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Byron Shire
April 13, 2021

Keep the Iron Gates locked

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The general manager of Richmond Valley Council’s statements about the Iron Gates matter raise 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 that 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.

Sartor’s 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 its job and fulfil 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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