Council green light for Midfield land sale

A CONTROVERSIAL land sale which captured national attention earlier this month was approved with little rancour by Warrnambool City councillors last night.

The two-stage land transaction from state to local government, then onto developer Midfield International, was given the green light at the special meeting despite prior speculation about the lead-up to the deal.

City councillors voted 5-1 in favour of purchasing the Crown land from the state government for $1.41 million as well as its immediate sale to Midfield for $1.7 million to enable the meat processor’s expansion plans.

Cr Peter Hulin opposed the measures while Cr Rob Askew was not present for the vote due to a declared conflict of interest.

The Midfield Meats expansion plan has been in the pipeline for more than a decade but a concrete initiative was only made public two months ago with a joint announcement by Premier Denis Napthine and Midfield managing director Colin McKenna.

At the time, it was suggested the project would create 200 new jobs but that figure has been whittled down to only 20 positions, a 90 per cent reduction in the original figure.

Councillors expressed disappointment at last night’s meeting that the number of new jobs was significantly lower than first thought but otherwise commended Midfield for being one of the region’s largest industrial employers.

“Twenty new jobs is better than no new jobs, so it’s good to see a manufacturing business growing in these tough times,” Cr Brian Kelson said.

Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh said half of the site sold to Midfield last night was already used by the meat processor as part of a long-standing lease.

“While there’s only 20 new jobs, the flow-on effects such as indirect jobs will be an asset for the region,” Cr Neoh said.

The rest of the site is used as a municipal depot, a situation Cr Hulin said showed a lack of long-term planning by the city council. “I think it’s extremely disappointing the way the council has just rushed this (project),” Cr Hulin said. 

The now-confirmed sale captured national attention earlier this month after a series of media reports raised questions over Premier Denis Napthine’s relationship with Mr McKenna following a $1.5 million state grant towards the project.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews referred the matter to the Independent Broad-Based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) but the government watchdog said there was no evidence of wrongdoing. 

alex.sinnott@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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