By Emma Prior
The residents of the outskirts of Yarrawonga located in the estate affectionally nicknamed Chicken Hill have a battle on their hands after Moira Shire Council approved a permit to build a 39-metre-high telecommunications tower approximately 200 metres from their homes.
The tower which will be built by Optus in 2018 has residents concerned about safety and the devaluation of their properties with many questioning why a proposal of an area approximately 300 metres further from the approved site wasn’t considered.
At the ordinary meeting of council on November 22 a planning permit application for a telecommunications facility at 5765 Benalla-Yarrawonga Road was put forward for recommendation despite more than 46 objections from locals living in the vicinity of the proposed tower.
Cr Peter Lawless spoke first to council where he said despite concerns around health issues from members of the community he could not see a reason to vote against the proposal.
“This might seem pretty straightforward, but there have been a few concerns with health issues of the towers, but I on balance can’t see anything that would persuade me against this proposal,” Cr Lawless said.
Cr Lawless’ notion received a reaction from the gallery with a member commneting, “you don’t live there with your kid’s mate.”
Cr Kevin Bourke spoke next as he looked at the benefits of the tower and said he had witnessed firsthand the trouble with communication connections and believed this tower would help to solve the problem.
“We do very much rely on it in emergency times, I at the west end of the Shire seem to be forever in trouble with communications and carry firsthand knowledge of its inconsistency.
“I think any improvement, when it comes to the safety, both personal safety and environmental, communication is the utmost and I endorse this.”
A unanimous pass of motion was delivered with members of the gallery muttering their displeasure of the decision before question time was allowed.
Paul Weaver who resides in James Lillis Drive Yarrawonga, approximately 200 metres from the proposed site questioned council’s decision.
“Why does it have to be that it can’t be moved the 400-500 metres we have been told is a safe distance away from radiation,” Mr Weaver asked.
“Why can’t you see the reasoning to just ask to move it 400-500 metres from the proposed area?
“Before you jump the gun and make this conclusion that it’s ok to go ahead please consider what we’ve been told and what this could mean for the residents living in close proximity to the tower.”
In reply Moira Shire Chief Executive Officer Mark Henderson said that council is not in the position to, in considering the planning application, to tell an applicant to move their proposal somewhere else.
“The council must legally consider the proposal on its merit and that’s what the council has done tonight,” Mr Henderson said.
Mr Weaver then asked council if they had sought professional judgments on medical safety that could potentially come out of the tower being so close to homes.
“What sort of medical enquires were made or professional opinions were sought before you came up with this conclusion,” asked Mr Weaver.
“Was there any and have you got proof of anyone who might have spoken to you in regard to radiation etc.”
Part way through CEO Henderson’s reply members of the gallery walked out in disgust.
Karrina Downing who resides in Huntingdale Drive Yarrawonga spoke calmly as she asked why council had approved the plan when vast numbers of locals were against the proposal and other alternative locations had been proposed.
“I know that there were four proposed sites, two on the same land owner’s property with another site taken into consideration but it was not approved. Why was it passed when so many locals disapproved it?” asked Ms Downing.
CEO Henderson answered that council saw nothing wrong with the application and had no reason to turn it back.
He also advised that those who were in attendance to the council meeting and are residents to the area could take the matter to VCAT within a 28-day period to appeal the decision made by council.
Speaking to the Yarrawonga Chronicle afterwards Mr Weaver reiterated concerns about the applicant Optus Telecommunications not willing to come to a compromise on a slightly different location.
Mr Weaver said he believed there was no point going to VCAT but would have liked to see Optus rethink the location of the tower.
“There’s so much open area on that land, surely there’s another location for that tower further away from the residences,” Mr Weaver said.
“We’re not against the tower, we just want it shifted.”
Sunset Court resident Olivia Walls echoed the concerns of Ms Downing and Mr Weaver as she said she could not understand why council did not push for an alternate location that was proposed, north of the location that was finally applied for.
“I believe the cost was more for Optus but it would have been a better result for nearby residents,” Ms Walls said.
Four years ago the Walls family built their dream home in Sunset Court and now with a new born baby they are concerned about not only their health but any possible related devaluation of their property as a result of the mobile tower being erected in the permitted location approximately 200 metres from their home.
“We are not against the tower either but would like to see it moved to a more appropriate location,” Ms Walls said.
“If there is a decent case against this we will go to VCAT.
“I will exhaust all avenues to have this changed.”
Residents are currently in discussions on what step to take next in their quest to see the proposed Optus tower built in an altered location.