The fate of the spotted-tailed quoll may still prove a stumbling block to the multi-million dollar mega resort.
The fate of the spotted-tailed quoll may still prove a stumbling block to the multi-million dollar mega resort.

Cherrabah mega resort wins 5-3

A DEAD quoll, landowners, developers, consultants and the owner of a local construction company were just some of the cast that filled Southern Downs Regional Council chambers yesterday to hear council grant planning approval for a mega resort at Cherrabah.

While the hope of objecting landholders was snuffed out by a tight council vote, the endangered spotted-tailed quoll could still trump the decision and stop the development.

The 452-hectare project has been scaled down since it received preliminary approval back in 2008, but it still plans to house 1481 permanent residents and 1900 tourists, which could make it two-thirds the size of Stanthorpe.

After a special meeting in council chambers yesterday, and significant debate, the development was approved, with Councillors Ross Bartley, Jo McNally and Cameron Gow voting against it.

However, extra conditions on roadworks, which could cost owner Wenxing Ma up to $2 million, were added to the approval after some lengthy debate, and Mr Ma are likely to appeal these conditions.

It was a colourful start to yesterday's events as Cullendore Rd resident Ben Dyball stood in the council lobby to show passers-by and meeting attendees a dead quoll, which had been hit by a car in the surrounding area.

The spotted-tailed quoll is part of a national recovery plan and there is a stronghold and research population on the Elbow Valley resort, one of only six places identified in south Queensland.

The Federal Government's Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has called the planning application in and will analyse it under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

This Act, as has happened in the past with famous cases such as the Traveston Dam, could halt the development or add further conditions to protect the endangered species.

In his introduction at yesterday's meeting, planning director Ken Harris said the issue would be dealt with at Federal level and therefore didn't come into play in council's decision-making process.

The controversial water allocation given to Cherrabah was also out of council hands, Mr Harris told the meeting, despite concerns raised by Cr Ross Bartley over how it could affect Dalveen's water supply.

Mr Harris said the consultants had provided thorough information and answered all questions asked in the pre-approval.

State Government departments had been asked about infrastructure requirements for the development, such as health services, police, fire and education, but no formal response was ever received.

Officers were told verbally by a representative from Queensland Fire and Rescue an urban fire station would need to be set up in the resort, but this hadn't been received in writing.

Mr Harris said he found the lack of response surprising.

Nine submissions objecting to the development were received by council.

Submitters and the applicant's consultants were invited to say a few words.

Elbow Valley landholder Liam O'Dea spoke to the meeting and referenced a section of the Warwick Shire Planning Scheme, which states “tourist- related uses may be considered where they complement rural activities ... and are unlikely to result in adverse environmental impacts”.

“The whole community was involved in drafting the scheme,” Mr O'Dea said.

“Not just Mr Harris.

“I suggest to you that clause does apply to this development.”

A representative of Urbis, the consultants for the applicants, said they were still involved with the Federal Government in dealing with the quoll issue and it could take up to 12 months to be finalised.

She said a report was being prepared on the social and economic benefits of the development.

She said 482 jobs could be created, value adding $265 million to the local economy during development and $733 million once the development is up and running.

Mr Harris also estimated council could rake in $800,000 of rates from the development.

The issue of the Old Stanthorpe Rd took up most the meeting time with Cr Peter Blundell and Mayor Ron Bellingham debating whether it was appropriate to condition the applicant to seal the whole road south.

To the surprise of Mr Harris and the mayor, councillors voted in favour of adding staged roadworks on O'Dea's Rd and the Old Stanthorpe Rd to the conditions.

This could add a huge cost to the development and though owner Mr Ma wouldn't be drawn on whether or not he would appeal, Mr Harris said it was likely.

“This won't be the last time we discuss these roadworks,” he warned councillors.

Cr Bellingham also expressed his concern the conditions were “unreasonable” but Cr Blundell was adamant the development would increase traffic significantly south and therefore council had to make sure ratepayers weren't left picking up the cost of improving the road.

While Cr Jo McNally was adamant it was unreasonable expansion of the area, Cr Mally McMurtrie said she could see no credible reason not to approve it.

Cr Bellingham said the resort had existed for 40 years and it was just a matter of “intensity,” to which Cr Blundell said calling it simply an expansion was misleading because it was instead creating a new town.

Cr Cameron Gow expressed concern over council's consistency in dividing up good quality agricultural land, a constant bugbear of Cr Ross Bartley, and both, along with Cr McNally voted against the application.

Cr Bartley was irked by the fact meeting chair Cr Bellingham did not ask if there was any opposition to the motion.

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