BALLARAT councillors have voted to refuse a contentious planning permit to allow Liberal Party signage to remain on display in Hummffray Street North.
In a presented to the councillors, officers found the signs for candidates Ben Taylor, Craig Coltman and Louise Staley on their Humffray Street office contributed to “excessive visual clutter” and was in breach of the council’s guidelines.
The City of Ballarat received 64 objections to the almost 35 square metres of signage, after the retrospective planning application was lodged in July.
Liberal party affiliated councillors Vicki Coltman, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh and Amy Johnson all voiced a conflict of interest in the item and left the chamber on Wednesday night, before the proceedings.
Managing partner at CIE Legal representing the Victorian Liberal Party Dan Feldman told the council the objections received on the matter were “absurd and opportunistic.”
Mr Feldman said the majority of objections had been submitted by people who had a direct affiliation with the Australian Labor Party.
He said 59 of the 64 objections had all been submitted on the same date, outlining identical concerns.
“Not a single objection is from a neighbour or person who lives in Humffray or surrounding streets,” he said. “If this was signage advertising coffee, dry cleaning or hardware, I’m sure there would not be any objections.”
He said VicRoads had confirmed it had no road safety concerns surrounding the signage.
Mr Feldman said nearby businesses including JB HI-FI and Lincraft all have large bold signage, some which covered the windows of the stores completely.
“It is located within Ballarat’s principal commercial centre and it is an application that is completely consistent with guidelines,” Mr Feldman said.
He also criticised Cr Belinda Coates – a Greens Party member – and Cr Hudson, who is affiliated with the Labor party, for not declaring their conflict of interests.
“They have their own political bias on the issue,” he said.
However, Cr Hudson said the matter was not a political one and was about upholding the council’s guidelines.
Ballarat resident and Labor member Gary Fitzgerald said the signage was a serious breach of council guidelines and posed a significant risk to human safety.
“Whether it be Labour, Liberal, Greens, National or the Sex Party all political parties must abide by the local laws,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“The fact is no permit was granted. It is about the safety of residents. Every road is considered safe until there is a serious accident.”
He also criticised the City of Ballarat’s three month delay in hearing the matter.
Mr Fitzgerald added if there has been any political favouritism, it was allowing Liberal Party candidates to keep their signage erected for months without a permit.
Cr Peter Innes said he completely supported the recommendation to immediately remove the signage.
“If there’s no permit, it’s non-compliant, pull them down,” Cr Innes said.
His views were echoed by Cr Glen Crompton.
All five councillors who were able to vote on the issue voted to refuse a permit.
Mr Feldman said the Liberal Party would be contesting the decision at the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal.
According to the council report, the Liberal Party has 14 days to remove the signs or the City of Ballarat will instigate formal enforcement proceedings.