Proposed shooting range near Lake George determined by NSW Land and Environment Court

Targets at the Collector site during the first proposed development in 2018. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Targets at the Collector site during the first proposed development in 2018. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

A proposal to build a shooting range near Lake George has been rejected by a court after controversy arose when the site was initially planned to become a national live fire centre to train police in lethal force and counter-terrorism operations.

The site known as Samuel's Run on the north-eastern edge of the lake near Collector was first planned by the Australian Target Systems (ATS), the main provider of shooting facilities for the Australian Defence Force, to help address a "key market need" after the Lindt café siege.

The 2018 application lodged with the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council was withdrawn following community backlash and after the proposal, being a commercial shooting range, was identified as a prohibited use on the land.

A new recreational-based application was then lodged by Fiona Ellen Burns, whose husband, Paul Burns, was the former chief executive of ATS. Both are former senior officers of the Australian Army.

The second bid had six ranges - with two described as being innovative and one offering a "unique field experience" - for shooters.

The size was 1932 hectares compared with about 5000 in the previous proposal and would operate seven days a week, including three nights.

It had been proposed on a "worst-case scenario", using high-calibre ammunition for the ranges and testing the loudest weapon - the .308 Centrefire Rifle.

After the council knocked back the second application, the proponent took the matter to the NSW Land and Environment Court.

During the hearing earlier this year, the council said Ms Burns' objection to a number of the conditions meant the court had insufficient material to grant approval.

The council argued that the proposal was not genuinely intended to be a recreational facility because it arose from the original application, NSW Police holding a two-week long firearms training session in 2017 and an email from Mr Burns to councillors documenting its intended use was beyond recreational to commercial.

Should the police use the site in the future, it is likely that there will be impacts.

Susan Dixon SC, senior commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court

The council said that because police being able to use the land for lawful shooting was formalised under the State Environmental Planning Policy in October 2017, the court cannot ignore impacts of such a use.

While the court accepted that the police commissioner would ensure police use was done safely, Peter Szaak, who gave evidence about the NSW Police Firearms Registry, said police may use a lawful shooting range for their own purposes.

Mr Szaak said legal advice was conflicting about whether or not the police commissioner would need to comply with conditions as part of the development.

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The proponent, Ms Burns, argued the development was only for recreational use for practice, training, competition, and target shooting.

She said said two shooting experts agreed that the site was intended for recreational use only rather than predominately for military or law enforcement.

In a recent judgment, the court's senior commissioner Susan Dixon SC said that while the use fell within "recreational use", she found it was difficult "to argue that the likely impacts of the police use of the site, in the event of an approval, are irrelevant to my assessment of this DA when the police commissioner can decide at any time to carry out police training exercises".

Ms Dixon said police using the land in the past for firearms training "generated significant noise complaints and amenity impacts for local residents as recorded in the objectors' submissions".

"Should the police use the site in the future, it is likely that there will be impacts," she said.

"There is a sufficient nexus between the proposed development and the use by the police arising from an approval of this DA."

She said the impacts of the potential police use have not been assessed and that she did not believe "an approval of this application is in the public interest".

Ms Dixon rejected the application and dismissed the appeal.

Additional contentions by the council included other noise issues, the risk of harm, incompatibility with the area's character, inconsistency with the local environment plan, and social impacts in the locality.

In addition to the expert evidence, the court also received 114 written submissions from supporters and objectors.

Ms Burns and the Collector Community Association have been contacted for comment.

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This story Court rules on controversial shooting range proposed near Lake George first appeared on The Canberra Times.