PRODUCERS in the Gladstone region have gone to war with their local council over the ownership of grids.
In November 2015 the Gladstone Regional Council adopted a policy that stated landholders would need to take ownership of grids on public roads used to access their properties, or those within the boundaries of their properties.
Landholders would be required to pay a registration fee for the grid, and also have public liability insurance of $20 million for it.
Last week, concerned landholders held a meeting at The Old Station, Raglan, and invited Gladstone Regional Council mayor Matt Burnett to attend.
They told Cr Burnett that it was “completely unacceptable” that the council wanted to pass on all responsibility to the landholders.
Cedric Creed, Berties, Raglan, said it was impossible for him to insure the grid for $20 million.
“My insurance company won’t insure me for a grid that’s on council land,” Mr Creed told Cr Burnett.
“They can’t insure me because it’s not on my land.”
Landholders also expressed frustration at ‘red tape’ involved in the process.
Over the past three years, local landholders have received many letters from the council – with the first simply showing a photograph of a grid and asking them if it was theirs.
Mr Creed said most landholders wrote back confirming it was, thinking they were updating council records.
Then, in July 2016, landholders received the bill for $55 per grid to register them.
John Wall, Plumtree, Raglan, agreed and said to insure separate grids would cost another $600 – if they were able to be insured at all.
Most landholders were frustrated not only at the policy, but at the lack of consultation.
While some had paid their $55 registration fee, they were not happy about it.
Mr Creed said he had written two letters to council in the past two years about the policy but received no response.
“We pay you the $55, but you won’t do any maintenance, we have to do all the signage and the maintenance,” Mr Creed said of the policy.
Cr Burnett said he was taking on-board all of the landholders’ concerns – and would take them back to the council for consideration.
Also at the meeting was the council’s manager of road services, Rob Huth.
Mr Huth said there was consultation when the policy was first considered.
“I was part of some meetings with a number of residents,” Mr Huth said.
“It was not widely communicated, but before it was even labeled there was input from property owners.”
When it was pointed out that surrounding shires did not adopt the voluntary policy, Mr Burnett said he had no intention of “copying the neighbours” when it came to running a council.
Gladstone council’s past Chief Executive Officer, Graeme Kanofski was at the meeting, and he put forward an alternate proposal, which was well received by both the council representatives and the landholders.
Mr Kanofski said grids were usually only approved on very low traffic roads, and provide benefits for both the landholder and the council.
“The advantage for the landholder of having a grids is that it obviates the need to fence a road out of a paddock,” he said.
“The advantage for council is that the road verges are eaten out by cattle rather than become overgrown and a fire or visual hazard.”
Mr Kanofski and the landholders agreed that all new grids put in place from now should be funded by the relevant landholder, and built to council specifications, however once built they “should be owned and maintained by council, except for cleaning out the under side of the grid to ensure it remains functional”.
He said as a council owned facility, the landholdler should have no need to provide insurance.
Mr Kanofski was scathing of the debate and said it was a “simple issue with a simple solution”.
For Cr Burnett, the solution was not quite so simple.
He raised concern over who will technically own new grids, and raised concern over who would be required to replace it in 20 years, and said the issue of existing grids still needed to be addressed.
“All our staff are doing is implementing a policy in 2015, to be honest I’m a bit disappointed they’ve dragged the chain,” he said.
Mr Huth said with 350 grids across the region, the “vast majority” didn’t comply with council standards.
“We have done a full assessment, and in the last letter we sent out we said that we acknowledge it’s not up to council standard, but are willing to accept it as-is,” he said.
Cr Burnett committed to reporting the concerns back to his Council.
”We probably didn’t get the policy right in the first place, I accept that,” he said.