[author]By staff reporters[/author]
Property development company Leda is attempting to persuade the government to remove Tweed Council’s planning staff from assessing applications for its proposed satellite cities at Kings Forest and Cobaki.
Gold Coast-based developer Bob Ell is hoping dirt files prepared by his company will do the trick.
Mr Ell’s right-hand man on the Tweed, Reg Van Rij, put the case for an approvals panel to take over the council’s role when he met planning minister Don Page to push for an inquiry into council’s handling of their two projects.
Mr Van Rij also launched a PR blitz by taking out full-page advertisements in local daily newspapers calling for an independent investigations into allegations contained in Leda’s two reports.
Headed as ‘an open letter to the community from Leda’, the advertisement says there is a strong case for reform of council’s planning processes and urges the introduction of a ‘truly independent decision-making process.’
Mr Van Rij did not give details but it is understood Leda has suggested a model similar to a four-man panel chosen by government-appointed administrators at Wollongong council in the wake of that city’s sex for favours scandal.
Too much power
Critics say the system gives too much power to one man by allowing the general manager to decide the pool of professionals who will fill the panel’s three seats as well as the one residents’ representative.
Leda’s dirt files tip the bucket on senior council planners, consultants and agency staff who they allege are involved in an anti-development conspiracy hatched by Tweed greenies in a bid to slow projects they say are worth millions of dollars.
They contain sweeping allegations covering the last 18 years and were leaked to the two mainstream papers shortly after Mr Van Rij gave copies to the council and government ministers, including Mr Page.
Staff and others named are said to be extremely upset by what they see as unfounded slurs on their professionalism and some have reportedly sought legal advice about taking legal action for defamation.
Leda’s evidence supporting a so-called green bias includes internal council emails which Leda found in a massive trawl through council’s archives in an FOI search which kept a staff member busy for nearly two months.
Leda released the files shortly after Echonetdaily revealed that heavy machinery had been used to illegally clear part of the Cudgen nature reserve, prompting one councillor to ask if it was timed to create a smokescreen.
Last week, Upper House Greens MP Cate Faehrmann told parliament Mr Ell was suspected of carrying out the clearing which has been under investigation by National Parks since it was reported in July.
Mr Ell’s push to remove council planning staff from the assessment process has baffled some councillors and staff because the Joint Regional Planning Panel makes the final decision on both projects after considering submissions from both the council and the developer.
‘Sorting it out’
Meanwhile, Tweed MP Geoff Provest said council and Leda were ‘sorting it out themselves’ with talks taking place this week between the developer and senior council management.
Mr Provest told Echonetdaily the Leda dossiers had made a number of allegations ‘but there’s always two sides to every story’, saying that in his experience, planners had ‘the most difficult job in council’.
He also said he would discuss the illegal-clearing allegations with the environment minister and was ‘seeking further information from all parties’.
‘Our government takes a very dim view of clearing of nature reserves,’ he said.