[author]Steve Spencer and Luis Feliu[/author]
A supposedly confidential report attacking Tweed Council staff has been compiled by the developer of the shire’s biggest housing projects and leaked to local media.
Tweed mayor Barry Longland and council general manager Mike Rayner have sprung to the defence of the shire’s planning staff against the claims of the dossier-style report.
The report details developer Leda’s criticism of some senior staff and councillors they accuse of a green-leaning bias.
Despite a warning from senior council staff that copies should be kept confidential, some were leaked to local daily newspapers and one councillor has sent a copy to a state MP.
The release of the report follows Leda’s growing frustration over delays in winning final approvals for the proposed Kings Forest satellite city west of Kingscliff and hiccups with its Cobaki development.
The council has endorsed staff submissions raising concerns with the NSW Planning Department more than a year ago about the impacts of some of the proposed earthworks and water drainage plans at Kings Forest.
The report claims planning staff assessing the massive developments had written ‘biased’ reports and held a ‘negative attitude’ to developers.
But both Mr Rayner and Cr Longland say the 74-page document, marked ‘not for publication’, only gives Leda’s spin on the company’s dealings with council planners.
The dossier also targets a number of ecologists and consultants who often deal with council, detailing information about their personal lives and qualifications.
One of those, David Milledge, told Echonetdaily he had not seen a copy of the report but felt it was ‘intended to intimidate’ professionals who had an input on the massive developments.
And a former Murwillumbah manager of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Nigel Greeenup, backed it up by saying the dossier represented ‘private attacks on individuals in an attempt to intimidate them into “toeing the corporate line”’.
Mr Greenup wrote to local newspapers saying that ‘thankfully, in Tweed Shire we have some councillors and a general manager with the intestinal fortitude to stand up to such bully-boy tactics’.
Cr Longland said any suggestion planning staff should censor their reports could be equally viewed as biased behaviour. He said it was the duty of planning staff to put forward all arguments relevant to a project, then it was up to councillors to make their decision.
‘These are largely issues about environmental assessments over a long period of time. Since the land was rezoned in 1988, standards of environmental protection have changed, which may have caused some frustration for the developers,’ said Cr Longland.
Leda spokesman Reg Van Rij denied his company had provided a copy of the confidential document to the media and also declined an invitation to identify the author of the report.
Mr Rayner said he wanted to ‘make it very clear to all parties that chief planner Vince Connell has my full and unconditional support in the manner he and his staff have dealt with a range of complex issues relating to Leda.
‘Leda has provided a view of its dealings with council over a long period of time, but the view is from Leda’s perspective. Needless to say, other parties will have different views, as I indeed do.’
Cr Joan van Lieshout, who is married to a Tweed developer, said she was concerned about the allegations in the report and believed they should be investigated. She said she’d instigated a meeting of councillors to ask questions of Mr Rayner and had also sent a copy of the document to her Liberal Party colleague in the NSW Upper House, Scott MacDonald.
‘I want answers. I know planning staff are under the jurisdiction of the general manager but as councillors we should be informed,’ she said.
‘I have had no problem with the staff, but there is a report that says we need to investigate this and I think that is what we should be doing. It is my job to ensure that the planning department is correctly run and is not compromised in any way.
‘The report says that a councillor has been involved and I want to know how much that councillor is involved.’
Cr Longland said it was ‘unhelpful and unwarranted’ for councillors to comment in detail about the report until they had been briefed by Mr Rayner today [Thursday].
The report’s bid to discredit the staff echoes criticism by Mr van Rij, who regularly voices his dislike for tighter controls at community access sessions.
The company has taken defamation action against Tweed’s only two Greens councillors after they publicly raised matters relating to the developments, with Cr Katie Milne’s case ongoing while that against her predecessor, Henry James, was eventually withdrawn.
Meanwhile, chief planner Vince Connell has declined to answer questions which could shed light on the culprits who clear-felled trees in one of the shire’s most bio-diverse nature reserves adjacent to the Kings Forest development site.
Cr Milne used question time recently to ask how heavy machinery could have accessed the Cudgen nature reserve to remove trees along the bank of Blacks Creek and whether the council had a record of where they were taken.
Mr Connell said the matter was under investigation by the Office of Environment and Heritage and he was unable to comment on the clearing or the planting of exotic grasses along the cleared areas.
Witnesses who recently reached the remote site say about 100 native trees were uprooted along a 500m stretch of the creek adjoining the Kings Forest project which billionaire developer Bob Ell is poised to turn into 5,000 homes.
Greens Party Upper House MP Cate Faehrmann branded the people responsible as cowboys and called for their heads after inspecting the damage in a protected reserve, which is also a refuge for the Tweed’s fast-dwindling koalas.