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Law company claims NSW govt ‘pre-empted’ enquiry into wind farm development

Law company Colin Biggers & Paisley (CBP) has struck out at the NSW government for pushing through approval for the “controversial Gullen Range wind farm development just days after a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of wind farms on rural communities was announced”, the company said.

According to a press release from CBP, the NSW’s government’s decision is antagonising the Goulburn community, which had previously successfully opposed the project as ‘critical infrastructure’.

“The NSW Government’s rush to have this project proceed without knowing the outcomes of the parliamentary inquiry is curious at best,” said CBP partner and head of environment and planning law team, Anthony Perkins.

“Just as the industrial revolution and computers fundamentally changed our world so will climate change technologies, yet the NSW Government is endeavouring to fast track a controversial development without a full appreciation of the likely implications for local communities.

“If the government was serious about treating affected residents fairly, it would have deferred its decision on the Gullen Range wind farm until the inquiry reported, particularly since many of the issues the residents have raised — the noise, the effect on property values, the appropriateness of the location — are being looked at by the inquiry.

“While a commitment to renewable energy is clearly essential for any forward-thinking government, community goodwill will quickly evaporate if governments do not deal respectfully with affected communities and persist in sidelining their interests in their zeal to push ahead at all costs.”

Earlier in the dispute, the Parkesbourne/Mummel Landscape Guardians convinced the government to back down on its claim that the wind farm was ‘critical infrastructure’, said the CBP press release.

Residents argued that the then proposed 84-turbine wind farm fell far short of generating the 250 megawatts of energy required to be considered ‘critical infrastructure’.

“When the shortfall became factually undeniable, the government revealed it was prepared to reduce the threshold to 30 megawatts by executive fiat – a move that would have radically diminished residents’ objection rights and provoked widespread community outrage,” said CBP.

“In the face of public pressure, the government ultimately backed down on its critical infrastructure claims, instead approving the project as a ‘major project’, a classification which leaves open merit appeal rights in the Land & Environment Court. While the approval has been granted with some concessions to community demands, the resident action group remains dissatisfied on the grounds that adjoining landholders are still inadequately protected, and is likely to pursue an appeal.”

According to Perkins: “This case is an abject lesson in how governments can jeopardise social infrastructure projects by taking an approach that is disrespectful of communities and neglects their legitimate expectations.”

“There are also lessons for community groups. Don’t be deterred if a project is initially held out as ‘critical infrastructure’,” he said.

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