disappointed” the Victorian Planning Minister approved Chunxing’s application to build a used lead acid battery recycling plant ahead of an impending VCAT hearing.

More than 50 people turned up to protest the decision outside of the Hazelwood North Primary School on Thursday morning, with some locals renewing their promises to leave the area.

Hazelwood North Action Group spokesman Andy Tegart said he had “no idea” the application was before the Planning Minister Richard Wynne, when it was approved in the new year.

“We respectfully disagree with the Minister, but we were surprised and disappointed by these choices,” Mr Tegart said.

“To have the Minister intervene while this matter is being contested by VCAT seems very strange, given there was opportunity for both sides to have this matter contested.”

It comes as the Minister intervened to approve the application which met the criteria for the state government’s Development Facilitation Program to green light shovel-ready projects.

However, the matter was waiting to be heard at the Victorian Civil Appeals Tribunal in April after it was refused by Latrobe City Council at a special council meeting in September.

It means that the project can go ahead without going to VCAT.

“All along the government asked the community to have trust in the processes, but at the 11th hour these processes were totally over-ridden, including a VCAT hearing at foot,” Mr Tegart said.

The community protested the application with fears the battery recycling plant could expose the local environment to potential lead emissions.

Local business owner Rebecca Whelan said her family was considering pulling her three children out of Hazelwood North Primary School and leaving the area.

“Due to the lead smelter we will probably pick and move because I don’t feel that the health of my children is worth staying here,” Ms Whelan said.

“I’m confused as to why the government would go ahead with this when it’s so close to a primary school and so many kids. The Valley doesn’t need this.”

Angus and Sally Fraser had iced plans to build their dream home on a Mulga Road block while waiting to see if the battery plant would go ahead.

The family was planning to send their tot to the local primary school, but was concerned about the prevailing winds from the plant.

“We now face a facility that could pose more health complications into the future, we are concerned about the outcome of this facility,” Ms Fraser said.

“It does have me concerned. We might be faced with an option of, instead of building that dream home, but now we may build something that’s a bit less of a dream and then look elsewhere.”

Voices of the Valley convenor Wendy Farmer had applied to represent the community at VCAT, but said she was upset the Minister did not make any local consultations before making his decision.

“This is not a shovel-ready project. The community do not want this. There will be a continued fight to ensure this project doesn’t happen,” Ms Farmer said.

“The government thinks this is the end of the matter, they are fooled. This is not the end of the matter, this is the beginning of the matter again.”