The proponents of a recycling centre in Canberra's east have hit out at the amount of bureaucracy in the nation's capital, after the ACT government revealed on Friday the project had cleared the first hurdle after more than three years and over $3 million.
Planning and Environment minister Mick Gentleman announced late on Friday afternoon the government had accepted Capital Recycling Solution's environmental impact statement for their proposal to build a materials recycling facility in Fyshwick.
It means the government officials now had enough information on the environmental impacts for the project to proceed to a development application.
The centre is expected to process around 300,000 tonnes of waste a year, extracting recyclables from material that would have otherwise gone into landfill and sending the leftovers to Woodlawn tip in NSW.
However, Mr Gentleman stressed this was in no way a green light for the project, which has long been at the centre of controversy.
"The EIS has been assessed by the independent planning and land authority and an assessment report has been prepared. This outlines what a future development application for the site must address when it is submitted," Mr Gentleman said.
"There are several issues identified in representations from the community and by the independent review of the EIS. These issues will require careful review at the development application stage by the independent planning and land authority should a development application be lodged.
"If a development application is lodged, the community will have the opportunity to provide comments on the detailed design for the proposal during the standard public comment period."
Capital Recycling Solutions director Adam Perry welcomed Mr Gentleman's announcement.
"That said it's a pity any proponent has to go through such a bureaucratic nightmare to get to this point. It's such a crazy system, really," Mr Perry said.
The proposal, which involved former Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, attracted considerable opposition from community members over environmental and health fears.
"We have a child in care with one lung, they can't afford to breathe in shit," a worker from a nearby daycare centre told an incendiary community meeting.
It's a pity any proponent has to go through such a bureaucratic nightmare to get to this point. It's such a crazy system, really.Capital Recycling Solutions director Adam Perry
The waste-to-power element was later dumped, after the Greens - who hold the balance of power in the ACT's parliament - threatened to block the development. The ACT government later banned rubbish burning for electricity altogether.
However the company pressed forward with the recycling plant. The project was delayed though after ACT planning officials made the unprecedented decision to revoke a development application they'd approved for the company to build a rail siding on the site.
The rail line was to be used to bring in rubbish from the Woodlawn tip at Tarago. However an internal review found the development should not have been given approval in the first place.
The Supreme Court later ruled the decision to revoke the approval was invalidly, saying it was nonsensical to reverse their decision more than a year after the fact.
Capital Recycling Solutions later threatened to take legal action against the government again after officials dragged their feet on the site. Their development application was approved days later.
In May, the company hit out at the government again for its slow progress on processing its environmental impact statement.
Mr Perry said the company was committed to getting the project off the ground, despite the long-running drama.
But he said Canberra was a "nightmare of a place to get anything done"
"I'm sure many good proponents simply abandon projects because it's all too hard," Mr Perry said.
"It's hard to see why anyone would put their hand up with a good idea, when you have to face a $3 million, three-year EIS process we've fought through. That's what you're facing if you want to put your hand up and say 'I want to address the waste and recycling problem'."
Mr Perry said he had another "minor" development application that had been tied up for a year-and-a-half with no end in sight.
While the government had promised to clear development application backlogs as part of its COVID-19 strategy, Mr Perry said they were too focused on "garden sheds" and not "big developments".
"I've done developments in three other states. I'm building a hotel and microbrewery at the moment and council is all over it, they love it. You come to Canberra and you can't get a phone call returned after 10 attempts."
Mr Perry was also critical of the government's decision to ban waste-to-energy altogether.
He brought the idea to government after former environment minister Simon Corbell instigated a feasibility study on the future of Canberra's waste, which included examining waste-to-energy.
"The new waste-to-energy ban enshrines their hypocrisy. THey say you can make fuel in the ACT but you can't burn it here. The only way to recycle plastic is to heat it up in some format. I'm not saying you should burn it in an incinerator, in the last three years there's been lots of improvements in waste technology driven by the Chinese ban on imported plastics. But the ACT government's banned all that," Mr Perry said.
"They've wasted $2 million on a court case, $15 million on a waste feasibility study and nothing has improved recycling in Canberra. Now 100,000 tonnes of rubbish a year goes from Canberra to Viola [Woodlawn] through road, all through Bungendore. All those trucks, every single day. And there's a quarter of a million tonnes of waste going to Mugga Lane."