Tweed Shire Council has rejected a claim that a mistake in measuring height levels in a plan for a proposed multi-million-dollar expansion of the shire’s major retail hub, Tweed City, could have seen an extra storey allowed under the shire’s new draft planning blueprint.
Varying height control measurements were also used for areas around the shopping centre that included houses which the shopping centre owners had bought over the years for the major expansion.
Cr Gary Bagnall says he alerted council planners weeks ago that the plan by the shopping centre owners’ consultants referred to a new 21-metre height for the centre, making it five metres over the zoned allowance of around 16 metres, or around another commercial storey on top of the current two storeys.
The plan was a submission for the shire’s new draft Local Environment Plan (LEP), which was delayed by progressive councillors who had concerns over a lack of environmental protections for koalas as well as new proposed height limits for the centre and other areas.
The delay in sending it off to the state government for approval was due to a rescission motion by the progressives aimed at further fine-tuning the draft LEP.
At a marathon and at times heated extraordinary meeting to deal with the motion on the last night of May, the draft LEP was amended, much to the disappointment of the minority pro-development councillors who voted against any further tinkering with the document.
Veteran pro-development councillor Warren Polglase had told local media when the rescission motion was lodged that a number of major development applications, including the redevelopment of Tweed City, were ‘being held back until this document passes’.
But Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily that he was glad the document had been delayed as ‘otherwise no-one would have been the wiser’ over the new five-metre height difference for the shopping mall’.
‘The holdup of two weeks gave us time to spot that difference, as the 21 metres should’ve been 16 metres, but it shouldn’t have been up to me to point the discrepancy out, the proponent and the whole planning department missed it, it’s ridiculous,’ he said.
The confusion apparently arose by the consultants using varying references to actual measured height of the building (calculated in metres) and RLs (Reduced Levels), a common surveying reference relative to sea level.
Last month’s council business papers dealing with the shopping centre’s proposed increase in height limit referred to a maximum building height of 21 metres and not what planners say was the intended RL21. At the last minute they confirmed the reference to 21 metres was inaccurate after being alerted by Cr Bagnall.
In council’s response to Echonetdaily questions, senior planner Iain Lonsdale said that ‘if the height had gone through (on the draft LEP) at 21 metres and later been identified it could have been rectified’.
Mr Lonsdale said ‘firstly, it was not a mistake in the LEP’ and that ‘the proponent requested a height of 21 metres’.
‘The ”mistake” or error of judgement, which is a more accurate description, arose because the author of the request to Council failed to recognise the significance of the ‘RL’ prefix in relation to the height sought,’ Mr Lonsdale wrote.
‘Once it was established that the proponent actually required an RL21m height, which yields a difference of about 0.5-2.5m depending on the existing level at any given point on the site, it was communicated to the councillors and the amendment requested.’
Mr Lonsdale said the shopping centre submission ‘specifically asked for a height of 21 metres’ but that it ‘was only on receiving subsequent advice from the proponent and interrogating the information that had been raised against our own site investigations that we established that what was actually being sought was a height of RL21m.
‘This most likely arose because the author of the request was not familiar with – and consequently did not recognise – the significance in the difference between the two ways of describing the height measurement, which is now evident in the way they have erroneously used the two descriptions interchangeably, assuming incorrectly that one connotes the other.’
Cr Bagnall said it was ‘amazing’ that professional planning consultants could have overlooked such a fundamental mistake, which was then also overlooked by council planners till the last minute.
Only hours before the extraordinary meeting, chief planner Vince Connell emailed councillors to tell them that any motion on the draft LEP in support of an increase in the height control for the shopping centre site should ‘therefore make reference to RL21’.
The mapping and new height controls were later amended.
Asked by Echonetdaily how such confusion on crucial detail could be avoided in future, Mr Lonsdale said the issue ‘arises infrequently and should not be overstated’.
‘As long as there are intermediary personnel with a limited understanding of such matters and an awareness to recognise the importance of retaining the detail in the information they are conveying between their architectural or design consultants and council there will always remain a small risk that crucial detail, like a reference to an “RL” will be unknowingly left out or omitted,’ Mr Lonsdale said.