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15 April, 2022

Access issue for new farm camp

NEARLY 200 additional farm workers will be able to be accommodated at a site on Channel Road, Walkamin after Tablelands Regional Council approved a development application to expand existing facilities which currently cater to only around 20 workers.

By Robyn Holmes

Photo | Dreamstime

But the issue prompted a lengthy discussion at council’s meeting after Sunwater made it clear it would no longer be responsible for the maintenance of the bridge over the channel and suggested council take it on as a public road. 

That notion was eventually rejected by council, leaving the applicant to deal with Sunwater over the access issue and the provision of water from the channel which must be demonstrated to council by way of a licence agreement with Sunwater before the expansion of the workers camp can happen. 

The accommodation camp will house an additional 194 workers, primarily for major farming enterprise, Rock Ridge Farming, but will also act as an approved quarantine facility under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, allowing for more workers to come to the region to service the broader labour shortages being experienced across the shire. 

The project involves establishing 16 10-bed prefabricated demountable buildings as well as two smaller accommodation buildings, two kitchens, recreation buildings, four ablution blocks, and a new car park for up to 10 coaster buses to transport the workers. 

A council report acknowledged that the existing camp had been approved by council in 2008 for 21 people, which was subsequently lifted to 24 people, but officers had become aware that “considerably more persons have, at times, been accommodated on the site and have also identified a number of non-compliances with regards to building and plumbing works that have occurred in association with the existing accommodation infrastructure”. 

“The development application seeks to make lawful the use of existing buildings on the site to be used for rural workers accommodation in addition to the construction of two independent workers camps,” the report said. 

Each camp will have a self-contained manager’s residence, with people living there responsible for the day-to-day management and oversight of the camp. 

But the bridge over the channel which is used to access the site caused a long discussion after Sunwater, in its submission, pointed out that the proposed access into the accommodation camp was not a legal road, and that it could not provide a potable water supply to the development. 

Officers warned council of the risk to council if Sunwater refused to grant access to the applicant, prompting Cr Kevin Cardew to suggest the condition could be removed from the approval. 

“Sunwater is trying to get out of carrying out maintenance on an ageing bridge across this channel,” he told council. 

“It’s all about the use of the land in mind, not legal access into the property. It’s not our issue – we have control over the use of the land not the access. 

“If Sunwater challenges us and it takes away the right to access to the property, then that’s ridiculous.” 

But Infrastructure and Planning general manager Mark Vis said if the condition was removed, it would leave “an impasse between the developer and Sunwater”. 

“We (council) may be left with an asset built in the 1960s which doesn’t meet the requirements of the use and that could mean a significant upgrade may be needed,” he said. 

“As a local government, we have a responsibility to provide access to people’s property. If Sunwater says ‘no’, as a matter of course and as a local government, we would have to take action to open the road.” 

Cr Peter Hodge said while he recognised there was a risk to council, he reminded the meeting how important the development was. 

“If we don’t do this we would be removing the possibility of accommodation which is an absolute necessity to attract rural workers and have the ability to house them.” 

He said the applicant, which had already been granted an approval to establish workers’ accommodation at an Atherton caravan park last year, may not need to proceed with that project if this one was approved. 

Council voted to approve the application with Crs David Clifton and Kevin Cardew voting against the motion.

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