By Kate Taylor
A 30m tall mobile phone tower that suddenly appeared in Millbrook has, ironically, been revealed to be a testament to a lack of communication.
The Vodafone tower is built on land owned by Victorian Rail Authority VicTrack – but is located just 100m from Eddie Sullivan’s house.
It wasn’t until Eddie returned from a holiday that he discovered his new eye-wateringly close backyard feature.
“I returned from Perth and saw the pole laid out on the ground,” Eddie told the Moorabool News. “The next day, it was underway.”
“In my opinion, the tower is intrusive, and unfortunately placed considering the rural aspects of Millbrook. Had consultation taken place, the tower could have been moved a couple of hundred metres east which would not have affected the integrity of the project and would not have had the impact that it has on my property,” he said.
That appears to be the point – there was never any requirement for council to even notify, let alone consult, anybody about the tower for which they had approved a planning permit application more than a year ago.
The tower was built as part of the state government’s Regional Rail Connectivity Project, so it falls neatly within a clause in the planning laws that states that any tower built with even part government funding is exempt from notifying or advertising its permit application to build the tower.
Mr Sullivan says that, in his opinion, that clause has been hijacked by the tower’s contractor to give them the ability to build the cheapest version possible, not even consulting about putting the tower further from his home at a likely increased cost.
“If this had happened in a built-up area, there would have been outrage.”
The health effects of the tower’s proximity to Eddie’s house was the main concern of Woodlands Ward Councillor Pat Toohey, when the matter came up before the April 3 council meeting.
“What about radio frequency emissions? No one is telling us, as a council, if it meets this requirement in regard to Mr Sullivan’s dwelling. The question is – have we asked if this has been done appropriately, to protect Mr Sullivan from harm,” Cr Toohey asked the meeting. “There are hundreds of acres out there, rather than plonking it next to his home. We have a responsibility to look after the wellbeing of our community.”
Eddie Sullivan agrees.
“I think that in this day and age, anybody who has a transmission tower built near their residence would have concerns about radio frequency emissions,” Eddie told the Moorabool News.
Eddie had called for council to investigate the matter and it was the report into that investigation that was tabled at the April 3 meeting and which found no issues to be addressed.
‘This does not cut it for me,” Eddie said on the night, in response to the report. “I wanted an independent investigation. This is not fair.”
It must be noted that the item was originally listed for the March council meeting but had to be deferred. Why? Because nobody from council had informed Eddie that it was going to be heard.
Moorabool Councillors had already voted in November last year to write to the Communications Minister with concerns about that clause and in that letter, the CEO urged the State Government to review the planning considerations for telecommunication facilities and develop a method for tighter planning controls to protect the rights of community members.
Council received a response from The Minister for Planning in March which reads in part:
“I acknowledge your advice about the frustration of some community members resulting from the construction of telecommunications facilities close to dwellings. I am satisfied that the planning provisions are operating appropriately by enabling Victorian communities to benefit from a faster rollout of improved mobile phone coverage and by ensuring councils can assess the design and siting of facilities through the planning permit process.,” it reads.
Council CEO Derek Madden also wrote to Vodafone and VicTrack at the start of this year asking about relocating the tower to a place that is further set back from adjoining properties, but no response has been received.
“No one took the matter further with Vodafone or VicTrack. How can a report be complete without feedback from these important parties? Surely something could have been done.,” Eddie told the meeting.
Cr Toohey asked about whether the permit could be revoked, or if the matter could be taken to VCAT on human rights grounds.
A council officer advised that while Eddie, or any other affected landowners, are not eligible to take the matter to VCAT, Moorabool Shire Council did have that eligibility legally.
The matter was then taken into confidential business at the meeting and the Moorabool News has since asked council if it will take the matter to VCAT, however a response has not yet been received.
COUSIN COUNCILLOR ALSO UNAWARE
In an interesting twist to the story, Eddie’s cousin who is Moorabool Shire West Ward Councillor Tom Sullivan, was also kept in the dark about the tower.
“I didn’t know myself until I accidentally saw it on Greenlight a council site for planning applications, that’s the only reason I became aware of it,” Cr Sullivan said.
“But outside of that I wasn’t notified of it.”
At that point, Cr Sullivan wrote a letter of objection about the tower.
“Because I am an adjoining landowner, and it mucks up access to our place,” he said.
Apart from his objection, as well as because of it, Cr Sullivan declared a conflict of interest and stepped away from everything to do with the tower – some months later, it was built quite visibly about 150m away from Cr Sullivan’s house.
“When you come out the door, well you can’t miss it.”
Cr Sullivan shares his cousin’s suspicions about why the tower is located where it is.
“I think they pursued the cheapest one, because they could have moved it further along the rail line to the west, but I think they just chose the cheapest option, that’s my opinion of course.”