Lismore City councillors have unanimously backed the rezoning of almost 200 hectares of the North Lismore Plateau for urban expansion despite some concerns over Aboriginal cultural heritage and vegetation corridors.
The draft rezoning plan, to be eventually determined by the state government under its new Gateway planning process, follows a 33-year on-and-off period of consideration by landowners and council as well as public consultation and archaeological investigation.
During public access at last week’s council meeting local Bundjalung elder Micky Ryan questioned council’s consultation process.
Mr Ryan said ‘In your report, there are some complaints from the Aboriginal community and I am one of those.
‘No one has ever come back to me with what I submitted to council. Some of my people are sitting on the stakeholders list, but there are hundreds who are not.
‘Some of those are aunties and uncles who are in their 70s and 80s and oppose this development.
‘I will not lie down and let that land be disrupted.
‘It is disrespectful. From day one we have been dispossessed and you are still taking our sacred places.
‘I was elected by my people to take you people up there to show you some sites as there wasn’t any found in 33 years.
‘How can that be? It is because you did not go to the traditional owners. There are sacred burial sites up there. The 50-metre buffer zones are inappropriate, that whole mountain is sacred.’
Cr Simon Clough asked the Lismore City Council (LCC) manager of integrated planning Mr Steve Denize if he could explain their consultation processes with the Aboriginal community.
Mr Denize said that over one and a half years of consultation had taken place with the Aboriginal community.
‘The majority were enthusiastic about the plateau’s development and thought there were positive outcomes. Only a few stakeholders were against it,’ he said.
‘The three identified sacred sites sit fortuitously in the proposed E2 and E3 zones on the council-owned property. There will be ongoing consultation with the Aboriginal community.’
Cr Vanessa Ekins spoke against the recommendation but advised council she was still considering her vote.
‘This is a complicated issue, there is a huge amount of work that has gone into this plan, by staff, landholders, and there are some real wins there in terms of environmental protection and also the recognition of Aboriginal cultural heritage,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘There are a lot of good things to recommend this. There are also a lot of unknowns with this proposal, we don’t know who is paying for what and when.
‘The Department of Environment says you need linkages between your vegetation areas yet there are major roads dissecting them.
‘It is a very sacred Aboriginal site and while I know it is in private land ownership, I feel very sad that after all this time that land has been taken from people who had connection to it, they have celebrated there and buried their dead there.
‘I also acknowledge that there are people in this room that have made a real attempt to try and protect and incorporate that into the development which is a pretty good outcome, considering some of the outcomes we have had in the past.
‘I am also disappointed that we can’t make sure every house in that development has solar panels and rainwater tanks.
‘We are providing the same old water and sewerage systems like every other development, we are not doing anything new or progressive in terms of management and sustainability.
‘I am happy about the bicycle paths and the invigoration of the North Lismore area, so I am really torn.
‘There is still a lot of work to be done in regards to providing the enormous infrastructure for water and sewer and road networks.
‘I am hoping that there is some affordable housing in there, even though affordable housing means earning up to $80,000 a year,’ Cr Ekins said.
Mr Denize advised councillors there were further steps following this week’s determination which included more public consultation.
Cr Graham Meineke told council that passing the proposal through was ‘a pivotal point in Lismore’s history, a point where we kick start housing development in Lismore. It has been studied to death.
‘Most developments have been to the east of Lismore, so this development will breathe new life into our CBD,’ Cr Meineke said.
‘We have identified Aboriginal cultural sites and preserved them. There is also a plethora of environmental zones.’
Cr Neil Marks believes council ‘should be proud of the work that has been done.
‘Working with the Indigenous community, this council has set standards that it has never met before,’ Cr Marks said.
‘This should be the base level that we set for everything we do. We can always improve and always listen.
‘This is a project that this council can hang its hat on. If I remember rightly, this is the first time the state government has let a Gateway project come up, let alone get this far down the track.
‘Something we can be very proud of, considering the reputation of this council not that many years ago was “don’t bother going there, they stop everything”.
‘We haven’t stopped this, we have worked hard as council staff, community and councillors to make sure that we get this right.’
The planning proposal now on its way to the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) for the next step in the gateway process, recommends that 67 per cent of the 255-hectare study area be allocated to R1 General Residential zoning.
Of the remainder, 11 per cent will be rezoned to E2 Environmental Conservation, 17.5 per cent to E3 Environmental Management, one per cent to B1 Neighbourhood Centre, 0.5 per cent to RE1 Public Recreation and 3 per cent to RU1 Primary Production.