Neighbours of Byron Shire councillor Alan Hunter on Pinegroves Road, Myocum, are again putting up a fight over his plans for a road transport terminal at his property.
In response to what they say is inadequate council staff advice, a group of six residents has paid for independent planning consultation, which they say is at odds with staff recommendations.
It’s the latest in a long list of attempts by the prominent National Party member to gain development consent; prior to becoming a councillor, Cr Hunter was prosecuted by Council and fined $2,000 for illegal construction, which included allegations of illegal earthworks and placing 18 shipping containers on the site. A 2012 Land & Environment Court battle resulted in the councillor having to remove the containers and restore unauthorised earthworks. And it was only four months ago that residents became angry over the latest DA.
The quite cul-de-sac is home to around eight homesteads, and residents say the large trucks that pick up and drop off farm produce at the end of the narrow road already threaten wildlife and pose a danger to children.
‘Key changes’ to draft LEP
But Cr Hunter’s latest bid has a twist.
His development application (DA), to be determined at this Thursday’s Council meeting, will fall under new draft Council policy.
Specifically it will be assessed under both the current 1988 LEP (local environment plan) and the new draft 2014 LEP. It proposes a ‘change of use’ from a farm building to a ‘road transport terminal’.
‘Warehouse and distribution centres’ is part of late ‘key changes’ to Council’s draft 2014 LEP, and includes provision for vaguely worded new operations that would be permissible in rural areas. Council’s January 2014 newsletter reads, ‘Additional RU2 rural landscape zones have been expanded to include intensive livestock agriculture, garden centres, rural supplies, warehouse and distribution centres, storage premises, recreation facilities (indoors) and livestock processing industries.’
Resident Angus Way told The Echo the late LEP inclusions appear to be ‘written in at the last minute to suit Mr Hunter’s activities’.
He’s one of six residents who recently chipped in together to engage a town planner to examine Cr Hunter’s operation independently. Mr Way said, ‘We felt that as individuals it’s easier for the Council to dismiss our concerns, but an expert in the field is harder to discredit. We were not happy with council staff’s interpretation of the [LEP] changes, and felt that it was worth paying for a second opinion.’
Mr Way says his advice is that surrounding shires have not requested anything similar to those ‘key changes’.
But Council’s executive manager of environment and planning, Ray Darney, told The Echo that there were similarities with other councils.
He said, ‘By comparison, the rural RU2 zone in Ballina LEP 2012 permits ‘rural supplies’ and ‘storage premises,’ but not ‘warehouse or distribution centres’, whereas the Lismore LEP 2012 permits ‘garden centres’, ‘intensive livestock agriculture,’ but not ‘storage premises,’ or ‘warehouse or distribution centres’.
‘The closest definition to Cr Hunter’s ‘road transport terminal’ – under the current 1988 LEP – is ‘freight transport facility’ in the new 2014 Draft Byron LEP. That use will not be permitted in the Rural RU2 zones when the new LEP takes effect. However, it would be possible for the applicant to apply in future for other permissible uses for the building in the RU2 zone.’
Cr Duncan Dey (Greens), however, told The Echo that since the residents’ planner emailed councillors over the matter, ‘the penny is starting to drop’. He agreed councillors made changes to the draft LEP that will ‘fit the rezone and benefit Cr Hunter’s property’.
He’s called for a meeting with planning staff to clarify the changes and to see whether the decision can be reversed.
In relation to the current DA, Cr Dey said, ‘Alan has two zonings on his property – one for agricultural and one for rural residential. The issue here is around a cross-over allowed under clause 42 of the 1988 LEP of the activities permitted in each zone. This sharing is allowed within 100m of the distance between them and the zone boundaries.’
Staff have recommended approval of the development, despite 15 submissions and two petitions against the proposal. The report, provided by external planning consultant Dwayne Roberts, also includes an engineer’s report to make the case there would be no significant traffic, environmental and privacy impacts.
In reply to residents’ traffic concerns, the report plays down impacts and referred to the RTA Guide To Traffic Generating Developments to claim that an 11 per cent increase, ‘has been assessed and deemed acceptable.’ That increase will see two to three deliveries a day, during daylight hours only, with interstate carriers making up 10 per cent of the total trucks.
The Echo understands that no wildlife impact statements have been undertaken and that the matter has not been referred to Council’s local traffic committee. Additionally Mr Way told The Echo that a koala corridor exists in the area.
Remarkably the consultant took umbrage to a claim there was ‘an intention to slip this proposal through with minimal public scrutiny’.
Mr Roberts reacted that the accusation made ‘is offensive and unsubstantiated’.
But Mr Roberts did handball the existing impasse onto previous planning decisions.
‘The design of the original subdivision is in part to blame for the impacts/conflict that has been created by this application…’
The Echo asked Cr Hunter if there were any mediation or concessions that he was prepared to make with his neighbours, to which Cr Hunter replied, ‘I will be happy to respond to your story when I see it’. Cr Hunter’s neighbours unfortunately won’t have the opportunity to ask him to respond publicly as questions to councillors and staff have recently been removed from the meeting’s public access.