Wind farm planning in Victoria is in turmoil with a case before Victoria’s planning tribunal revealing explosive telephone calls and emails between a senior government planning official and lawyers for a wind farm developer.
The case involves a request to Planning Minister Matthew Guy to approve plans for a 20-turbine wind farm at Naroghid near Warrnambool and also to extend the time for a previous permit issued for the proposal.
In March last year, senior planning official David Hodge, acting as delegate from Mr Guy, refused the plans for the wind farm.
The applicant, Naroghid Wind Farm Pty Ltd, has now taken Mr Guy to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal seeking a review of the decision and also applying to have it determined unlawful, arguing the decision maker was ”biased towards the applicant”.
The day after the refusal decision was made, William Grinter, a solicitor with Middletons law firm (now K&L Gates) emailed Mr Guy requesting an extension of time for the wind farm permit.
In an affidavit, Mr Grinter said Mr Hodge from the Department of Planning called him the next day and said, ”You do not email the minister directly.”
Mr Hodge then described Mr Grinter as ”incompetent” and as a ”rock star” and said ”you are a f—ing idiot”.
In a later email, Mr Hodge said Mr Grinter’s conduct demonstrated ”a complete lack of understanding of how to achieve ‘outcomes’ for clients” and that ”there is no substance to the service or advice you provide to the clients you represent”.
It is not just the relationship between the department and lawyers for the wind farm applicant under the microscope in the case.
The submission by Naroghid to the tribunal also attacks the Baillieu government’s new planning laws that give residents within two kilometres of a proposed wind farm the power to veto the permit application.
The initial permit for the Naroghid wind farm was issued by the former Labor government in 2006, before the new two-kilometre planning rule was introduced.
The new wind farm planning rules would become relevant should the decision not to extend the time for the wind farm permit be upheld.
It its submission to the tribunal the wind farm applicant said the new planning laws ”allow a single person to prevent a development which (like this one) would result in a net community benefit from going ahead for reasons which are illogical, vexatious or capricious”.
It said: ”It cannot be reasonably argued that it [the new wind farm rule] has been inserted to achieve anything other than a political agenda. It is a provision which is contrary to accepted principles of orderly and proper planning.”
Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said wind farm planning in Victoria was a mess.
”Mr Guy sees himself as a future leader but how will he run the state when he can’t even run a wind farm policy which is in chaos,” he said.
Mr Guy denied the two-kilometre rule was part of a ”political agenda”.
He added, ”The government expects proponents and the department to behave in a courteous and reasonable manner at all stages of the planing process.”
The case continues at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
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