A controversial "glamping" project in Hepburn Shire has been refused by the state planning tribunal due to concerns over the bushfire risk.
The decision was published on the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) website this week, backing the council's stance on the plan against 'Clifftop at Hepburn'.
The planning proposal was for four yurts, three "dome tents" and four caravans at 153 Charlies Road in Elevated Plains, around two kilometres away from Hepburn Springs.
As well as the council, neighbouring landowners also participated in the hearings to contest the plans.
The developer behind the project, David Penman, is also currently fighting a VCAT case against the City of Ballarat over the so-called 'skybarrels' proposed for the foothills of Mount Buninyong.
The involved explanation of the planning issues considered in the case extends to more than 11,000 words.
VCAT member Megan Carew summed up the key issues as follows: if the local planning policy supported the development; its impact on access, traffic and amenity; and whether the bushfire risk to human life was acceptable "including access/ egress arrangements".
It was on this final point that the planning permit was refused, with Ms Carew saying that as the land is on a bushfire area that aspect of the planning policy was "central" to the case.
I have found that the glamping facility nestled within the natural environs of this site would meet many of the objectives of the planning scheme. However... I have found that the risk from bushfire has not been reduced to an acceptable levelVCAT member Megan Carew
The development had proposed using an in-ground bunker as a shelter.
Ms Carew explained her reasoning as follows: "I have found that the glamping facility nestled within the natural environs of this site would meet many of the objectives of the planning scheme.
"However, I have not been persuaded that the proposed use of in-ground bunkers as the shelter in place solution is appropriate given the nature of the land use proposed, particularly in the absence of a building that can serve as a marshalling post or an on-site manager.
"I have found that the risk from bushfire has not been reduced to an acceptable level."
Another argument to refuse the permit due to the protection offered by the planning scheme for agriculture was dismissed by the VCAT member, who deemed the land "of low agricultural quality".
The original position of Hepburn Shire council planning officers had been to support the application despite a large number of community objections. However, councillors rejected the planners' recommendation at a council meeting on July 21 last year.
They voted by a majority to refuse the plan, citing the bushfire risk. Councillors also referred to the widespread community opposition to the glamping proposal.
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The VCAT case was held over five days, including hearings on five dates stretching across February, March and April.
It has reportedly been a very expensive exercise for all parties, with Hepburn Shire Council said to have exhausted much of its annual legal budget to defend its position at the tribunal.
A council spokesperson did not respond in time to queries about costs.
You can read the entire judgement here.
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