Expansion given the green light

Expansion given the green light

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Cardup-based concrete precast formwork manufacturer Permacast has finally been given the green light. Tessa McGuire pictured. Photograph - Sabine Albers

The Permacast saga came to a dramatic end on March 6, when the Metro Outer Joint Development Assessment Panel again flew in the face of the SJ Shire’s collective advice and retrospectively approved the company’s expansion.

Background:

An awful lot was riding on the determination: On one hand was the health and wellbeing of the local residents and the natural environment, and on the other was the continued viability of a local business and employer who is responsible for delivering vital infrastructure for our region.

It was clear from the outset that whatever the decision, there were going to be hearts broken by the end.

The five-person panel heard a range of presentations from both objectors and supporters, over the course of the two hour-long meeting.

Cardup residents continued to express their disbelief that Permacast had been allowed to grow to its current size without the necessary permissions to do so.

“The residents of Cardup have had no say whatsoever in this matter. Permacast chose to ignore their responsibilities, in so doing ensuring the residents of Cardup had no means of disagreeing with the site’s existence and expansion,” local resident Mike Smowton said.

“Permacast believes that the laws, regulations and recommendations do not apply to them. This attitude seems to have been condoned and supported by the regulators. It is time to stop,” Karen McEwen said.

“The wrong type of industry has been developed on this site. Furthermore, the operation is too big and too heavy for the site and too close to residences and residential developments.”

They were also at pains to describe how their daily lives were being affected by the company’s expansion over the past two years.

“We came to Cardup in 2003 for fresher, cleaner country air to help my lung problems. Because of Permacast, this has backfired on us. The noise and vibrations are phenomenal 24 hours a day. We hear the thudding vibration morning, noon and night. It vibrates the whole house,” Chris Smowton said.

“This site has proven to be a pollutant of the ground water, the general environment and has affected all those living close by and also disrupts traffic movement in the general area,” Mike Smowton added.

Panellists asked whether there had been any official testing of ground water to back up the residents’ claims that groundwater was being contaminated, and Mr Smowton explained they didn’t have the financial means to do so.

“But we have to run our water for 10 minutes to get it clear, otherwise it comes out bright turquoise,” Mr Smowton explained.

Belinda Moharich spoke on behalf of her clients (Land Group WA and Gold Fusion Pty Ltd) who are planning to develop estates in Cardup.

She said the “offsite impacts” from the plant had the potential to affect the developability of her clients’ land.

“The measurements of noise and vibration are concerning. It appears that in order for compliance to be reached, that only one stressing bed can be used at a time, and that the concrete mixture consistency has had to be revised to reduce the action required of the agitator machines (which create the vibration),” she said.

“Clearly, the fact that these additional stressing beds have only recently been constructed suggests that more than one is required to be used at any one time.”

She maintained that it was “entirely inappropriate” for JDAP to have to implement conditions to ensure that Permacast’s development applications could “comply with regulatory standards”.

Then it was time to hear support for the proposal. For the very first time during this almost year-long debate, we heard from a Permacast employee.

David Barrett lives in the Whitby Estate and has worked for Permacast for over a decade.

“Permacast’s growth has allowed me to grow from labourer to various leadership roles, where else in the shire am I, or my child, going to get these opportunities?

“I will tell you who Permacast is, because it certainly isn’t this corporate monster that is portrayed. It is a family business that treats their employees like family, it’s a company that cares.

“I remember the day that DWER issued the prevention notice, I remember Alberto calling us all in for an urgent meeting, I remember the words he said: ‘We have to get better at what we do, and we will be better at what we do’.

“The work, leadership and quickness of mitigation controls that have been implemented is company-wide, because at every level, we want to continue to deliver projects that benefit people across all Western Australia, projects like the Optus Stadium and the Byford Rail, right here in the shire.

“I cannot fathom why the shire wants to reject local companies providing infrastructure to a place where I work and live.”

Permacast’s solicitor, Brendan Foley, of Thomson Geer lawyers, reiterated that Permacast had jumped through all required hoops in order to comply with state regulations.

“We are very, very confident that we comply with noise regulations as set out by DWER,” he said and pointed to supporting documentation from the Executive Director of Compliance at DWER.

He also addressed the accusation that Permacast had acted ‘illegally’ by expanding without approval by pointing to the fact that Permacast’s recent activities fall under the category of ‘public works’ and as such are exempt from the requirement to have permission before development occurs, as outlined by the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

“The works that have occurred on site in the previous two years meet the definition of public works under the Public Works Act,” he said.

“Stressing Bed 4 is actually owned by PTA, and the concrete bridge sections that are produced within it are to support the Metronet Byford rail extension and the Metronet raised rail project.”

Panellists deliberated for 30 minutes or more, and there was a lengthy debate about the methods of conducting noise monitoring investigations.

President Rob Coales, and Cr Shaye Mack supported the council’s decision to refuse Permacast’s DAs.

“There is one issue that I can’t reconcile in my own mind and that is of noise. We have been told that noise is objective, but everything we’ve heard today is that it’s anything but objective- it’s very subjective,” President Coales said.

“I don’t think the panel can be satisfied … that those noise concerns have been allayed.”

But the motion was lost when the three specialist panel members voted against it.

“It’s really about the amenity. While there are alternate views, I think we have to rely on the regulatory authorities,” John Syme said.

“I believe the matters can be regulated, mitigated and are being monitored,” Presiding Member Karen Hyde said.

The panel then voted unanimously to approve the DAs with a long list of conditions to be met, including a number of measures to ensure accountability to the community.

“Permacast is very pleased with the decision and would like to thank the panel for taking the time to work through the application and decide on sensible conditions of approval,”

Permacast’s solicitor, Brendan Foley said.

“We will work swiftly with the shire and Main Roads to clear all conditions of the approval over the coming months and look forward to continuing the construction of key elements of the Metronet Byford Rail Extension.”

But the Cardup Residents Against Pollution were clearly downtrodden in their response to the determination: “That is the end of it, folks. Our hopes for a decent, quiet rural life for you all have sadly been dashed.”