Cr Andrew Smith sums up his argument as to why Ausco Modular's application for a permanent 1000 bed camp in Chinchilla should be rejected.
Cr Andrew Smith sums up his argument as to why Ausco Modular's application for a permanent 1000 bed camp in Chinchilla should be rejected. Matthew Newton

Controversial Chinchilla workers camp given the flick

CHINCHILLA motelier Bernie McGovern has hailed yesterday's decision to refuse an application for a permanent 1,000 bed workers camp in Chinchilla as a "milestone moment” for the town.

However, he also acknowledged that it was likely Ausco Modular, the company behind the controversial application, would appeal the decision in court.

Outside the Chinchilla council chambers yesterday with fellow moteliers Kevin Vinall and Wade Broom, Mr McGovern said it was something he and other local businesses had been working towards for nearly two and a half years.

Inside, just minutes earlier, it was standing room only as the highly divisive application was debated.

Cr Andrew Smith moved the motion to refuse the application, which was seconded by Cr Peter Saxelby.

Cr Kaye Maguire removed herself from the room, citing a material personal interest in the issue.

Cr Smith acknowledged and thanked the 720 submitters who commented on Ausco Modular's Chinchilla application for a permanent 1,000 bed workers camp.

"There's an exceptional amount of time and emotion in each and every submission,” Cr Smith said.

"But this has got to be a planning decision.”

Citing the independent report produced for council by Reel Planning, a Brisbane-based town planning company, Cr Smith said the development failed to achieve the stated purpose of the rural residential code, did not reflect the community's expectations and needs and Ausco Modular had not demonstrated an economic or planning need for the development.

Cr Smith added "we have to be able to support this decision wherever it may go”, suggesting the possibility of the matter ending up in court.

Cr Ray Brown agreed Council was faced with "a planning decision” but argued instead the application should be approved with "stringent conditions”.

He was also wary that Council would end up in court if they refused the development.

"We know (Ausco Modular) will appeal, and they probably have grounds for an appeal,” he said.

"We've already had information given to council that we're on very shaky ground if we refuse this, and that's coming from our legal experts.

Cr Brown said this was the opportunity to condition the approval, an opportunity that could be lost if the matter went before the courts.

Cr Greg Olm argued the biggest issue with approving the development would be enforcing the conditions - something he felt would cost ratepayers "a lot of money”.

Cr Ian Rasmussen was in favour of approving the development, arguing the Reel Planning report was flawed and full of contradictions.

Ultimately, the vote was deadlocked at four votes all, with Crs Olm, Saxelby, McVeigh and Smith voting to refuse the application, and Crs Brown, Tillman, Ashurst and Rasmussen voting for it.

With Cr Maguire excused from the room due to her conflict of interest, Mayor McVeigh was granted the casting vote, and the application was refused five votes to four.

The council chambers, overflowing with Chinchilla and Dalby business owners, broke out into applause and cheers.

That outburst of excitement was somewhat muted when Council then voted to approve Ausco Modular's development application for a 552 room workers camp in Dalby, with stringent conditions.

Among those conditions - the same that Cr Brown wished to impose on the Chinchilla development application - are the requirement that bookings can only be taken for large groups of 20 or more, for a minimum of five consecutive days, and that the camp is restricted to accommodating construction workers only.

In Dalby's instance, Reel Planning found there "is conflict with the relevant planning instruments, however in this case there are sufficient grounds to overcome that conflict”.

"Approval of the application is therefore recommended subject to reasonable and relevant conditions”.

The motion to approve the Dalby development application was carried 8/0, with Cr Maguire again absent due to a material personal interest.

Stayover by Ausco general manager Roger Bradford said he was pleased on the one hand in relation to "the renewal of our long-standing development application in Dalby” but "surprised and disappointed” with the Chinchilla decision.

He was adamant his clients wanted camps to house their employees, and said the next step would be for Ausco to review Council's decision notice when it arrives, before any appeal could be considered.

"Certainly you saw there was a fair bit of debate in the room,” Mr Bradford said.

"All councillors aren't in unison and in actual fact we had a 4/4 vote deadlock.

"That's the reality. So look, I think as I touched on before, we've got 40 employees in the Western Downs, and a significant portion of those are local people.

"The expectation from employees is that we're going to fight to protect their interests.”

Mr Bradford added that while the review process takes place, Stayover by Ausco on Zeller Street would remain open, referencing the October 2015 Planning and Environment Court consent order, which makes their development lawful until all avenues of appeal had been exhausted.

Cr McVeigh said Council's complex and considered decision on the Chinchilla development application came down to the applicant not being able to properly demonstrate a need.

"The workers camp in Chinchilla was originally approved on a temporary basis when the need existed during construction of the Kogan Creek Power Station, and continued during the CSG boom. That need no longer exists,” he said.

"Chinchilla already has other approved workers camps and these adequately fulfil the need to accommodate large-scale workforces.

"Council's decision to refuse the development also aligns with our push for major industries to transition to a live local workforce in a bid to see ongoing operational staff become part of our local communities.”

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