The Sikh community of the Cardinia Shire Council region has expressed relief after the objectors withdrew their case from Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
A group of around 25 residents in the region had approached VCAT raising multiple objections against the proposal to build a Gurdwara at a location in Officer, near Pakenham in Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe.
The group had expressed concerns that a place of worship would be contrary to the purpose of the green wedge zone and agricultural activities and rural landscape values in the area.
Community spokesperson Harpreet Singh and Avtar Singh told SBS Punjabi that the VCAT hearing, which was fixed for Thursday 3 May, has now been withdrawn.
“It’s great moment for the community as we look forward to build this 123-capacity place of worship at this place. The project was halted for months after a group of residents objected to this development,” said Mr Singh.
“We were struggling to find a permanent place of worship for last two years. Emotions run high when the objectors approached VCAT to oppose Council’s approval to build the Sikh temple.”
The Sikh community of the Cardinia Shire Council region had purchased a 20-acre property in 2017.
Located on a green wedge zone at Officer (near Pakenham), the property has remained largely unattended since then.
Community spokesperson Avtar Singh told SBS Punjabi they have faced hurdles ever since they started the process of setting up the Gurdwara.
“It was very unfortunate that project couldn’t go ahead as proposed earlier. But we’re glad that the community has approached these obstacles in a sensible and professional manner.
“We’re very thankful to our local councillors who assisted us in best possible ways move ahead with this project.
Mr Singh estimates that the renovations may take around three to four months and the cost may rise well above $350,000.
Officer resident Dianne Macdermid, who spearheaded the VCAT case against the development, told the Pakenham Gazette that the group withdrew after seeking legal advice.
“We were advised that we possibly wouldn’t win, which in turn would mean a large financial blow on our end,” she said.
“We weren’t being supported by the council either. It was like butting our heads against a brick wall.”
Last year, more than 650 members of the Indian, Sikh and other communities signed a petition requesting the council to consider the proposal of building a Gurdwara in this region.
Harpreet Singh told SBS Punjabi that most of the Shire’s councillors visited the proposed site between May and September 2017.
“The council unanimously approved it in Oct 2017 while appreciating the role played by the small Sikh community to various community activities,” he said.
“While undertaking detailed traffic, ecological, bushfire studies, the volunteers from the Sikh community also made it a point to visit the neighbours to brief them about their faith and the proposed temple and dropped more information about their project in their mailboxes.”
The community proposes to use about 10 acres of land for horticultural and agriculture activities.
“We have already started discussions with land care experts, and engaged a consultant to evaluate possible options in this regard,” said Mr Singh
“We have plans to do organic food farming to support food van projects and other community projects in the shire and Melbourne in an effort to give back to the community.
“We think that our places of worship also need to think beyond just being a temple. We need to integrate environmental and community concerns and build partnerships with other community and social groups in our regions.
“We vow to work transparently and patiently with the community and for the community, including our neighbours.
Watch the video of Australia’s First Sikh Temple