Purnim farmer John Howard gathers support in tower fight

DESPITE 10 court cases and costs of more than $1.5 million, Purnim farmer John Howard is undeterred.

John Howard at his home on Blighs Road at Purnim. He says he has been forced to abandon because of electro-magnetic radiation from ACE Radio’s transmission towers located just over 200 metres from the site. 150610DW24 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

John Howard at his home on Blighs Road at Purnim. He says he has been forced to abandon because of electro-magnetic radiation from ACE Radio’s transmission towers located just over 200 metres from the site. 150610DW24 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

Mr Howard has battled with Moyne Shire Council since 2006 over the impact of electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) from radio transmission towers erected near his farm.

The battle resurfaced at Moyne Shire Council’s latest meeting where Mr Howard gave a council officer a broadside during a public participation segment.

Mr Howard said the officer had misrepresented to authorities the circumstances in which the ACE Radio towers were approved by the council.

There had been a culture of “untruths” at the council about its approval for the towers, he said.

The claim prompted mayor Colin Ryan to tell Mr Howard his opportunity to address the council did not extend to denigrating council officers.

When Cr Mick Wolfe asked Mr Howard if his problem was unresolved because “we (the council) have not got the answers you want”, Mr Howard said the council had not been transparent in its dealings with him.

The lively exchange was the latest chapter in the saga that has forced Mr Howard from his Purnim home and cost him more than $1.5 million.

The cost includes legal fees of more than $800,000 and the devaluation of his farm by $560,000 following the radio towers’ construction.

Mr Howard wants Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins to order an inquiry into the affair and has gathered support for his cause from the Victorian Farmers Federation, Ratepayers Victoria, member for Western Victoria Simon Ramsay, Moyne Residents and Ratepayers Group and the Sustainable Agriculture and Communities Alliance.

He said that if Moyne Shire had told the truth in the fight over the towers, he would have accepted the decision of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), but it had not.

In 2009, Mr Howard abandoned his four-bedroom brick home at Blighs Road because he believed EMR from the microwave-emitting towers were the cause of the frequent bloody noses he was suffering.

The EMR levels at his home, caused by the close proximity of the towers to the powerline to his home, also made it impossible for him to reliably use communication devices such as telephones.

Mr Howard said a 2006 note by a Moyne Shire planning officer, obtained by his barrister as part of a Supreme Court civil case he won against the council and ACE Radio, said it appeared the towers had not been built in accordance with the council’s permit. 

The document stated the council had misinformed him about the towers’ location, Mr Howard said.

He said one tower was 126 metres from its approved position and another 58 metres out of position, bringing them within 210 metres of his Purnim house and only 66 metres from overhead powerlines, which acted as conductors for radio electomagnetic interference. 

They were also much higher than originally stated.

His battle over the towers through VCAT, where he has been about eight times, and the Supreme Court has racked up his legal costs to between $800,000-$900,000.

Mr Howard received a confidential settlement in 2012 for psychological damage and mental anguish after taking civil action in the Victorian Supreme Court against Moyne Shire Council and ACE Radio but said there was still much to be resolved over the circumstances in which the towers were installed in their present location.

Central to his latest assault on the council is his claim that all of the VCAT and Supreme Court hearings have not taken into account that council gave verbal approval for an amended planning permit that allowed the towers to be built closer to his house.

Mr Howard said the verbal amendment given by a planning officer had denied him the opportunity to object to the change and the council had not told VCAT about the verbal amendment.

His unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court was hampered due to the court not being allowed to hear about the verbal amendment because it could only consider evidence that had been put to VCAT.

The result was VCAT made its decision to legalise the council’s approval based on incomplete evidence, Mr Howard said.

In answer to questions in State Parliament in 2009 from MP John Vogels, planning minister Justin Madden said formal written assessment of the planning permit for the radio towers next to Mr Howard’s property was not carried out at the time of the permit issue.

Mr Madden said changes to a planning permit could not be verbally approved and changes to the permit for the radio towers had been formally amended in 2009, three years after their construction.

Mr Howard has written to Ms Hutchins asking to have the legality of the verbal amendment to the planning permit heard by a court or for a fully independent inquiry into the issue.

“I want justice,” Mr Howard said. “I want the truth to be told. The shire thinks it is settled but it is not.” 

In a 2011 media release supporting Mr Howard’s cause, upper house MP Simon Ramsay said Moyne council should be held to account for “the mismanagement and bungling of the planning permit, the verbalisation of an amendment to the permit and a flagrant denial of any wrong doing”.

In response to Mr Ramsay’s claims, Moyne’s CEO David Madden said Mr Howard’s claims about the council’s actions had been the subject of an Ombudsman’s investigation in 2007.

The Ombudsman found the council had made a genuine attempt to resolve the situation.

Asked to respond this month to Mr Howard’s recent claims, Mr Madden said the Moyne Shire Council “considers that this matter is finished”.

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