The Mirror News

Lack of consultation leaves community with towering objections

THE first Chris Richter heard of a proposal to construct a 40 metre monopole at Port Franklin to provide access to fixed wireless high-speed broadband was an article in ‘The Mirror’ towards the end of last year.

The article (‘Poles the price of progress’ in ‘Mirror’ 28/11/2012) reported on a public briefing representatives of Visionstream and Ericsson gave to South Gippsland Shire Council on November 21. A representative of the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co) was unable to attend the briefing, but the other company representatives reported that as many as sixteen locations across South Gippsland had been nominated as suitable for fixed wireless facilities. Each will serve a specific number of premises. NBN Co’s fixed wireless and satellite networks will service communities with low population density, such as much of South Gippsland. As a general rule, communities with more than 1000 premises (such as Leongatha or Foster) will instead be served by fibre optic cable.

Mr Richter waited with interest to hear more, fully expecting to be consulted about the tower proposed for Mattsons Road, Port Franklin, since the site was only a few hundred metres directly south from his house. Visionstream spokesperson Katie Hill was quoted as saying: “We do community drop-ins for sites that have created some angst.”

However, Mr Richter heard nothing until earlier this month when an application for a planning permit for the Mattsons Road site was advertised in the local press (‘Mirror,’ 6/2/2013) and Council sent him notification of this ad, inviting submissions.

Mr Richter chose to view the application at Council offices in Leongatha and it was only then that he found three separate sites had been considered for Port Franklin, but for whatever reason the Mattsons Road site (Site 3) had been selected. Site 1 was the cricket ground on the north-eastern side of Port Franklin, Site 2 private land at 60 Lawrence Road – not far from Site 3.

Mr Richter found Council staff very helpful and took the opportunity to submit in writing his objections to Site 3. As he explained to ‘The Mirror,’ his main objection is that the tower is proposed for a location directly in his line of vision when looking to the coast. Neighbouring properties are also severely impacted.

Mr Richter makes reference in his submission to the South Gippsland Planning Scheme and Municipal Strategic Statement, the terms of which he argues the proposed site contradicts. “The site for the proposed facility falls within an Environmental Significance Overlay within the Shire of South Gippsland,” he writes. One of the objectives is ‘to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the coastal area’. “I fail to see how a 40m high monopole with parabolic and panel antennas can possibly enhance the natural beauty of the coastal area. There is no vegetation on the north side of the proposed site, leaving us with the full view of the whole structure.”

It is Mr Richter’s belief and the belief, he says, of the majority of his neighbours, that Site 2 – Lawrence Road – would be infinitely preferable for an NBN tower.

“The power is already here and the land is higher and better drained. The screening vegetation is the same height, and no residents’ views are impacted,” he pointed out. “It is 300 metres or more to the nearest house, whereas it is more like 200 metres to the closest residence on Site 3.”

Mr Richter said the only explanation given for the choice of the Mattsons Road site over the Lawrence Road site was that the tower could be constructed further from the road and screened better, but he took issue with both these points.

Sites 2 and 3 are both located on private land, neither of which Mr Richter owns (so he would not receive rent). He stressed he has no vested pecuniary interest in the matter. He is merely curious as to why the site that he and his neighbours would infinitely prefer has been rejected.

‘The Mirror’ sought an explanation from NBN Co as to how sites for towers are chosen, but was only supplied with general information: “The fixed wireless service is designed to provide a benchmark level of service to a fixed number of homes or businesses in a defined coverage area. It is not unusual for NBN Co and its consultants to consider several potential sites in any given area before deciding on one which is the most appropriate in terms of the design, engineering and coverage objectives of the site. We understand that views on the rollout of new infrastructure will likely reflect a range of community opinions as people balance the desire for access to new technology with other lifestyle and local amenity considerations.”

Tony Gibbs from NBN Co updated Council last Wednesday on progress of the rollout. He said that parts of South Gippsland could have fixed wireless high-speed broadband as early as the end of this year.

The fixed wireless network will offer speeds up to 25Mbps download at the wholesale level and 5Mbps upload. This is similar to what people in metropolitan areas take for granted – and much faster than anything anyone around here has now.

Mr Gibbs advised that there would be a community information session at Meeniyan next Monday (February 25). It will be run on a drop-in basis between 4.30pm and 7.30pm at the MDU clubrooms. There is no need to make an appointment and anyone is welcome to attend. Chris Richter, for one, plans to be there – and hopefully get some answers.

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