• Cobden Airport in Victoria's western district. (Steve Hitchen)
    Cobden Airport in Victoria's western district. (Steve Hitchen)

The small airport at Cobden in Victoria has proven to be a mouse that roared after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) refused an application to build a wind farm on the airport flight path.

Naroghid Wind Farm Pty Ltd wanted to build 12 wind turbines that would reach 180 metres above ground level positioned only 2 km north-west of Cobden township in Victoria's western district. Naroghid took the matter to VCAT after the Victorian Planning Minister failed to make a decision within the statutory time.

Supporters of Cobden Airport argued that the proposed wind turbines would have significant impacts on flying operations, including:

  • restricting the ability to take off and depart directly to the north
  • restricting the ability to approach and land from the north, including but not limited to straight in approaches
  • creation of turbulence in the circuit area to the west of the runway when northerly through to westerly winds are blowing
  • preventing night time use
  • limiting the ability to extend a circuit leg when manoeuvring in response to slower aircraft in the circuit
  • being a visual distraction to pilots, thereby adding to operational risk factors during a critical phase of flight.

The Minister told VCAT that if the application for review had not been made, the permit would have been because of the impact on Cobden Airport and the endangered Southern Bent Wing Bat. The minister proposed that VCAT should refuse the permit for the same reasons.

VCAT agreed, and on 3 June ruled that a permit not be granted.

" ...we acknowledge that there are aspects of the proposal which weigh in its favour, including the delivery of renewable energy and its minimisation of amenity impacts on nearby properties," states the VCAT ruling handed down by members Ian Potts and Michelle Blackburn.

"However we do not consider these benefits to outweigh ... the material impact that we have found the proposal will have on the safety of the current aviation operations at the Cobden airfield. Measures needed to address these safety impacts will have an impact on the efficient use of the Cobden airfield, and give rise to a new land use conflict between aircraft operations and the amenity of Cobden residents.

"While it may be possible for the proposal to be altered to address our concerns about the airfield and for further field surveys to satisfactorily address the likely risk to the Southern Bent-wing Bat, these are not matters which can be addressed by simple modifications to the proposal or by allowing a short period for further information to be provided under an interim decision.

"As a result, we have refused to grant a permit for the proposal."

The VCAT ruling elaborated further on what it says would be significant impacts on the airfield, stating that if they approved the permit it would be up to the Cobden airfield to undertake changes to operations to address the additional safety risks, stop night operations and relocate the existing circuit area away from less sensitive farming land to an area around the town itself.

"We consider these impacts of the proposal on the current use of an existing public asset to be a factor which weighs against it," the ruling says. "We consider this to be a significant factor given that the Cobden airfield is an asset expressly recognised in the scheme, with policy support for the protection of its ongoing operation and the community benefits that arise from its use.

"We also consider reducing the existing separation between the use of the airfield and the township of Cobden, so that aircraft using the airfield would fly closer to the Cobden township, creates a situation of potential land use conflict which is inconsistent with orderly planning and which could impact on the amenity of the residents of the Cobden township.

"This detriment to the Cobden township as a whole is another matter which we consider weighs against the proposal when assessing its net community benefit."

Naroghid developer Alinta Energy is believed to be reviewing the decision to see if a modified proposal may be possible.

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