Richmond Valley Council GM John Walker believes the redevelopment of the abandoned Iron Gates subdivision could be the way forward for Evans Head, even though the Land and Environment Court halted the project almost 15 years ago.
Last week Echonetdaily reported that a bulldozer had been spotted clearing native vegetation at the controversial development site on the banks of the Evans River.
The site is bordered on three sides by national park and contained rare coastal rainforest, a wetland and an abundance of wildlife, including threatened species.
The Office of Environment and Heritage is investigating the clearing but Mr Walker says he believes that so far only ‘regrowth’ had been cleared and this was not subject to the court order.
In 1997, EDO NSW acted for activist Al Oshlack to stop clearing for a subdivision by Gold Coast developer Graham Ingles, which had been approved by the then Richmond River Shire Council.
The first stage of the development was to consist of 610-850 houses, a resort, shops and possibly a marina.
The court found the breaches of the development consent were so serious that the consent was rendered null and void. In a landmark judgement, the Court ordered a full restoration of the site upon which substantial works had been done, including a large access road and storm water drains.
The company subsequently went into receivership and no restoration was ever made.
Mr Oshlack told Echonetdaily that the court had been very clear in what was required to remediate the site, but the remediation had never been carried out.
‘What has been said (by John Walker) is just to mislead the public about what the problem is,” Mr Oshlack said.
‘The real issue down there is that there is significant clearing to significant coastal habitat, which is what the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is investigating.’
Mr Oshlack slammed the Gold Coast developer Graham Ingles, who is behind the project, saying he was left owing a lot of people money over the failed development.
‘He caused 60 arrests in the blockade over three or four months. And all those charges were dropped by the court and the police because it was found that what he was doing was illegal.
‘This latest clearing is a total slap in the face to environmentalists, the community and the courts.’
But Mr Walker believes that another player may be about to come into the market.
‘Another developer could buy it from the receiver… and under council’s LEP there is a part of it that is zoned for residential. There are parts of it that are environmental zones… but clearly it is allowable under the planning scheme,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
He said that council was expecting an application for ‘about 180’ home sites. ‘So it is substantially different to what was proposed back in the ‘90s,’ he said.
Asked if the remediation works required by the Land and Environment Court in 1997 would still have to be undertaken before any approval would be granted Mr Walker said, ‘We’d have to be satisfied, clearly. But it’s possible it could be taken account of during the DA process. It’s a legal issue as to whether the natural regeneration of the land would satisfy the court order,’ he said.
He added any LEP would be assessed under the Richmond Valley Council’s 2011 LEP.