Campaigners fighting to preserve one of the Tweed Coast’s last coastal reserves claim that previously secret documents reveal the public would have been ripped off under a deal to develop the land into a tourist resort.
The Save Lot 490 group say that in return for the $5.2 million pledged to the Tweed under the lease of the prime beachfront land south of Kingscliff, the community would have received only a public toilet block and a car park.
The developer behind the controversial plan to develop the 42-hectare Crown reserve into a tourist resort, Leighton Properties, earlier this year pulled the pin on the plan.
The move was welcomed by many locals as it left the door open for the land to be kept as a nature corridor or open recreation space.
Save Lot 490 spokesman Jerry Cornford said that after repeated requests under Freedom of Information, the documents relating to the withdrawn lease were released, but raised serious questions as to why the previous state government entered into the deal.
Mr Cornford said the developer had twice tried to block release of the documents, claiming they were ‘commercial in confidence’, but the public-interest argument won the day.
‘The most damning facts to emerge are that in return for the $5.2 million pledged for “community benefit” under the lease, the Kingscliff community would potentially have received only a public toilet block and a car park, and that under the agreement all proceeds would have gone to consolidated revenue,’ he said.
‘No mention is made of funds going to the local council or economy for the upkeep of Crown lands, supposedly the whole purpose of building a resort.
‘Any development of the Crown land and coastal reserve between the south side of Cudgen Creek bridge and the northern boundary of Salt had to comply with the plan of management, which contained many terms and conditions.
‘The primary condition was that the land be used for ecotourism. The plan of management, prepared under government supervision in 2005, defined this as “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”.
‘The question now being asked by the Save Lot 490 group is how did Leighton’s proposed building of 180 dwellings comply with the plan of management’s objectives?’
Mr Cornford said this ‘raises the serious question as to why Leighton’s apparently non-conforming tender was accepted over other complying tenders’.
‘In addition, the first lease between the parties was so flawed it was substituted for a project development agreement.
‘The FOI documentation shows the construction lease had two major shortcomings.
‘First, the application of the revenue rent formula resulted in the rent being $122,000 per annum non-indexed for the 70-year term of the agreement.
‘Second, the Crown had to buy back resort assets at 30 per cent of their value in 70 years, a huge potential liability for the Crown,’ Mr Cornford said.
‘The 490 group questions why anyone would invest in a leasehold property when they could buy a freehold property for less,’ he said.
‘The Project Development Agreement also eventually proved non-viable for the tenderer and Leightons withdrew from the agreement earlier this year after failing to meet two sunset clauses relating to the start of construction.’
Meanwhile, a public petition calling for the retention of the land as a public bushland park and wildlife habitat has reached almost 8,000 signatures.