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Horsham service station approved for Stawell Road site

By Lauren Henry

After a lengthy debate, Horsham Rural City Council approved a planning application for a service station to be built on the southern outskirts of Horsham.

The development, at Lot 1, 1 Western Highway, Riverside, includes two bowser canopies – one with eight fuel bowsers for cars and the other with six for trucks – a single-storey building with a lounge, toilets, kitchens and seating area, plus 76 car parking spaces and 10 truck parking spaces.

At Monday night’s council meeting, councillors first debated an alternative to the council officer’s recommendation, with Cr Claudia Haenel proposing a motion to reject the development.

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However, debate ensued about the wording of her motion because it did not outline reasons why the council should oppose the service station.

Mayor Robyn Gulline said it was not a valid motion, but Cr Haenel strongly objected,  with Cr Gulline  telling Cr Haenel: ‘Can you just listen to me for a moment please... you need to state the grounds for it to be a valid motion’.

Council chief executive Sunil Bhalla intervened to assist with the wording of the motion.

Cr Ian Ross enquired whether the matter could be deferred, but the council was told it risked being referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT, if the council delayed the matter too long.

If a planning issue is heard before VCAT, it could cost the council between $8000 and $15,000, depending on the length of the hearing.

Cr Haenel said the development was ‘short-sighted’ and did not take into consideration future generations.

“This is development that is not sustainable. It does not take into account people or the environment. No one I’ve spoken to wants to add to the 13 service stations we already have,” she said.

Cr Haenel said she would prefer to see a new service station located at Wail or Dooen – out of Horsham and not on the outskirts.

“The Western Highway with its trucks through Horsham is not safe,” she said.

“Evidence from Coroners reports tells us that, and now with all the objectors trying to access driveways and a proposed gas plant next door, it is an accident waiting to happen, and a risk to our council.”

Cr Haenel said while the officer’s report stated the development would result in ‘acceptable’ planning, the council should be aiming for excellence in planning. 

Cr Bowe said a large-scale petrol station proposed a threat to Horsham’s core values of tranquillity, lifestyle and natural environment.

He also raised the risk to road safety for residents and highway motorists.

“Our community voice has been very clear – 15 objections indicating widespread apprehension towards this development,” he said.

“These are not mere statistics, they are genuine concerns about the increased traffic, potential accidents, and irreversible environmental damage.”

Cr Penny Flynn opposed the motion to deny the planning permit.

“All I’ll say is I’m not a planning expert, but I believe we employ suitably-qualified planners who understand the policies and frameworks of the Horsham Planning Scheme,” she said.

“What is being presented to us is that it fits within this scheme.”

Cr Power said Horsham Regional Livestock Exchange attracted a lot of trucks and having a service station on the southern edge of the city would alleviate some drivers travelling into town for fuel or food.

“We’re trying to keep trucks out of town – this is one way we can,” he said.

Cr Ross said he was torn about the development, and would have liked to have been provided information about what grounds the council could use at VCAT to successfully reject the planning permit.

He said he was concerned about run-off of the chemicals into the surrounding soil, and lack of mature vegetation.

“I believe it is located in an appropriate area for a service station because it is on the edge of town and the edge of industrial areas,” he said.

“Compared to the proposed Dooen Road site, it is far enough away from the neighbours, so it is not a risk to health.

“It captures the traffic coming into town so it saves congestion in town.”

Cr Gulline said the council was asked to apply the law and suitable planning agencies had approved the planning application, with conditions.

“A rigorous assessment by our qualified staff has found no valid grounds for refusal,” she said.

“This is the time when we need to apply the law – not come up with a whole range of opinions or ideologies.”

The alternative motion lost, 2-4, with only Crs Haenel and Bowe supporting the rejection.

Cr Flynn moved the original motion – as per the council officer’s recommendation – with Cr Power the seconder, saying the project would provide jobs in Horsham.

Cr Haenel attempted to interrupt Cr Flynn after she said competition and devaluation of property was not relevant consideration in the assessment of a planning application.

The Mayor had to intervene, asking Cr Haenel to stop on several occasions and telling her to ‘please be quiet’, as Cr Flynn continued to speak to her motion.

Cr Flynn cited service stations on the outskirts of Ballarat, Stawell and Ararat as examples of similar developments.

“Organisations are not going to make investments in the community if they cannot forecast it being worthwhile and it is not for us to judge or comment on what the future may hold for their business,” she said.

Cr Haenel again reiterated her reasons for opposing the development.

“It’s mostly brought in by people who don’t live in Horsham, so I find that really disappointing, that the actual residents who have to deal with these developments are not adequately represented when it’s just a squeaky wheel of a few ‘yay-sayers’ saying this is what we want,” she said.

Councillors voted 4-2 in support to approve the planning permit, with Crs Haenel and Bowe opposing.

The entire March 27, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire March 27, 2024 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!