Tweed mayor Barry Longland has abandoned attempts to broker a peace deal between property mogul Bob Ell’s Leda group and Tweed Shire Council staff following further attacks on the integrity of the council’s planning staff.
Cr Longland, who last week pledged to work to improve relations with Leda after it released a dossier of complaints about council’s handling of its massive Kings Forest project, says he is incensed by the new allegations of an anti-development bias.
‘It [the report] removes any belief that Leda wants to work constructively with council,’ said Cr Longland, who last week organised an emergency meeting of councillors to examine Leda’s claims of green bias and incompetence with council’s planning department.
Chief planner targeted over submission
The new report targets chief planner Vince Connell over a 74-page submission he sent to the NSW planning department in October last year before it gave concept plan approval for Leda’s 5500-home development at Cobaki.
It claims Mr Connell failed to specifically alert councillors to several issues when they voted to endorse the report, including calls for ecological buffer zones and warnings to potential residents about aircraft noise.
The latest allegations, selectively leaked to the Gold Coast Bulletin which was again splashed with front-page headlines proclaiming Leda’s ‘crisis’, claimed staff didn’t alert councillors to so-called significant issues before they endorsed the report.
Leda claims that a proposal that residents be warned the site was subject to light aircraft noise is ‘an unwarranted stain upon its product’ and says plans for an ecological buffer zone would have deprived them of 70ha of residential land worth more than $250 million if the department had agreed.
Mr Connell declined to comment on the new allegations but issues of aircraft noise and buffer requirements were addressed in detail in his submission, which gives a different twist to Leda’s objections.
In the submission, Mr Connell said the Gold Coast Airport wanted potential purchasers to be advised of the fact that light aircraft often flew over the site on training exercises to head-off future complaints.
He reported that the company had rejected the suggestion and had responded with the statement: ‘Leda will from time to time determine the information that is given by it to prospective purchasers’.
Mr Connell said council officers believed that the airport and developer should take responsibility for the management of complaints about light-aircraft noise by advising residents of the potential nuisance on property titles.
The submission also details Leda’s objections to dozens of suggested environmental works, including the provision of extra buffer zones and compensatory plantings.
Leda’s complaints have been sent to several senior NSW government ministers, including the premier, attorney-general, local government minister and planning minister. It is believed Leda is claiming there is a case to remove council staff from the approvals process.
The new report follows Leda’s release of a dossier purporting to justify their claims that some council planning staff and consultants involved in assessing their two major residential projects had written ‘biased’ reports and had a ‘negative attitude’ to developers.
Cr Longland labelled Leda’s suggestion that councillors were incapable of reading the submission to be sent to the NSW planning department as patronising and arrogant.
And he said he was puzzled by Leda’s claim that Cobaki residents should not receive a warning about aircraft noise.
‘Having received advice from the Gold Coast Airport that future Cobaki residents should be routinely advised of the impact of aircraft noise on their amenity, councillors had a responsibility to advocate for such a condition on this development.
‘What were we supposed to do, keep that a secret from future residents?
‘Councillors have a responsibility to ratepayers to advocate to the NSW planning minister for the best possible social, economic and environmental outcomes for these major developments.
‘I was gratified that when this submission was debated a majority of councillors saw fit to endorse its content to be conveyed to the NSW Department of Planning.
‘This was notwithstanding strong intervention from Leda advocating that the submission should simply be received and noted by councillors, rather than endorsed.
‘This smacks of interference in the political process and I’m pleased it didn’t succeed.’
Cr Longland said it was the NSW Department of Planning ultimately placed conditions as the consent authority, not the council.
‘We have the right and responsibility to express our views to the department. In asking that their application be dealt with under Part 3A, Leda sought to sidestep the council, and that strategy succeeded.’
$250m losses claim
Claims by Leda that they stood to lose $250 million from the council’s push to have an environmental buffer zone enlarged on their Cobaki project were also dismissed by Cr Longland, who said councillors wanted to protect the fragile aquatic environment of Cobaki Broadwater.
‘I don’t think council can be criticised for seeking to protect the environment. A developer’s profit margin is not our primary concern,’ he said.
‘In the end the buffer zone was reduced to the minimum required by the NSW planning department.
‘I am pleased that the current minister for planning is engaged in a review of planning legislation in NSW with a view to referring more planning powers back to councils.’
The report is the second in a push by Leda to discredit the council’s planners who it blames for delays in developing both Cobaki and its Kings Forest satellite city, which is still awaiting final approvals.
But some councillors say the highly personal attacks are based on flimsy evidence with strong parallels to a since-discredited campaign to unseat Mr Connell’s predecessor, David Broyd, by the previous owners of Kings Forest.