Several people representing the community in the planning phase of a controversial infrastructure project in western Victoria will quit their positions, saying electricity distributor AusNet has not been hearing their concerns.
- Many landholders want AusNet to build its 190km transmission line underground
- Consultation group members say the company is downplaying angst about the project
- AusNet says the community consultation group’s input is “vital”
AusNet convened a group in April to provide feedback on the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project, which is designed to take energy from north of Ararat to Melbourne’s north-west.
Waubra resident Glen Jones, one of the consultation group members who intends to resign today, said he and others initially joined believing they could learn information about the project to pass on to others in the community.
However, he said AusNet had failed to answer questions, including about how community feedback would shape the project, and accused the company of watering down concerns raised at the group’s meetings.
“If there were a lot of very upset and stressed people at the meeting, it would all be toned right down [in the minutes],” Mr Jones said.
Mr Jones said the group’s meetings had become “a box-ticking exercise” that AusNet was using to “buy a social licence they lost a long time ago”.
However, he said some of the 13 members of the community consultation group were still undecided on whether to resign.
Group’s role vital, company says
An AusNet spokesman said the community consultation group had “provided valuable input and will continue to play a vital role providing feedback and posing important questions on this project”.
“We welcome their diverse views and important feedback and thank members for their passion, which is reflected in the minutes of the meetings,” the spokesman said.
The company said it was unable to answer every question about the project because intensive technical investigations were not yet complete.
Mr Jones said he was aware of “hundreds of people upset with the project [and] terrified of what will happen” if the 85-metre-high towers were built.
He said AusNet needed to have more empathy for those “trying to do their day jobs and then staying up until 4:00am writing letters to politicians and trying to find out what’s going on”.
The resigning group members say they intend to hold their own community meetings in Waubra and Clunes this week, with AusNet representatives to be invited.
They also plan to set up a telephone service to help elderly and vulnerable landholders handle AusNet’s land access requests as surveys for the project begin.
AusNet land agents are going to contact every landholder in the corridor the company has identified for the project.
Farmers last week threatened to block AusNet from accessing their land to conduct surveys for the project’s environmental assessment.