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Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Echuca farm battle continues

A dispute between an Echuca farmer and nearby residents continues to create huge amount of interest.

RHIANNON HORRELL August 15, 2014 3:18am

Come hell or high water, John Watson will do whatever it takes to keep his farm safe — and in business.

But he may already be fighting a losing battle with The Weekly Times reporting Campaspe Shire mayor Ian Maddison pre-empting council’s October decision by telling media it was unlikely the permit would be approved.

The Echuca beef producer is fast becoming a victim of urban sprawl, with his fattening enterprise the focus of protest from nearby residents at Westwood Park.

The dispute erupted with complaints about the smell coming from his Stratton Rd farm.

Campaspe Shire has ordered Mr Watson to apply for an intensive animal husbandry permit to continue farming.

Since then, the shire’s controversial permit move to let him keep working has ‘‘opened the biggest can of worms in Victoria’’ according to Mr Watson’s town planning consultant Troy Spencer.

Mr Watson is also considering taking the matter out of the shire’s hands and appealing to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Campaspe Shire has 60 days to make its decision on the application — today is day 44.

But even that is being disputed, with Mr Spencer claiming by his calculations it should be day 57.

If a decision is not made Mr Watson can exercise failure to determine appeal rights.

‘‘We’ve been made out to be the villains in the process,’’ Mr Watson said.

‘‘We’re under the microscope because of our location. If we’d known we needed an intensive animal husbandry permit we would have applied for it.

‘‘The shire says that we’re in the wrong place. We’re fighting for everyone around Victoria.’’

Mr Spencer said Mr Watson wished to continue farming for 15 years.

‘‘We’re prepared to do what is reasonable for everyone. We’re not gung-ho,’’ Mr Spencer said.

‘‘(This issue) has opened the biggest can of worms in Victoria. We love our farm and we like our town — we want it to be viable and sustainable.’’

Campaspe Shire has defended its approach, claiming it ‘‘is simply carrying out its legislative responsibility under the Planning and Environment Act to apply the planning scheme’’.

Shire people and place general manager Paul McKenzie said the farmer had changed the method of farming on his land to a use that requires a planning permit.

The application is for 2200 head of cattle on 124ha.

‘‘This use (intensive animal husbandry) in the farming zone would require a planning permit no matter where located in the farming zone across our municipality or state.’’

But Mr Watson said 2200 is a maximum, with numbers usually fluctuating between 900 and 1800.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey noted the huge amount of interest and said if the permit was approved it will set rules for dozens of dairy farms.

Mr Tuohey was hoping to meet with mayor Ian Maddison and senior council staff.

Mr Maddison said yesterday that in regards to reports he pre-empted the council decision on the permit, that

‘‘a few of my comments have been reported out of context’’.

‘‘In all interviews I have confirmed that this is not an individual decision for me to make, the application will be presented to all nine councillors for a decision of council.’’

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