The site for the subdivision pictured in January this year after substantial rain, viewed from the property of a neighbour who objected to the plan. Photo supplied.
The site for a controversial six-lot rural-residential subdivision near Murwillumbah approved by Tweed Shire Council last week has been described by a planning lecturer as ‘an absurd place to build houses’ because it was on ‘the floor of a gully that regularly floods’.
But council planners and state agencies have imposed more than 100 approval conditions on the two-lot into six-lot subdivision, on just over six hectares at Waterlily Close and Hindmarsh Road, Nunderi.
The proposal was dealt with at the past three council meetings and a special workshop. After being approved last month, it was rescinded and approved again after a marathon debate last week.
Neighbours had objected to the plan because of concerns over flooding, the treatment and disposal of sewage, and impacts on amenity, view sharing and the quality of the environment, including aquatic habitats.
But council planners, who had originally refused the plan in 2009 mainly due to the unsuitability of the site, recommended approval this year after the proponents, a local farming family, adjusted the plan to address their concerns.
During the hour-plus long debate, Cr Katie Milne tabled a report by a former council planner, Sandy Pimm, prepared for one of the objecting neighbours, which recommended conditional approval if two of the lots were either removed or their building envelopes repositioned.
Cr Milne said the neighbours were keen to restrict the development because of cumulative flooding impacts and the plan was all about ‘squeezing out the last lots’ of the old subdivision for the area.
She said around 2.5 metres of fill would be required to make the subdivision flood free as the site was ‘basically in the middle of a lake’ and if council approved it ‘we’d be a laughing stock’.
She said the site was prone to regular flooding, ‘around one (flood event) in three months rather than one in five or ten years’.
‘It will destroy a beautiful little catchment at the headwaters of a creek,’ she said, and it was ‘the most ridiculous subdivision’ she had seen in her life.
But Cr Phil Youngblutt said council planners and engineers at the workshop saw no major problems with the latest plan and the subdivision was legally permissible.
‘If we don’t vote for it, it would be an insult to the planning officers,’ he said.
Cr Carolyn Byrne argued that if it was refused, council could find itself before the Land and Environment Court and ‘the court would laugh at us’.
Cr Michael Armstrong agreed with her, saying the developer had a legal entitlement to the further subdivision of the current two lots and also criticised the ‘lateness’ of the neighbour’s consultant report, which he described as a ‘precis’ with no detail.
In the report, Southern Cross University lecturer Leigh Davidson said the ‘floor of a gully that regularly floods is an absurd place to build houses’, while consultant Duncan Dey, a Byron Shire councillor, said ‘one does wonder why the shire needs to develop flood-prone land when plenty of dry land is available elsewhere in the shire’.
Ms Pimm said in her report that the development had been re-submitted with minor changes, including some adjustments to the dam wall for safety purposes and a new onsite sewage management design report.
She said flood levels indicated in the application plans were incorrect and the local catchment did not behave as currently predicted.
Pads and fill
‘The placement of house pads and fill to accommodate the onsite sewage management system is likely to worsen the problems experienced by acting as barriers to flood flow,’ Ms Pimm said.
Cr Armstrong said a refusal was ‘likely to be struck out by a court’ and it was ‘not about good development, but whether it was legal’.
Cr Gary Bagnall said the neighbour’s view would be spoilt by ‘looking straight at this big house instead of Mt Warning’.
He said the development control plan for the area stipulated view sharing should be considered and the layout of the building ‘takes that away, swapping the Mt Warning view they paid for with the back of a house and yards’.
Chief planner Vince Connell told councillors the consultant’s report was ‘very late’ and unusual, but it did not substantially change any of the issues to warrant refusal.
The rescission motion overturning the approval was passed 4–3 (Crs Warren Polglase, Youngblutt and Byrne against) but the following motion to reject the plan was lost 2–5 (Crs Milne and Bagnall voting for refusal).
Mayor Barry Longland and Cr Byrne then moved to approve the plan as recommended by planners, which was passed unanimously.