The changing landscape under Midfield Meats

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sandilands down
The 1940s former Madden’s building – built by Ern Harris – has been demolished to make way for a new apartment complex as one of three major projects that will change the shape of Warrnambool next year.

OPINION – Carol Altmann

* A warning, this piece includes a graphic photo from the Levys Point rendering plant which some readers may find distressing.

Next year is shaping up as a defining one for the long-term future of Warrnambool and its residents, with three major projects that will change the landscape for decades to come.

  • The first is the proposed 34m-high milk processing plant and an adjacent 29m-tall cold store that will both operate 24-hours a day, seven-days a week in Scott St, Merrivale.
  • The second is a $3 million upgrade of the rendering plant at Levys Point that sits adjacent to the Merri River wetlands and the Warrnambool-Port Fairy rail trail.
  • And the third is a nine-level apartment and penthouse complex to replace the former Madden’s building on a prime site overlooking Merri/Gilles streets.

All three projects are linked to one of the most successful businesses and businessmen in Warrnambool: Midfield Meats and its founder, Colin McKenna, who, understandably, are always looking for opportunities to expand and build upon their already multi-million dollar status. There is nothing wrong with that.

The problem, however, is that the consequences of such expansions on the rest of us – the little people and our city – can be significant and irreversible.

As such, we have one chance to get it right, lest it all go so horribly wrong, and this is where we look to our civic leaders to act in the best interests of us all.

So far, however, most of the Warrnambool City Council and its elected members have appeared reluctant to rigorously press, probe and challenge the merits of all three projects put forward by one of Warrnambool’s most high-profile businesses, as if any “progress” is good progress.

rendering plant fb page
It is not pretty, but a mountain of dead animal remains is the reality of the rendering plant at Warrnambool’s Levy’s Point which is on the W’bool-Port Fairy rail trail and can be seen when the gates are open. Image: Merri Wetlands Protection Group.

Let’s start with the rendering plant at Levy’s Point, which was built in the 1970s at a time when the area was considered way out of town and nobody gave much thought to the environment.

In 2014, both of these things have changed dramatically.

We now care that a rendering plant is right next door to a beautiful wetlands and not only is it no longer isolated, but the Port Fairy-Warrnambool rail trail passes by its front door.

I had been warned that if you cycled along the rail trail, you could be confronted with the clawing stench and shocking sight of dismembered animal parts pushed into a meat mountain, but I didn’t quite believe it.

But yes, it is true and I can’t begin to imagine what tourists must think when they stumble across this sensory assault. The residents of nearby Merrivale, of course, have been living with the stench for years.

It is not the fault of Midfield Meats that they have inherited this location, but its application for new works at the plant provides a rare opportunity to strongly argue that it is time to relocate.

This is exactly what the Merri Wetlands Protection Group – a five member, volunteer based group will argue when it presents its case to VCAT in April.

The majority of our councillors – Crs Ermacora, Hulin, Sycopoulis and Kelson – actually agree with them, but the final position taken when two of these councillors were absent saw the vote of Crs Neoh, Gaston and Askew turn opposition into support. Go figure.

How the proposed milk processing factory will appear on the skyline near the Warrnambool Showgrounds. Image: Warrnambool City Council.
How the proposed cold storage facility will appear on the skyline near the Warrnambool Showgrounds according to planning documents. Image: Warrnambool City Council.
midfield - merrivale
This is how the ‘We Love Merrivale” group envisages the new milk powder and cold storage buildings will look from the Warrnambool showgrounds. Image: We Love Merrivale.

Then there is the proposed milk processing plant and cold store that will tower over the inner industrial estate and create a whole new set of issues for the people of Merrivale while adding a 10-storey and a nine-storey shed to the skyline.

In a complex set of transactions involving state and local government, the council has bent over backwards to accommodate the Midfield plans by selling them part of its depot land, yet CEO Bruce Anson said recently he had no idea the site was intended for a milk powder factory until shortly before settlement.

So again it has been left to the little people, like the We Love Merrivale group, to stand up and challenge the idea of a factory being built so close to their homes, because regardless of the assurances given about dust emissions and noise, they are the ones who will have to live with it in their backyard.

Proposal for corner of Merri and Gilles streets October 2014
The nine-level Warrnambool Apartment complex proposed for the corner of Merri and Gilles streets. Image: Warrnambool City Council.

And lastly we have the nine-storey Warrnambool Apartments project that will dominate the end of Merri and Gilles streets.

This complex will replace a 1940s art-deco building that had been recommended for heritage protection, but was rejected by the council, allowing its recent demolition. (Ironically, the council is now seeking a heritage overlay on the house next door, which was built at the same time, by the same builder.)

Irrespective of what you think of the design – personally, I think it is more suited to Melbourne’s Docklands than Gilles St – the sheer height of the building at almost 30 metres is at odds with the council’s planning guidelines for the area that say buildings should be no more than 7.5m (in one section) and 10.5m (in another).

As Julie Eagles from the Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group said so succinctly at a recent on-site briefing for objectors, “given the council’s own guidelines, what are we even doing here?”

What, indeed.

2015 is shaping up as a defining year for both our city, its leadership and grassroots activism – watch this space.

milking merrivale
The “We love Merrivale” group has started a campaign to stop a proposed milk processing factory from being built in the area. Image: We Love Merrivale.

16 thoughts on “The changing landscape under Midfield Meats”

  1. Very interesting and enlightening. In the interest of balanced journalism it would be nice to see an article on the great list of wonderful community beneficial things Colin McKenna and Midfield Meats have achieved

    1. Hi Erica – thanks so much for your feedback. There is no doubt Colin McKenna and Midfield have given much back to the community, particular through Peter’s Project, which has been well covered in the local media. This Op-ed piece, however, is not about Midfield as a company or Colin McKenna as an individual (both of which would be fascinating topics), but that they happen to be at the centre of three significant infrastructure projects facing Warrnambool in the next year or two. We hope to generate debate about the merits of those projects as they pass through the various planning stages. Thanks for getting the discussion started.

  2. I am all for expansion and progress but there is also a time for a business to realise it has outgrown its original footprint. Look at the Saleyards, I recall when it was adjacent to the highway and Liebig Street in the 1970’s, its subsequent relocation to Caramut Road and now its again outgrown and looking to relocate.

    As far as the former Maddens site goes, what is it about that development deal that makes me think of Bill Heslop and Porpoise Spit in Muriels Wedding??

  3. Erica, any good that Midfield Meat have done comes apart with the blatant disregard the impact of these developments will have on the people and environment of my town. Enough is enough. Thank you Bluestone for beginning the debate and keeping it alive.
    I do not trust what is currently happening in our council meetings.

  4. My family lived in the vicinity of Midfield Meats. We sold out, our house was bought and now houses multiple Midfield workers.
    Our decision to sell was made by the constant noise, the banging of gates, and skip bin lids at all hours through the night. The multiple days I couldn’t open windows in my house because of the
    ongoing stench. Some days were worse than others. I truly sympathise with the people of Merrivale. Living in the area has got worse, and it’s not going to get any better. How can this large operation be allowed to expand, even larger in what is just near the centre of town.

  5. Thank you Carol for bringing out into the public arena a topic that has been the centre of many conversations that have occurred within my hearing at various functions I have attended in the last week. Clearly many people are concerned and angry at the lack of transparency of all these deals and the impact they will have on our environment for many years to come. When our elected representatives fail in their duty of care for this town then people are forced to rise up and mount action for themselves. These actions are not an attack on any individual but an attack on corporate greed and the constant need for that greed to be fed at all costs.Those costs will haunt us for many years to come as we ride the rail trail, visit our friends in Merrivale with gas masks on and yet again have another ugly monolith spoiling the views from Hopkins Point.

  6. It would be interesting to know where Erica lives, …………… why weren’t Maddens allowed to make alterations to Sandilands ?? … yet Midfield Meats comes along and boom !! Sandilands is gone ?? …. as for the Milk Plant & Cold Storage it is just another example of disregarding the local people for profits !! … the WCC has a lot of double standards when it suits

  7. As someone who is considering returning to Warrnambool to live in retirement, reading this is enough to make me reconsider. Memories of the awful smells from the abattoir when I was a student at ‘The School on the Hill’ came flooding back! Do Merrivale residents who live around the now lauded wetlands area close by the old Woollen Mill find their new lifestyle area despoiled by abattoir stench? Do I really want to live somewhere where the local council has no backbone? A lot of questions and seemingly few reassuring answers right now.

  8. As a non-facebooker I was glad to find the Bluestone link. Midfield has really led a charmed life. When they took over the Warrnambool City Council abattoir the WCC obtained and guaranteed a loan for Midfield at very competitive rates. Even at that stage there had been pressure for years to relocate the abattoir because of rank odors. Jobs were retained and increased, but the effect on the environment has become far worse. The relationship between Colin McKenna and Denis Napthine begs questions that must be answered – Merrivale residents suffer from every expansion of the business and local and state government don’t give a fig.

  9. Thank you for another great article Carol. I myself was not aware that the rail trail passed by the processing plant at Levy’s point and was appalled and horrified when we were confronted with a sight similar to your picture you have provided. We had to turn around and go home and will never be walking that trail again. How this even happened is beyond me, and you are right when you say it most definitely needs to move!

    1. Betty, don’t give-up on using the Rail Trail just because of that stinking cess-pit!
      If you go into the Levy’s car park and walk up the hill path it by-passes the piles of rotting flesh and drops down onto the Rail Trail the other side of the Knackery.
      The council spent a lot of money making this by-pass so that people would not see the meat piles but you can’t ride your bike up it and take your life into your own hands if you try to ride down it – another waste of council money! You are correct in saying that it should be moved – to like Union Station.

  10. It is heartening to read the comments above – to expect that Merrivale residents should just accept these additions to the already existing offensive Midfield industries in the area is ridiculous. I bought a house in McMeekin Rd near the Gay St intersection about seven years ago. Obviously I was aware of the existence of the abattoir and the render plant but then the odor, noise and truck traffic didn’t seem so much of an issue and Merrivale had so many advantages that seemed to outweigh any potential problems. Since then the odor problem, especially from the render plant in westerly weather, has become much worse and the proposal to “upgrade” (i.e. increase throughput) of this facility fills me with alarm. No doubt the lawyers acting for Midfield at the forthcoming panel hearing next month will blather on about what a wonderful state of the art facility the new milk plant will be but if they can’t contain smells or noise from their present operations that have been offending for years how can anyone believe that odors, milk dust and noise will not escape the new plant for hundreds of meters around. The whole proposal is a hideous, offensive blot on the landscape (edited).

  11. W’Bool Standard Jan 24th 2015: Midfield lodges plan for 2.1 Kilometre Pipline linking rendering plant with W’Bool sewerage System ……… is there anything else left to do ??? maybe WCC should think about renaming Merrivale “McKennavale”

  12. Will someone please correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding of this is that waste from the proposed milk drying plant ( which is still rich in organic matter) will be piped to the existing waste treatment plant at the abattoir ( further loading up the system and increasing the potential for foul odor) before being discharged into the existing W’bool sewerage system where it will travel to a sewage drain at the intersection of Dickson and Watson streets. From there it will travel to the render plant via this proposed 2.1 km pipeline. I presume that this so called treated waste will then be combined with waste from the render plant and travel to the Wannon Water sewage treatment plant along another proposed pipeline that that runs under a bridge along the Merri River (classy). Nobody seems to know if the Wannon treatment plant will be able to handle the extra load. As Confucius says “may you live in interesting times”.

    1. (Revised) Having had a closer look, it appears at this stage the suggestion is for the waste to be treated via the system at the abattoir, but whether this is then going to be pumped to the new pipeline is unclear.

    2. The Kelly Gang Gazette stated 24th Jan ’15 “laying a 90-millimetre polyethene pipe underground from the plant at Levys Point” – so it seems that ONLY one pipe is proposed, and that sewer would be removing gunk from the Rendering factory.

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