Gympie resident Reginald Ross Lawler says a planned 100ha pig and poultry farm at Kybong should not go ahead.
Gympie resident Reginald Ross Lawler says a planned 100ha pig and poultry farm at Kybong should not go ahead. Brenda Strong GLA150312HORS

Farmer's idyllic dream turns into $200k nightmare

SOME 20 years ago, Stuart Andrews dreamt of rehabilitating damaged landscapes by producing ethically grown free-range pigs and eggs for Australia's hospitality trade.

In 2015, he began putting that plan into action, asking Gympie Regional Council to approve a proposal for Forager Farm at 87 Mullaly Rd, Kybong.

"Everything for me is about how we can rehabilitate landscapes that no longer function," Mr Andrews said.

"When you've got a landscape that's degraded you need to look at having animals or plants on there to start the process of rebuilding it.

"Chickens and pigs will stimulate the right plants to come in and it all builds from there."

Despite vehement opposition from some local residents, last May the council gave Mr Stuart the green light to raise 1000 pigs, 10,000 hens and 150 head of cattle on the 108ha beside the Mary River.

Those opposing the farm feared it would contaminate Gympie's water supply, create bad smells from manure, ruin the views of neighbouring landholders and attract flies and feral pests.

The council addressed these concerns by placing 21 restrictions on the proposal, including water protection measures and livestock number limitations.

Mr Andrews, his wife Megan and their two teenage sons began building their business, but local environmentalists stepped up their opposition.

The small group of residents lobbied the council to tighten the restrictions and four of them took the issue to the Queensland Planning and Environment Court.

By the time the trial began on Monday with a site visit by Judge William Everson, three of the applicants had withdrawn from the case.

The last man standing was 74-year-old retired schoolteacher Reginald Ross Lawler, who was self-representing.

Barrister Ben Jobe, acting for Mr Andrews, on Tuesday told the court that all of the "scientific evidence" showed Forage Farms was an "appropriate use of the site".

"The proposal unambiguously ticks the acceptable outcomes box," Mr Jobe said.

At that point Judge Everson warned Mr Lawler that he was likely to lose the appeal based on the evidence to be presented by the legal teams for Mr Andrews and Gympie council.

"If you put up an argument that is unarguable, on the reading of these documents, you are at risk of a costs order," Judge Everson said.

"The co-respondents have been put to considerable risk in regards to engaging experts, a barrister and solicitors to address your concerns.

"You're the last of the appellants to have concerns.

"You're entitled to your day in court but if you thought the other parties would bear the cost of demonstrating things to me that are unarguable then you run the real risk of a cost order and that could be quite significant."

By 2.30pm on Tuesday, Mr and Mrs Andrews had settled with Mr Lawler.

Mr Andrews said the financial cost was massive with his legal bills topping $200,000, but the emotional impact of fighting the case was immeasurable.

"It's been horrible. Absolutely horrible," Mr Andrews said.

"I've had to expend more than $200,000 to get my little operation up.

"It's been in the wings for 20 years.

"It's blown me away that somebody on an environmental crusade would take on someone who is driven by the environment only."

Mr Lawler said he had no choice but to walk away because the "threat of costs" was something he could not risk.

"I still believe it is going to pollute," he said, revealing he lived about 6km from the farm.

"I'm really worried about the river.

"We're going to ... make sure he sticks to the plan at least."

- NewsRegional