Solar shines light on 'risk' of new council planning scheme
NEW council rules to cut red tape around development applications could let massive projects like the proposed $100 million solar farm slip through council without public notification.
Amendments to the Southern Downs Planning Scheme that came into affect on March 16 made the solar project code assessable, meaning council was not required to tell the public about the application.
The changes also meant the application could be processed and approved by council officers without going to a councillor vote.
Sladevale resident Mark Pierce said he was concerned the new planning scheme did not provide adequate safe guards against future developments.
"I think it is a big concern if some major things could happen in the Warwick area and the people wouldn't even know about it," he said.
Mr Pierce said the council had taken the "right step" in deciding to bring the final decision on the solar farm to a council meeting.
"Everyone was very grateful for that decision," Mr Pierce said.
Deputy mayor Jo McNally said the council had not taken the "easy way out".
"This decision could have been delegated to the officers and we (councillors) could have said we had no part in it," Cr McNally said.
"We did not do that. We don't take the easy way, we've taken the morally right way so we will make that decision and we will vote on this."
Confronted by a passionate group of residents who seemed firmly opposed to the project, councillors will have a difficult decision on their hands.
But Mr Piece said the solar farm was the first "big test" of the new planning scheme.
"If not enough people had jumped up and down the council could have let it go through," he said.
"That is a big concern to the community."
The amendments also mean there is no legal avenue for residents to appeal the council's decision if the application for the solar farm is approved.
The changes were put forward by the previous council in 2014.
"The council at that time made the decision to try and reduce red tape and make it easier for applications to make it through," Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said.
Recent State Government approval allowed the new rules to come into affect on March 16 this year.
Cr Dobie said she called for the final decision on the solar farm to rest with councillors.
"That is out of respect for you and the concerns you have raised."