BARINGHUP residents spoke against a proposed solar farm for the area at an independent hearing in the small town on Tuesday.
The proposed development is estimated to be worth $192 million and was submitted to Mount Alexander Shire Council in October last year.
It would include the installation of 260,000 solar panels on a 292 hectare site in Baringhup West Road.
An independent hearing run by Planning Panels Victoria was held over three days. Two days were held in Maldon last week and the final day held in Baringhup on Tuesday.
Last week Mount Alexander Shire raised matters relating to the potential loss of productive agricultural land, the visual impact of the proposed development, landscaping requirements and the impact of heavy vehicles on local roads and bridges.
On Tuesday, residents raised concerns including the loss of agricultural land, inadequate public notice and high fire risks regarding the proposal.
Among the residents who spoke against the proposed development yesterday were fourth generation farmer Shane Baker and his 10-year-old daughter Rory.
Mr Baker's family has been farming the land in Baringhup for 99 years.
He was concerned about the location of the proposal and the lack of consultation with the community.
"I think the lack of consultation is one of the main reasons a large portion of the community is against it," he said.
"There been a very poor consultation period with the community as I mentioned in my statement. Most of the township never knew the proposal was going ahead."
"As I stated (in the hearing), most people in the community don't receive the Castlemaine associated papers, they more likely read the Maryborough paper.
"We are certainly appreciative of being able to have our say but there's no point waiting until after the fact to try and stop (this). We didn't want it from the get go."
Mr Baker said it was not the first time Baringhup residents had banded together to fight a development.
"Certainly in the last few years we have had issues with wind farm development and broiler farm development in the (town's) boundaries," he said. "We banded together over those things and have again for this."
Mr Baker said the location of the farm was an issue.
"I firmly believe that the location of these developments must occur in appropriate locations and should not be built on significant and unique agricultural land which will lead to a shortage in Australian grown food and fibre," he said.
"I fear that the proposed development will put the agricultural enterprises in the Baringhup area at risk.
"(Baringhup has) prime agricultural land. It's much sought after with farmers from areas that don't get the rainfall we do trying to move into this area."
Mr Baker's daughter Rory, aged 10, also spoke at the hearing on Tuesday.
Rory helped form a petition containing 250 signatures of people against the renewable energy facility proposal and researched the effect a solar farm could have on native wildlife in the area.
"We did a week's research and made all these forms and got about 250 signatures," she said.
"It's right next to our farm. I don't want it going ahead because it will affect my family.
"I was at both (community) meetings RES held and they clearly stated 'if we don't have community support this project will not go ahead'. They are turning back on their own words and I feel disappointed and angry that they lied to us."
Rory said her love for animals came from seeing them on the farm every day with her dad.
In recent years she has seen brolgas nesting in the swamp and flood areas of her family's farm as well as the land proposed to be developed.
"There's about 635 left in Victoria," she said. "They bond for life and nest in the same nesting areas for 20 years. So if solar panels take up their nesting area, they won't come back."
Mr Baker said he was proud to see Rory taking an interest in the proposal and speaking at the hearing.
"It's a terrific effort. It's daunting for myself to be able to get up there and speak in that environment let alone a 10 year old," he said.
"She's very passionate about nature. Being on a farm you get that. She's done a lot of research herself, I probably haven't seen her do as much study as she has for this."
John Couch moved to Baringhup as a way to return to his rural roots. He said the solar farm would "ruin his dreams".
"I grew up rural and have lived in big cities, so I wanted to go back to my roots," he said. "I bought that site specifically for those 360 views on top of the hill."
Mr Couch said the proposal would also be a fire risk to the small township.
"It's a huge fire risk with that big rocky ridge that trucks can't get through and the big plains with winds coming off them," he said.
"I've gone through two fires and lost two family homes in my life. (I don't want) that risk behind my house. "It's the worst location. (Baringhup is) a beautiful, quaint country town. Take (the development) into the areas where there's nothing."
At its March meeting, Mount Alexander Shire Council deferred a decision on the renewable energy facility to the Minister for Planning after citing conflicts between state and local planning policies.
In reviewing the application, the planning panel heard almost 30 submissions and expert witness statements.
"The hearing affords all parties an opportunity to provide their viewpoints on the proposal," a Department of Land Water and Planning spokesperson said.
"A total of 29 submissions to date have been referred to the independent Panel for consideration.
"The panel will provide its report with recommendations to the Minister for Planning before a decision is made on the application."
RES Australia, the company behind the proposed solar farm development, declined to comment until the report has been finalised.
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