David v Goliath in Midfield expansion plan

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1-janis bennett_8
Janis and Dean Bennett, with Princess Penelope, in the yard of their Merrivale home. The couple are among those fighting to stop two major industrial developments by the Midfield Group on land now zoned Public Use.

Words: Carol Altmann

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #8F9F59;”] W [/dropcap]hen Janis and Dean Bennett bought their little rough diamond of a house in Merrivale almost 10 years ago, they knew it wasn’t far from the Midfield meatworks, but they could live with that.

Like most young couples, they needed a home that would fit their budget and the little suburb on the west side of Warrnambool had a lot going for it: a primary school, a football and cricket club, close to a river and beach, and within walking distance to town.

The Bennetts have since had a child and, through hard work, slowly transformed their “rough diamond” into a cosy home, with a thriving vegie patch, herb garden and chicken coop. Merrivale has also changed from being a very working-class suburb to a socio-economic mix of people wanting to live in an area with character and a strong sense of community.

But now the people of Merrivale are being asked to accept two enormous changes to their suburb: a 29m tall cold storage facility (basically, a giant fridge) and a 35m tall milk powder factory, both of which would operate 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, on Scott St.

In what is shaping up as a classic David v Goliath battle, people like the Bennetts are battling to have the expansion stopped and will put their case to an independent panel hearing that starts in Warrnambool on Tuesday, Feb 3. (See end of story for details and timetable).

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This image by the Merrivale Community Association and the We Love Merrivale group shows how they believe the cold store (right) and milk processing plant (left) will look from the Warrnambool Showgrounds. Image: Supplied.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #8F9F59;”] W[/dropcap]hen the projects were first announced by the Midfield Group, they were expected to create up to 200 jobs. It has since been revealed, however, that only up to 22 full-time jobs will be created after construction. Property prices are also expected to be affected.

“We are not against a milk factory being built, but it is just in the wrong place: it needs to be out of town,” Janis said.

The planning laws, as they stand, agree with her.

Both projects require land to be rezoned from Public Use to Industrial, including land that was once owned by the people (as Crown land) and used by the Warrnambool City Council depot, until it was sold off to Midfield last year.

The Warrnambool Planning Scheme also asks that a cold store be no less than 150m from the nearest dwelling. The nearest house is less than 100m away.

The scheme also recommends that a milk processing factory be at least 300m from a home. The nearest house will be 130m.

The reason for these protections, of course, are that large-scale factories and freezers bring with them noise, lights, extra trucks, extra traffic and a whole raft of potential hazards that don’t sit well with residential areas.

“We quite happily live near a pre-existing industrial zone, but we also knew that there were laws in place to prevent certain things happening and to make sure that things weren’t forced through,” Dean said.

“The council is now being asked to change those laws and there is an expectation that it will go ahead because of the money behind it.”

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Signs like this one have been popping up in windows and on fences around Merrivale as the community rallies to stop the developments. Image: Bluestone Magazine.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #8F9F59;”] T [/dropcap]he Bennetts are among those particularly concerned about the potential health risks of the expansion and the fact that both projects will be within 1km of a primary school.

As one Gippsland milk powder factory owner said after his factory exploded in 2012, explosions are “an occupational hazard” of such plants.

“I know we are talking worst case scenarios, but they can happen and (Midfield) has to plan for such things happening: this is what they want to put on our doorstep,” Janis said.

The Merrivale Community Association will be among those represented at the independent panel hearing, together with at least another 17 submitters against or in favour of the project.

Spokesman Keith McAlley – who will represent the MCA – has been wading through around 8kg of documents that outline the expert witnesses to be called by Midfield and the council.

There will be lawyers and QCs and a string of experts, and then there will be Keith, and other speakers from the community who wish to have their say.

“It is daunting, but I am at that point in my life where I ask ‘what can I do to help myself?’ and ‘what can I do to help my community?,” Keith said.

Keith hopes that wider Warrnambool will get behind the MCA campaign, because he believes the impact of the development will be felt across the city through more large trucks on the road, damage to roads and a dramatic change to the visual landscape of west Warrnambool.

“As ratepayers, you will be picking up the repair bill for any damage to the road, for example,” he said.

Once the independent panel has heard all submissions, it will make recommendations to the council.

It is then up to the council to decide if it will accept or reject the recommendations: giving the Midfield Group either a green or red light.

[learn_more caption=”Click here for the panel hearing timetable”]

Hearings start at 10am and finish around 4.30pm, South-west TAFE, Level 3.

Tuesday, Feb 3: (All day)

Representatives for Warrnambool City Council.

Wednesday Feb 4:

AM: Environmental Protection Authority; Representatives for 92 Liebig St Pty Ltd.

PM: Site inspection at Scott St. (2.30pm-4.30pm)

Thursday, Feb 5: Representatives for Midfield Meat International.

Friday, Feb 6: Representatives for Midfield Meat International.

Tuesday, Feb 10: Representatives for Midfield Meat International.

Wednesday, Feb 11:

AM: Merrivale Community Association.

PM: Various submitters from the community.

Thursday, Feb 12: Various submitters from the community.

Friday, Feb 13:

AM: Midfield Meat International closing comments and right of reply.

PM: Warrnambool City Council closing comments and right of reply.


[box]You can access the full set of relevant W’bool City Council planning amendment documents here. The Change.org online petition against the the development can be signed here.[/box]

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11 thoughts on “David v Goliath in Midfield expansion plan”

  1. Phil Gray, all Merrivale residents already live near Midfields & the knackery etc highliting the situation will only drive down our value “not for sale” target somewhere else please

  2. I really didn’t think they were asked to accept the milk powder construction but merely it was sneaked in thinking maybe nobody would notice. Wonderful for Warrnambool BUT in the wrong place. Just like the sale yards move them away from Warrnambool and you also take their shopping with them . Warrnambool can’t afford the farmers to take the business to another town. The wcc if they are fairdinkum about shopping in Warrnambool they wouldn’t even consider moving the saleyards .

  3. Fully support Merrivale. I will be spending every minute possible observing the panel hearing. Let us hope they know how to hear ordinary people’s words.

  4. This is so much bigger than just Merrivale!! The prevailing winds here are southerly’s are they not? Which way will any pollutants, be they sound or dust, be blown NOT on Merrivale but the whole of Warrnambool! I love where I live after traveling and living around the world this little piece of paradise does not need 2 massive industrial buildings 2 kms from the center of town. I’m not against them but the positioning is just not right. Just like when you go camping and have to dig yourself somewhere to go to the toilet eventually the hole gets full and it is time to move on and find a new spot. I think it is time Mr McKenna to find a new spot!?

  5. Midfield is the backbone of the Warrnambool and district economy……Merrivale will not be any different from what the area has been for as long as it has existed

  6. If the Merrivale community is waiting for WCC to do the ethically correct thing and support their community /rate payers , well I just wouldnt hold your collective community breathes.

  7. We recently cycled the rail trail from Port Fairy to Warrnambool. We had just been enjoying the birds and the boardwalk across the wetlands when we came across the horrorshow that is the rendering factory. We were gutted( pardon the pun) by the stench and the sight of this monstrosity.
    On reflection though, we realised that the factory ensures no part of animals which have been slaughtered – mostly for our consumption – is wasted. As meat eaters, that realization was a slam in the face, a reminder of how we can so easily be blind to our own hypocrisies.
    But bloody hell (pun again), couldn’t the rail trail avoid the factory somehow?
    All the best to those residents protesting further developments near their homes. surely there is space out of town for such development?

    1. Yours are well considered comments on how we meat eaters feel somewhat compromised when confronting the “meat mountain” at the Levys Pt. render plant Lu (my vegan daughter has only been past it once and was horrified) but the Council did build the rail trail up to the top of the sand hills and down again in an effort to avoid the eyesore. I haven’t been there for a while and don’t know if that track is still accessible but it was so steep cyclists could easily have gone base over apex coming down. The track didn’t eliminate the stench though as you could still smell it on the beautiful wild beach on the other side of the sand hills in northerly weather.

  8. I forgot to compliment you on the Janis and Dean Bennett story Carol – you have described contemporary Merrivale perfectly with an understanding that the WCC obviously does not have.
    The suburb has so much going for it being close to the natural beauty of the Merri River and environs, bus and rail transport, the Hospital and CBD and all those other facilities that that Warrnambool is all about. Yet some seem to hold an outdated view that Merrivale is still only fit to be a dumping ground for activities that those in other parts of the city don’t want in their own backyard. Council thinking is that they can turn Merrivale into a dormitory suburb for Midfield workers (totally ignoring all the amenity it has) and at the same time plan residential development much further out of the city where essential services are very difficult to access. Strange thinking indeed.

  9. Keep fighting Merrivale! Indeed this impacts all of Warrnambool. A great story highlighting why this proposal should be canned. Community matters. Schools free of industrial zones within a specified zone matter. The skyline matters! Money may talk – but this community won’t sit back and let this happen without a big fight! Don’t let this project become what McDonalds was to Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges. They fought a McDonald’s being built for years and got beaten by VCAT and council in the end. Tragic!! The store was built and they’re still there protesting – years on. This is so much bigger on a physical scale than one fast food outlet! The implications are just as huge. I think we’re going to see a whole lot of vocal passionate folk coming out louder than before now. Bring it on! Stand together and fight!

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