A Lismore City councillor’s move to declare a two-month amnesty on illegal rural dwellings in order for them to be made compliant has been slammed as ‘hippy bashing’.
Council staff also have cast doubt on the move in that residents may not understand the consequences of ‘dobbing themselves in’, especially where dwellings are built on land prohibiting them.
The motion by conservative Cr Neil Marks is due for debate at tonight’s council meeting.
Greens Cr Vanessa Ekins says the proposed 60-day moratorium on illegal rural dwellings and extensions so that owners can get them up to standard will create a climate of fear and angst among rural neighbours when Council doesn’t have the resources carry out the required inspections anyway.
Cr Ekins said ‘this council certainly doesn’t want to have to go in bulldozing people’s homes’.
‘It’s terrible timing with the anniversary of the Aquarius Festival because a lot of those communities were set up as affordable housing,’ she said.
‘One of the disadvantages of community living is you can’t actually get a mortgage for your house so if you don’t have an approved house and insurance and all those sorts of things it’s unlikely people are going to dob themselves in anyway.
‘Times are tough and it would generate a lot of anxiety. They did that in Byron Shire in the early 90s, and even bulldozed places; it was awful.’
Cr Ekins believes many people living in illegal dwellings are working at getting their homes approved so they can sell-on later in life, but said it’s a slow process without access to finance.
‘Putting on a 60-day moratorium is only going to cause a whole lot of stress and angst for people who don’t need it and often are actually working towards these things anyway, often with very few resources, but it gives them somewhere to live while they do. It might not be a McMansion but it’s theirs,’ she said.
‘The conservative councillors are always asking questions about multiple occupancies; they’re concerned these people are not paying rates but it’s usually one rate per property anyway, which is usually divided among the shareholders, so it’s not about the number of dwellings.
‘Another thing they’re not really taking into account is those multiple occupancies have all these other expenses you don’t have living in town, like maintaining their own internal road network, disposing of their own waste, supplying their own water and their own sewerage systems.
‘So that whole argument that they’re not contributing fairly to the rate base is ridiculous because those people do pay a rate through their property that goes towards other services like public roads and libraries and things like that. The whole argument is nonsense and basically hippy bashing.
‘It opens a whole can of worms. It’s like the archery club in North Lismore; they’ve got this little shed there but it keeps getting broken into and their gear stolen so they wanted to put a container in and they thought they’d do the right thing and go to Council; and, oh wow: what they’ve got to do being in the flood zone.
‘So the guy asked about all these other unapproved containers nearby: do you realise there are 75 unapproved shipping containers down there in the floodways of North and South Lismore? And they are a serious hazard in floods.
‘Staff said they didn’t have the resources to go and check them even though we know where they are, so if we’re not going to address a serious hazard like that, how on Earth are we going to be able to follow up inspections from a moratorium?’
Cr Marks, a member of the National Party, is seeking a councillor briefing on the issue, possibly in July.
He said the ‘recent discussion on an illegal conversion in King George Drive and the possibility of the LEP being amended to allow second dwellings up to 60 metres away from a main dwelling makes it important the all unlawful dwellings be legalised’.
‘This is to allow the owners of these properties to come forward to Council and bring their dwellings and extensions into line with Council policy and guidelines without fear of prosecution or penalty,’ Cr Marks said.
Staff commented on the proposal, saying, ‘Council should stipulate if all illegal development was being covered by the amnesty or whether it applied to specific types of development only.
‘There is a big difference between the illegal building of a shed compared to illegal additions to a dwelling or even illegal construction of a dwelling,’ they said.
Staff have also asked if Council would ‘require an unlawful building to be brought up to any required standard within an agreed timeframe’ and how would it deal with a dwelling constructed on land where land use planning legislation would otherwise prohibit the dwelling.