RESIDENTS of Yanakie and Port Franklin are a step closer to receiving a high-speed fixed wireless internet service through the National Broadband Network, with South Gippsland Shire Council granting planning permits for two new towers at its April 24 meeting.
Both towers have proved controversial. Council received several submissions from neighbours objecting to the nominated sites; some brought their arguments to Council in public presentations in recent weeks.
The vote was not unanimous for the Yanakie facility. Cr Andrew McEwen argued for locating the pole at the Yanakie recreation reserve (one of three sites originally considered by NBN Co), where the rent would benefit the community. He said that erecting the pole in Shellcott Road contradicted NBN Co’s own guidelines (as set out on the website) that no tower should be within line of sight of a residential building and that NBN would communicate and consult with the community.
Cr Bob Newton said that he had concerns about the possible health implications of NBN towers. He, too, voted against the application, as did Cr Lorraine Brunt. She expressed sympathy for Shellcott Road resident Grant Flather, who in a public presentation earlier that day asked for Council to delay its decision to allow for community consultation to select a more appropriate site.
Mr Flather expressed gratitude to Council’s planning department for taking up his suggestion and getting the applicant to shift the pole 30 metres to the west so that it would not be directly in front of his living room window. However, he went onto say that he still had concerns about the proximity of the pole to his property and he would infinitely prefer it to be somewhere else. He had spoken to other Yanakie residents and believed there was general support for the rec reserve site.
“The message I’m getting from everyone is that they don’t care about the visual impact of the pole on the highway [at the rec reserve site] and would welcome the income – $8000 to $10,000 would make a massive difference.”
Mr Flather, an artist, even offered his services to transform the pole from an eyesore to an attractive work of public art!
Later on Wednesday morning there was a presentation from Matt Evans of Ericsson and Katie Hill of VisionStream, and it was this that appeared to firm the resolve of the majority of councillors to grant the permit applications.
Ms Hill confirmed that NBN Co was willing to shift the Yanakie pole 30 metres to the west in Shellcott Road and this, she said, was a “good outcome”. She explained that rejection of the Yanakie rec reserve site, which was originally one of three sites under consideration, largely came down to optimal coverage. Twenty per cent fewer households would receive good reception from that site – 181 premises as opposed to 217 at the Shellcott Road site.
To Mr Flather’s suggestion of locating the tower at the rec reserve and raising the height, Mr Evans responded that a compromise had already been reached. He cautioned that turning down the permit application at this point would delay the introduction of the NBN to Yanakie and he added that there would be further delays if NBN Co had to negotiate with the owner of the Yanakie rec reserve – the Department of Environment.
Turning to Port Franklin, where locating a 40 metre monopole at Mattsons Road has proved unpopular with some nearby residents, Ms Hill explained that the Mattsons Road site was selected largely on the grounds of the vastly improved coverage it gave compared to the Lawrence Road site – which Chris and Ailsa Richter and their neighbours would prefer. She said that the landowner at Mattsons Road had requested the tower be located 40 metres closer to Mattsons Road so that his land was not impacted so much, and the applicant had no problem with this. However, moving the tower to Lawrence Road would mean it was 200 metres further away from the township of Port Franklin and the signal strength would be all the weaker for the majority of local residents.
Discussing the permit applications at the council meeting that afternoon, Cr Mohya Davies said: “We need to progress the matter. I believe there has been a compromise mediated and I think it’s important we progress it.”
Cr Jim Fawcett agreed, saying: “These are difficult planning decisions because they affect a few people, but the applicant has rights, too. The reality is that the poles need to be near someone’s property. If we reject the application it would just be shifting the problem and delaying it and it would be costlier if the tower went up 10 or 15 metres. At times we have to bite the bullet and make a decision, not defer it. The objectors will still have the right to go to VCAT.”
Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks added: “It would be a lovely idea to have a pole at the rec reserve, but it would have to be higher and possibly of a lattice design and there would probably be more objectors.”
Cr Davies wound up the discussion by saying that locating the Yanakie tower 30 metres further from Mr Flather’s house than initially proposed was “an acceptable compromise”. “Twenty per cent of the community would not benefit if the tower were located at the Yanakie rec reserve. In addition there would be undue delay, and we want a service as soon as possible.”
A majority of councillors – Davies, Fawcett, Kennedy, Hutchinson-Brooks and Harding, then voted in support of the permit application for a 30 metre high monopole for the NBN at Shellcott Road, Yanakie, subject to certain conditions.
Councillors then turned their attention to the Port Franklin application. This time the vote was unanimous. (Cr Newton was absent from the chambers for the vote and Cr Don Hill had left the meeting earlier in the afternoon and missed both votes.)
Council gave approval to the permit application for a 40 metre high monopole at a site in Mattsons Road, Port Franklin.