Council endorses new investigation into Stevensons Road closed landfill

MEDIA RELEASE: 9 October 2008

The City of Casey has resolved to call on the State Government to establish a public and independent inquiry into the leaking of gas from the Stevensons Road closed landfill in Cranbourne.

City of Casey Mayor Cr Janet Halsall said ‘Whilst we welcome the current Ombudsman’s investigation into the issue, residents are concerned that it won’t go far enough in finding the answers to their many questions.

In a recent letter to both Casey and Frankston City Councils, the Ombudsman confirmed that the investigation is into:

the administrative actions of any government department, statutory authority or municipal council, relating to methane gas leaking from the former landfill site at Stevensons Road, Cranbourne.The actions of the City of Casey and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will therefore be investigated but not the decision of VCAT or the actions of any private sector body.

‘Residents want to know why VCAT overturned the Council’s decision of April 2003 to reduce the buffer, and allow the developer to construct homes in the buffer zone and up to the boundary of the landfill. They also want to know why the developer, Peet & Co, applied for a reduction in the buffer zone and then apparently not warned prospective purchasers of the potential for gas migration’, said Cr Halsall.

‘These questions are fundamental to exposing the causes of the current financial, emotional and social issues being faced by local residents, and the answers lie at the core of many other key issues such as compensation.

‘The City of Casey is fully cooperating with the Ombudsman’s investigation but in order to get to the bottom of this complex matter, all parties, both public and private sector, need to be investigated so they can be fully accountable to the residents and broader public who have been adversely affected by this issue.’

The City of Casey also resolved to establish a community fund for residents affected by the situation which would help support initiatives and projects designed to rebuild the community’s spirit and confidence.

Background to VCAT Ruling

In 2002, property developer Peet & Co applied to the City of Casey for approval to develop stage 10 of the Brookland Greens residential estate.

At its Committee meeting of 12 April 2003, Council refused Peet & Co’s application for this residential subdivision.
Peet & Co took the City of Casey to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in an effort to have the Council’s decision overturned.

In conjunction with the EPA, Council vigorously fought to defend the basis for its refusal at the VCAT hearings, asserting that a 200 metre buffer was essential in acknowledgement of the known site conditions of the landfill, primarily being an unlined landfill in an old sand quarry.

VCAT ruled in favour of the developer which effectively gave the green light for houses to be built right up to the boundary of the landfill, therefore, leaving no buffer zone between the landfill and the residential area.
VCAT issued its orders in two parts.

Following hearings on the matter over three days in May 2004, VCAT determined on 6 May 2004 not to agree with the basis of Council’s refusal and issued an interim order that reduced the buffer distance of the subdivision from the landfill. Council did not consent to the reduction in buffer distances.

Subsequent to this first order, Council and PEET & Co were given the opportunity to resolve other issues relating to removal of vegetation. The agreement between the developer and Council was in relation to the vegetation issue only, and was the basis of the consent referred to in the second VCAT order of 23 September 2004.

The sequence of orders is clearly outlined in the tribunal’s comments attached to the VCAT determination.

In summary the only consent by Council related to the vegetation not the buffer reduction around the landfill.
It is important to note that the City of Casey was unable to challenge the VCAT ruling at a higher court as these matters can only be challenged on a point of law, which, in this particular case, did not exist because VCAT’s decision was determined on the basis of its interpretation of the evidence put before it and not on matters of law.

It should also be noted that VCAT did not take into account the EPA’s expert verbal advice in relation to this matter.

The VCAT decision in respect to stage 10 set a precedent for the consideration to subsequent stages of the subdivision.