The state government has sensationally rejected the forced sale of the Carter family farm in Marong.
Bendigo council voted to progress the compulsory acquisition of land west of the city for an industrial park at a fiery meeting in April, leaving members of the Carter family visibly dejected in the public gallery.
The decision was forwarded onto planning minister Richard Wynne for approval, however on Tuesday he rejected the plan to purchase 311 hectares of land owned by the family.
Minister Wynne said: “The proposed land acquisition by the council was well intentioned but ignored the strongly held views of the land owners and was not justified in the circumstances.”
“In the absence of any agreement between the parties, the rejection of compulsory acquisition is the right outcome here.
“The Victorian Planning Authority will now work with the council at looking at alternative sites or a major business park elsewhere and the jobs this will create for Bendigo.”
Minister Wynne said community views were also considered in the decision and developing a major business park remained a priority project for the Greater Bendigo region.
He added that an independent Planning Panel in 2016 did not support the application of the Public Acquisition Overlay on the Carters’ land and recommended it be deleted from the original planning amendment.
He said the original panel concluded there was insufficient justification to apply the overlay, and that continued farming would not prejudice the future use of the land, should it be required for a business park in the future, which was not accepted by the council in their deliberations.
Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said the minister’s decision was “extremely disappointing”, adding the council would assess its other options.
“This decision will have a significant impact on our thriving advanced local manufacturing sector and will no doubt be disappointing for the Bendigo Manufacturing Group, for which this project has been a priority for 16 years,” she said.
“The lack of suitable industrial land remains a serious and pressing issue for Greater Bendigo; without it, we risk losing not just future but existing jobs for our growing population.
“This project was a priority for the Loddon Campaspe Group of Councils as they also recognised the economic and employment benefits of a business park in our region.”
Cr O’Rourke said the council had considered other potential sites over a prolonged period of time, some of which might no longer be on the table.
“Council will need to consider from here other advocacy roles it will take,” she said.
“Other sites were rigorously reviewed and assessed for suitability for a business park and none were as strategically located as the Marong site.
“Council made a generous offer to the landowners based on its current zoning which increased the land value significantly. Compulsory acquisition was not council’s preferred option, but one we believed was necessary given the importance of the project.”
Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said: “This has been a very difficult decision, however the minister for planning has followed due process and sought expert advice in making his decision to not publicly acquire this land.”
“I’ll continue to work with the council on boosting jobs and ensuring Bendigo remains a great place to live – all the while bringing the community along with us.”
The family had been anxiously awaiting the decision which had been delayed by the state government.
Late last month, Max Carter said the wait was “fairly stressful on everybody concerned in the family”.
The state government last year gave the green light to a proposed business park at Marong by rezoning more than 300 hectares of land along the Calder Highway – enabling the council to press ahead with acquisition plans – but have since back tracked.
Minister Wynne said in August 2017: “This project is a top priority for Bendigo, and rightly so. It will create jobs, jobs and more jobs, and that’s just what thriving regional centres need.”
The plight of the Carters has galvanised the city, with a hundred supporters attending the April council meeting, while a petition to minister Wynne urging him to reject the forced sale gained close to 12,000 signatures.
Members of the Carter family travelled to Parliament House in May to hand deliver a ‘plea’ letter to minister Wynne, asking him to reconsider the council’s plan.
Tamrie Carter made a statement on behalf of the family on the steps of parliament.
“The council thinks that by offering compensation we would be happy, despite my father telling them from day one we are not for sale,’’ she read.
“How can a family that produces your food and battles the elements that Mother Nature throws at us farmers over the decades be treated like this?”
The minister’s decision was considered a last resort for a family that has farmed the land for more than 100 years, with lawyers suggesting there were no legal avenues of appeal.
The family have been locked in a 16-year dispute with the City of Greater Bendigo, who wanted to purchased their land to build the Marong Business Park.
In March, the COGB approached the family with a purchase offer, which was flatly rejected.
Tamrie Carter said at the time: “Putting money in front of us is not going to change our opinion.”
“We’re not going to sell at the drop of a hat.
“Hopefully we'll just continue farming for as long as we wish to, which hopefully is going to be for generations to come.”
The COGB maintained they had considered seven other sites for the industrial park, but the land in Marong was deemed most “strategically placed”.
City of Greater Bendigo chief executive officer Craig Niemann in April said the council had sent two letters to the Carters seeking conciliation and received a clear response rejecting their advances.
“It has been a long journey. The leadership role of the council is to provide for future growth. We would have liked to have negotiated this through,” he said.
Bendigo council estimates the business park will create 3500 jobs and Mr Niemann said it was incumbent on the council to improve job opportunities for an increasing population.
Planning panel rules in favour of the Carters
The family thought they had secured a crucial victory in their struggle with the COGB in March 2016 after an independent panel found there was insufficient justification for the council to compulsorily acquire properties in Marong to build a planned industrial park.
Planning Panels Victoria supported the council’s application to rezone the land, but ruled that an “uncooperative landowner and a project’s feasibility” were insufficient justification for applying a public acquisition overlay when other options were available.
The previous council then ignored the panel’s consideration, voting in favour of the rezoning of the land for a business park in June 2016, which was approved by the state government in August 2017.