In what some would describe as a surprise move, the Sunshine Coast Council have voted against the recommendation their own planning staff and have refused the application for a large new dog breeding facility in Landsborough.
The decision at Thursday’s council meeting may go some way in restoring locals’ faith in the resolve for Councillors to respond to community concern in the face of administrative limitations.
After receiving over 400,000 objections to the development lodged by Diamond Valley Kennels, many thought all hope was lost when the council planning department recommended that the application be approved, stating that animal welfare and ethics has no role to play in council deciding on matters under the planning scheme.
But a majority of the elected representatives thought differently.
Councillor for Division 1 Rick Baberowski led the fight, tabling an alternate recommendation to refuse the application.
In what was a well thought out amendment, Cr Baberowski set out why he considered that the application failed under the planning scheme including issues relating to the protection of the natural environment, biodiversity, waterways, natural wetlands.
He contended that the application failed to demonstrate how it would protect, manage and enhance the environmental values of adjacent areas.
He considered that the application failed to demonstrate that amenity issues (such as noise) would not impact on people living nearby.
The location, nature, scale and intensity were also flagged as being inconsistent with the rural land zoning.
It is important to acknowledge that all these reasonings against the application relied solely upon planning scheme considerations.
The ‘no’ vote was – as is legally required – not proposed based upon animal welfare or ethical considerations.
Of the eleven elected representatives on council, nine were in the room when the discussions and voting took place.
Mayor Mark Jamieson and Cr Jason O’Pray both identified that they may have a perceived conflict of interest and asked that they be excluded from the meeting during the agenda item.
The discussion on Cr Baberowski’s proposed alternate recommendation to refuse was passionate and at times heartfelt.
Cr Baberowski acknowledged the challenges the Councillors faced at the meeting in considering and voting for or against the application.
“Very large numbers of the community, both locally and more broadly, put in submissions believing that they could forcefully argue for a focus on animal welfare issues in considering this impact assessable development application,” Cr Baberowski said.
“In essence, they passionately told us they don’t think a mass breeding facility gives dogs the quality of life they should have in our society. And personally, I agree.”
Cr Baberowski spoke of not understanding the ethics behind this style of animal breeding which sort to minimise effort and maximise profit.
“However,” he continued “the legal advice we have received is that this decision must be made on planning grounds and that animal welfare should not be part of this decision.”
Cr Baberowski considered that there was sufficient conflict with the planning scheme to refuse the application.
Cr Baberowski methodically outlined his arguments as to why the application did not meet the requirements of the planning scheme, building a case to convince the other councillors to refuse the application on planning grounds … as is their legislative requirement.
“The Sunshine Coast has no need for a breeding facility of this scale and, rather than providing a community benefit, would cause more problems throughout the region,” he said.
Cr Baberowski contended that an increased supply of dogs in the region could lead to the pound having to manage and euthanise a greater number of abandoned and surrendered dogs.
He asserted that it was their role, as the representatives of the community, to make a broader strategic evaluation and to refuse the application.
After considerable discussion and debate, the vote was put, with eight voting for Cr Baberowski’s amended recommendation to refuse the application (Cr Rick Baberowski, Cr Terry Landsberg, Cr Joe Natoli, Cr Winston Johnston, Cr Christian Dickson, Cr Maria Suarez, Cr Ted Hungerford and Cr David Law) and one vote against (Cr Peter Cox).
With the likely eventuality now being that the refusal will be appealed to the Planning and Environment Court by Diamond Valley Kennels, Division 10 Councillor Ted Hungerford bluntly outlined his view that the appeal could be costly and that the court’s decision would most likely not support council’s position.
He shared the community’s concerns regarding animal welfare but hoped they would also support the expense of an appeal process.
“I would be very dismayed if the community criticised us for the cost of doing that seeing the high level of concern,” he stated.
It now remains to be seen how the decision plays out, whether Diamond Valley Kennels lodge an appeal and whether the Planning and Environment Court judge is swayed by the more than 400,000 voices who have urged council to support emotional animal welfare considerations over cold planning scheme provisions.