Golden Plains loses NBN project

By Paul Hemsley

The decision not to build a fixed wireless facility in Napoleons has raised a dispute between NBN Co and Victorian-based Golden Plains Shire Council.

According to council, this decision not to consider alternative sites sets a precedent for NBN Co to hold councils and communities to “ransom” if they do not agree with the company’s choices.

NBN Co chief executive officer, Mike Quigley sent a letter to Golden Plains residents that said the council had recently rejected a development application for a fixed wireless facility at Napoleons and NBN Co will not be appealing the decision.

According to Mr Quigley, the application to build the facility was rejected on the grounds of ‘visual impact’, which followed months of planning and consultation with the council and community.

Mr Quigley said NBN Co sought to mitigate concerns about the visual impact of the facility by proposing screening vegetation along the northern boundary and around the perimeter of the facility.

He said the company also committed to painting the pole and the antennae to blend in with the surrounding environment.

“Additionally we responded to the council’s suggestion of an alternative location, commencing negotiations to secure a new site; unfortunately the landowners decided not to make the site available,” Mr Quigley said.

Golden Plains Shire Mayor Geraldine Frantz said NBN Co.’s “claims” that they have taken the time to “adequately engage with the community” and that it cannot proceed with the Napoleons fixed wireless facility are “simply not correct”.

A media release from Golden Plains Shire Council said this comes after NBN Co.’s assertion that the development is not wanted at Napoleons.

The release said NBN Co has been aware that the Napoleons application did not meet the requirements of the code of practice for telecommunications facilities in Victoria since 20 January 2012.

NBN Co was reminded of this on eight separate occasions prior to council's determination to reject the proposal in May 2012, the release said.

“There are viable alternative sites for fixed wireless infrastructure in Napoleons and council is committed to the digital economy and the opportunities that it presents,” Ms Frantz said.

Ms Frantz said she is “deeply concerned” by NBN Co’s “threat to walk away” from delivering the government’s plans to roll out fixed wireless broadband infrastructure at Napoleons.

She said this sets a precedent for communities and councils across Australia.

“NBN Co has disregarded Council’s advice throughout the planning process and continued to aggressively pursue a solution that all parties were aware could not be approved by council,” Ms Frantz said.

She said the council is calling on the government ‘take action’ to ensure that its NBN roll out through NBN Co fully considers the alternative sites for fixed wireless infrastructure at Napoleons “before it attempts to default to satellite services as a last resort”.

Golden Plains Shire Council planning committee chair, Bill McArthur said the community deserves the “best efforts” of the government, NBN Co and council to find a resolution.

“No company should be able to hold a community to ransom, that’s effectively what NBN Co is threatening at Napoleons,” Mr McArthur said.

Mr McArthur told Government News that regarding the suitability of other sites, he is “quite suspicious” of their reasoning because it’s been emphasised that the towers need a line of site from one to the other.

“Yet all of a sudden, they can miss one tower out because the community objected to the location,” he said.

“Because we’re a pilot, we believe it has major implications and we were urging the federal government to step in to ensure that NBN Co considers a new location for fixed wireless infrastructure at Napoleons,” Mr McArthur said.

According to Mr McArthur, the message that NBN Co is trying to deliver is that if the community is not satisfied with the location that they choose for a tower, “well bad luck, we’ll move elsewhere”.

“It’s up to them to propose a site and under the planning process, it’s not up to council to dictate where the tower should go but if it’s clearly indicated that a site they choose is not going to be satisfactory, then they need to reconsider how they protect the planning process,” he said.

He said it sets a precedent because NBN Co is “waving a big stick around saying that if you don’t agree with us, we’ll pick up our bat and ball and go home and give it to somebody else”.

An NBN Co spokesperson said that NBN Co looked at three additional sites for the council.

“Two of which were not suitable as they did not meet radio frequency requirements and unfortunately we were unable to secure the landowners permission for the third site,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said NBN Co met with Golden Plains Shire Council staff, which was a “productive and positive meeting”, but at this stage NBN Co’s position not to appeal the Council’s decision remains.

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