Planning minister Brad Hazzard will determine the fate of the plan to build the Tweed-Byron police headquarters at Marine Parade, Kingscliff, after the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) rejected it yesterday.
It was a reversal of an earlier decision by the panel which had approved it with conditions last year, only to have it overturned by the Land and Environment Court on a technicality in July this year.
That legal challenge was made by the Tweed Business and Residents Focus Group which was formed to campaign against the location of the proposed regional police command centre
Members of the group among the 60-plus crowd at the public hearing yesterday at Tweed Heads Civic Centre applauded the 4-1 vote by the five JRPP members to endorse the rejection of the plan by Tweed Shire Council planners, due to a range of reasons including inadequate parking, bulk and scale and impacts on the amentity of residents.
The $10m plan involves demolishing the existing police station and two houses and building a two-storey command centre with underground car parking.
The plan, revised after the court knockback, was recently exhibited and 50 submissions, most against, were received.
Northern JRPP chair Garry West said that as with other panel decisions, the panel could not refuse the development application (DA), and if it did recommend refusal, the decision would be up to the minister.
Mr West said it was clear to him there was a lot of community opposition to the plan, which in itself was no reason to reject it, but he preferred the planning minister consider it further and ‘not this panel’.
Mr West said a number of reasons for his change of heart on the issue included the proposed change of zoning for the area under the draft Tweed LEP, which would prohibit a command centre but not a police station, as it had existing use rights.
He said a shortfall of parking for staff and the public had not been addressed in the new DA and the site was just not suitable.
Panel member Robert Quirk also cited the proposal’s ‘conflict’ with the draft LEP, which he said should be given significant weight.
Mr Quirk earlier declared a non-pecuniary conflict of interest because ‘distant relatives’ had made submissions and signed the petition against it.
Member Pam Westing, a former Byron shire general manager, was the only one in favour of the plan, saying the bulk and scale of the proposed building complied with the planning rules and the site was suitable as it had been zoned for police uses for many years.
Ms Westing suggested that if it did not go ahead, a similar-sized residential flat building could take its place instead.
Ned Wales said that as a professional planner he still had a ‘lot of issues’ with the plan, and urged the state government to work on finding a suitable site for the police facility because of the urgent need.
Dr John Griffin, a former Tweed shire general manager, said the issue of parking still troubled him but one major reason for refusal for him was the ‘social dislocation’ which would be caused by the facility located at the Marine Parade site.
Dr Griffin said he took heart from comments earlier in the hearing by Superintendent Darryl Tuck of the police property group that there was a contingency plan for the command centre if it was refused.
Focus group president Rory Curtis welcomed the decision, telling Echonetdaily that Mr Hazzard would be ‘a mug’ if he didn’t take note of the submissions and petition tabled in state parliament with 2,000 signatures against the plan.
‘Elections come round pretty quickly and we have long memories,’ Mr Curtis said.
Kingscliff resident and former local police sergeant, Ian Spiers, also applauded the decision, saying that after 20 years ‘common sense has prevailed’.
Mr Spiers said he looked forward to police identifying a much more suitable site which he is convinced is at Chinderah, on state government land at the south-east corner of the Pacific Highway and Tweed Coast Road near the BP service station.
He said a proposed site at Cudgen, pushed by local National Party councillors and supporters, was not the best site because ‘you still have to get through low-lying (floodprone) areas to access the highway’, hindering any rapid response to emergencies.
Mr Spiers said Mr West, as a former coalition state-government police minister, had agreed with him on the Chinderah site as the most suitable when the two met on the issue ‘over 20 years ago’ and the development process was begun but later abandoned.
About a dozen people addressed the hearing.
Resident Angela Adams said noise would be an issue with police ‘bringing in burnt-out cars’ into the compound and extra traffic problems created on marine Parade.
Ms Adams said she often went for early morning runs on and around Marine Parade and feared she wouldn’t feel safe ‘with criminals around’.
Mr Curtis said the proposed site was smaller than the existing Tweed Heads station and there was no room for expansion with a growing population, so it would be repeating a past ‘mistake’.
Cr Carolyn Byrne, who with her pro-development colleagues on council are pushing for the command centre to be built on prime agricultural land at Cudgen, said the proposed station was ‘oversized’ and would be floodlit at night, surrounded by high security walls and ‘razor wire’.
Focus group president Paul McMahon told the hearing that approval of the building could spark a ‘free for all’ and set a precedent on commercial development in a residential area.
‘What happens in the morning when the drunks are let out? Mr McMahon said, adding it could ‘change the culture of our town and affect our tourism’.
Police and their consultants argued it was not a commercial development, but a police station.
Sonja Vogeler, from consultant DTZ, said the plan was not outside the zoning for the area and the suitability of other sites was ‘not relevant’ to this DA.
Ms Vogeler said a scale-model plan of the command centre put out by opponents ‘did not reflect the correct sizing’ and questioned where it came from.
Superintendent Darryl Tuck rejected claims police had been ‘underhanded’ in the way they handled the DA, saying despite the recent court judgement finding errors in the notification to residents about the development, records showed NSW Police ‘correctly described the development in full’ in the DA ‘on the first occasion’.
Supt Tuck said the site was zoned Special Uses (Police) and the DA complied with current Tweed Shire Council planning requirements.
He said traffic and access would not be a problem as the nature of police work was primarily mobile, with patrol cars responding and ‘despatched from the field’.
Architect Lindsay Henry said the design for the two-storey building respected amenity of residents to the rear, especially as most Marine Parade buildings were three storeys.
Mr Henry said landscaping and materials were selected to ‘soften’ the impact and he dismissed the ‘misconception’ about the holding yard containing ‘burnt out cars’, saying they were actually a series of closed garages not visible from the street or by neighbours behind.
He said police did not use ‘razor wire’ for stations and the person raising that was ‘confusing it with a prison’.