Opponents of the proposed Iron Gates development at Evans Head have accused the NSW Department of Planning of bias.
In an objection letter to the Iron Gates masterplan, Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee president Dr Richard Gates said the government had no choice but to reject the master plan.
The draft master plan for the subdivision would allow for 176 residential lots and four public reserves with fire trails.
DoPE says the land to be developed for residential purposes is ‘already zoned as general residential land by the Richmond Valley LEP’ and that ‘no additional residential land is proposed on the site’.
A DoPE spokesperson said the department recognised ‘the environmental and cultural value of the Evans Head site, including its location on the Evans River, its native vegetation, wetlands and rainforest, as well as the places of Aboriginal cultural significance present on the land.’
Dr Gates said the Department, in a media release issued on 24 February, had stated that it would be ‘taking into consideration he NSW Government’s proposed coastal reforms, which aim to make the management of NSW coastal areas simpler and more strategic’.
‘The Department is clearly stating that it is going to assess the Iron Gates case on other than its ‘legal and factual merits’ by making reference to a coastal policy assessment process unknown to the public but which would appear to have already been decided before the closing date for public submissions on that coastal policy (29 February 2016) which is at the base of the assessment process. Dr Gates said the public was given “Options” on which to make comment for the coastal policy but does not know which cptions are or will be chosen, if any.
‘On this basis alone how could the public know what was going to be used in the assessment process?’ Dr Gates said.
Dr Gates is also critical of the Department’s claim that if Iron Gates is approved, the proponents master plan would provide a guide for future development applications assessed by local councils or consent authorities.
‘This is a clear deviation from the course of deciding the case on its legal and factual merits.
‘Fundamentally we are being told that the Department will make up the rules for assessment without the public having any choice or knowledge of the new rules and which were not available to them when comment was being called for the Master Plan, and will use those rules in the assessment process,’ the group’s submission says.
‘And then the Department will thumb its nose at due process by offering that extraordinary assessment process as a template for future decisions by the Department and other consent authorities.
‘In our view this whole debacle makes a mockery of the planning process in NSW and should ring alarm bells about the way the department and the government is doing business. ‘
Previous proposed developments at the Iron Gates site at Evans Head were strongly opposed by residents and activists, resulting in NSW Environment Court orders to reject planned proposals, and remediate the site.
Remediation never took place, and more recently, complaints about illegal clearing at the site have been made to the NSW Government.
Meanwhile, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has announced an extension to the exhibition of the master plan.
‘Community feedback is an integral part of the planning process and we wanted to give people more time to provide their feedback,’ a department spokesperson said.
‘The Department recognises the environmental and cultural value of the Evans Head site, so we wanted to make sure there was plenty of time for consultation with the community.’
The draft master plan is now on exhibition for an additional week until 7 March 2016.
To view the draft master plan or provide feedback, visit www.planning.nsw.gov.au/proposals