Loddon Shire councillors have expressed their disappointment at having to refuse an application for a kangaroo processing plant at Inglewood, citing the potential loss of jobs and industry for the municipality.
A council officer's report was presented to councillors at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, recommending the application be refused on the grounds it did not meet the definition of rural industry required for the zone where the processing plant was to be located.
Under the proposal, kangaroo carcasses would be brought in to the processing plant to be skinned and boned before being transported elsewhere for processing into pet food.
The plant would be established on the site of a former abattoir on the Dunolly-Inglewood Road (Tarnagulla Rd). The land is zoned for Rural Living.
The application relied on the proposed use falling within the definition of 'rural industry' allowed in the Rural Living Zone.
Rural industry refers to products grown and produced on the land, such as wheat being grown in a paddock and then milled into flour on the same site.
However, if a miller imported wheat from other farms and used that to mill into flour, that would be considered 'industry' which is not permitted in the zone.
According to the council officer's report, the application was for the "secondary processing of (kangaroo) carcasses that are not produced on that site".
The report said based on a review of VCAT decisions, the proposal did not meet meet the definition of a rural industry and instead falls within the definition of industry, which is a prohibited use within the Rural Living Zone.
Cr Wendy Murphy stressed discussion on the merits of the application was not a debate on whether the harvesting of kangaroos was ethical or not, which was more of a debate on a state government level.
Instead, it was purely a definition under the Loddon Shire's planning scheme.
It is with regret that I support the officers' recommendation (to refuse the application) because I would love to see more business (in the shire).- Cr Linda Jungwirth
In speaking to the motion to refuse the application, Cr Murphy said she had talked to a lot of people for and against the proposal.
She said it was a quirk of the zoning which prevented council from supporting the plant.
"Potentially, if it had been directly across the road in farming zone, we may not be having this discussion at all," Cr Murphy said.
"It's just unfortunate that the Rural Living Zone and the definition of rural industry (means) it can't be supported in this case."
"I recognise it is is an industry potentially bringing 10 jobs to Inglewood and people have put their names down for some of those roles."
However, Cr Murphy said she had to support the shire planning scheme and stood by the recommendation to refuse the application.
Cr Linda Jungwirth said given her strong desire to see new industries established and offer employment opportunities in the shire, this was a difficult decision to make.
"I know planning staff are very supportive business and employment, but they made this recommendation because the application does not meet the requirements and is therefore prohibited," Cr Jungwirth said.
"It is with regret that I support the officers' recommendation (to refuse the application) because I would love to see more business (in the shire)."
Cr Gavan Holt also said it was with reluctance he supported the motion to refuse, "purely on planning scheme grounds".
"For Loddon Shire's overarching plan to growing jobs and growing the population, this is not a good outcome," Cr Holt said.
Cr Holt said he understood the significance of 'red dot' VCAT decisions were in effect equal to common law or a precedent.
"It has been indicated to us that were council to exercise its right to overturn this recommendation from our planners, it would certainly be challenged and our advice is the challengers would be successful," Cr Holt said.
"Be very clear about what I've always tried to achieved in Loddon, and I have no doubt in my mind what council officers are trying to achieve in Loddon, and they take no comfort in having to come to this decision, but it is based on rules."
Cr Neil Beattie also said it was disappointing to refuse the application, but "we, as a responsible authority, are governed by rules".
Mayor Dan Straub said he too was disappointed the processing plant could not go ahead.
"It has been a contentious matter made worse by an element of animal rights (protestors) pushing the point that is really out of Loddon Shire's control - the native game harvest program itself," Cr Straub said.
"I feel comfortable that the planning department has made their recommendation on the law and zoning and definitions, and in no way was this influenced by any protest coming from any animal rights groups.
"They are well within their rights to have their opinions.
"It is a loss of jobs and industry to Loddon but I feel the right decision in this circumstance has been made.
"Regardless, there will be still a kangaroo harvesting program taking part in Loddon as a state directive, and there will still be jobs created through the state harvest program.
"We, unfortunately, will miss out on the industry side of things."
In closing the debate, Cr Murphy hinted the proposal was not entirely "dead in the water," suggesting other areas of Loddon Shire could be available "to help this along" if the applicant saw it as an option.
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