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September 21, 2021

Wooyung developer wants luxury housing instead of resort

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An aerial photo of the Wooyung site on the Tweed-Byron shire border proposed for the 25-lot luxury residential development (marked in purple). Image: Tweed Shire Council
An aerial photo of the Wooyung site on the Tweed-Byron shire border proposed for the 25-lot luxury residential development (marked in purple). Image: Tweed Shire Council

Luis Feliu

The owner of a large beachfront site at Wooyung, which has a chequered history since it was approved for a 500-lot tourist resort 26 years ago, will take a bid to swap that consent for a luxury 25-lot residential subdivision to the state government.

Tweed Shire councillors will tonight consider a staff recommendation to refuse a request by Wooyung Properties to amend local planning laws to enable the 25-lot project to go ahead instead of the old resort proposal at the 80-hectare site on the Tweed-Byron shire border.

Council planners say they were willing to look at alternative and more suitable options with the developer, but their hand was forced into assessing the 25-lot proposal when the developer recently sought a review by the state planning department under its contentious ‘gateway’ policy.

A large part of the the site is heavily constrained by environmental factors, Aboriginal cultural heritage and flooding.

Council chief planner Vince Connell says in his report that the 25-lot plan would require the clearing of endangered or critically endangered ecological communities to make way for the proposed large house sites, of which around half were on elevated land adjoining the dune system and the other half on elevated land further west.

Mr Connell said a detailed ecological impact assessment of the site had reinforced concerns about the impact on sensitive coastal vegetation communities.

He said this was ‘further validated by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) which raised concerns about impacts on the Billinudgel Nature Reserve, the assessment of impacts on significant biodiversity values of the site, the assessment of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and flooding matters’.

‘Notwithstanding this advice, the department did qualify its response noting that from an ecological impact perspective, options for development of at least part of the site might be possible through the use of BioBanking and Biocertification; options which the proponent should pursue with OEH,’ Mr Connell said.

‘The central cleared section of the property, while being relatively unconstrained by native vegetation, is low-lying, contains potential acid sulfate soil, and is subject to inundation from flood events which would make development of this part of the site extremely difficult if not impossible.’

He said the proposal also lacked strategic merit under state planing guidelines.

But the developer’s proposal, he said, ‘relies heavily on the concept of comparative merit’, the comparison of environmental impacts of the old 500-unit resort consent ‘against that of the current proposal to justify clearing of endangered and critically endangered ecological communities’.

‘Comparative merit is a concept outside the NSW planning framework, and given the lack of evidence to avoid such communities, is not considered an appropriate mechanism to validate the planning proposal,’ Mr Connell said.

He said because the developer had taken the plan to the state government, staff officers had to finalise an assessment of the current proposal ‘based on investigations and consultation to date’, and that, due to the deadline for such a response required by the planning department, planners presented the report with the recommended refusal.

He said the department’s response on the new plan is expected within 28 days.

ICAC involvement

The site has been mired in controversy since Tweed Council approved the massive development in 1988 without informing the public, eventually attracting the attention of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

In its landmark investigation into north coast land deals, the ICAC found evidence to suggest the original developer, Elm-n-Ash Pty Ltd, and a former Tweed councillor, were involved in corrupt conduct.

The then developer planned to build a canal-style estate on the land similar to Gold Coast ones, but the land was onsold, with the approval for the 500-resort in place.

The land was later sold to another developer, a Gold Coast lifestyle guru who several years ago was jailed for defrauding investors in a failed attempt to develop the Wooyung property, then touted as a resort project called ‘Water at Wooyung’.

He had acquired the site in 2004 with the help of vendor finance, later selling it to Samtay Pty Ltd for an $800,000 loss, according to industry regulator ASIC.

Samtay, which bought it for $5.5 million, struck gold in 2006 when it convinced a court that pegs driven into the ground seven years before meant that 1988 council approvals for a resort-style development, granted amid corruption claims, were still valid.

It then off-loaded the site to the present owners after the then planning minister rejected the grandiose plans, which included an artificial lake and the resort units on three man-made islands surrounded by a golf course on an acid sulphate-contaminated flood plain.

Samtay more than tripled its profits in 2007 with a $17 million sale to  Wooyung Properties, owned by a syndicate including hotel ‘pokies king’ Bruce Mathieson and leading race horse breeder Jonathon Muntz.

The company took legal action against Tweed council some years ago for continuing to block similar plans for the property, but discontinued their action without notice before the new 25-lot plan surfaced.

This concept plan for canal-style resort at Wooyung was approved in 1988, but the new developers want to surrender that consent for a subdivision for 25 ocean-view lots. Image: Tweed Shire Council
This concept plan for a canal-style resort at Wooyung was approved in 1988, but the new landowners want to surrender that consent for a subdivision development for 25 ocean-view lots. Image: Tweed Shire Council

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