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Byron Shire
June 7, 2023

Iron Gates development ‘could go ahead’

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A section of the cleared land at Iron Gates, Evans Head.
A section of the cleared land at Iron Gates, Evans Head.

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.

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  1. The General Manager of Richmond Valley Council’s statements about the Iron Gates matter raises some interesting questions, for example, is Richmond Valley Council that “other player about to come into the market” to develop the Iron Gates, and how does the General Manager know about a potential “other player”?

    But what’s more interesting is the failure of state and local governments to insist that Court Orders for remediation of the Iron Gates site be fulfilled. There are more than 20 outstanding requirements including filling in of the two large drainage canals and ripping up of the roads. So where is the government and why hasn’t it acted to insist that the Court Orders be filled. If it was you or me the State would come down on us like a tonne of bricks but when it comes to developers aided and abetted by councils, well…………….you know the drill!

    The public needs to know that the reduced area proposed for development and clearly supported by Richmond Valley Council is part of a SEPP 14 Wetland. When it rains the area floods. I guess if council is going to back the scheme it will need to insist that all houses be built on pontoons.

    The planning scheme which gives legitimacy to development of the site is the bastard child of Frank Sartor’s much discredited Far North Coast Regional Strategy, a strategy which can only be described as a developer’s wet dream.

    Sartor’s scheme insisted on massive development of the North Coast without proper environmental assessment. In fact the government department responsible for environmental assessment was starved of funds preventing it from doing its work properly. I know. I was there at the time on an advisory committee.

    Sartors scheme also institutionalised the concept of ‘biobanking’ whereby developers could carve up anything of environmental worth provided they bought another block elsewhere as a replacement. Not only does the scheme miss the point with regard to the loss of iconic areas which can be never be replaced by buying something elsewhere, but also fails to take account of the fact that each time something is lost it represents a net loss to the environment. Biobanking is basically a sleight of hand used by developers to do as they please with government blessing which often includes vast reductions in developer contributions. And we get to wear the consequences and foot the bill as these carpetbaggers move on to newer pastures.

    Sartor’s idiot scheme set quotas for thousands of residential developments in each local government area, a quota failed miserably by Richmond Valley Council.

    Sartor’s brainchild also failed to take account of the fact that there are limits to growth with a former study of northern NSW, “A region of villages”, demonstrating unequivocally back in 2001 that we were already past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the region. Too many people on the paddock. Unsustainable. The environment unable to provide the necessary services. The pollution of Salty Lakes in Broadwater National Parks, which goes on to this day, is a case in point.

    In light of all this GM Walker’s push for more development is a serious problem and in my view a breach of Section 8 of the NSW local government act, Council’s Charter, which makes it clear that council has an obligation to the Principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development. There is no way that the development of the Iron Gates is consistent with and promotes these principles. Clearly the Courts saw it that way and no amount of ‘we can make a deal with a new Development Application’ will sweep away that obligation. Council needs to do it job and fulfill its obligations to its Charter.

    The public should also know that Council’s involvement with the Iron Gates matter cost around a million bucks in legal fees.

    But more than that it needs to know the community roundly rejected on several occasions, at meetings organised by council, more development and growth at Evans Head. The community wanted the environment to be respected. It was very clear in those consultations that the last thing the community wanted was the John Walker/Frank Sartor growth model and consequent destruction of the very reason many of us live at Evans.

    Dr Richard Gates
    Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee Inc


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