By Darren Coyne
North Lismore Aboriginal elder Mickey Ryan had tears in his eyes this morning as he was walking the dog.
He’d just taken a call from his solicitor in Sydney telling him that he had won his challenge to a plan to build more than 1,500 dwellings on the North Lismore plateau, which overlooks the showgrounds.
‘I was walking the dog and crying with happiness,’ Mr Ryan told Echonetdaily.
‘All I can say is, Bloody Ripper!
‘That area is everything to us and our family. It’s so important because our people fought and died for their country… and they are still buried there.’
Mr Ryan said the entire Bundjalung Council of Elders had opposed the proposed development, which is seen as an integral part of Lismore’s future growth strategy.
‘All of us are against it. The whole lot of us signed off on the challenge,’ he said.
Although the judgment will not be available until later today, the principal solicitor for the Environmental Defenders Office, Sue Higginson, told Echonetdaily that the proposed amendment to the Lismore Environment Plan had been ‘declared invalid and of no effect.’
Mr Ryan had challenged the removal of proposed environmental zones, containing Aboriginal heritage sites and habitat for threatened plans and animals, from parts of the LEP dealing with the plateau.
The development was planned to provide 1,550 new dwellings for a population of more than 3,600 people, with cycleways and walkways connecting the plateau to the Lismore central business district.
The last-minute amendments removed the only legal protection for important plants, animals and Aboriginal cultural heritage.
The Environmental Plan originally protected 28.5 per cent of the 255-hectare site. The rest of the rural land was mostly zoned for housing development.
Ms Higginson said the environmental protection zones had been included in the original proposal for the Local Environmental Plan amendment and were publicly exhibited by Lismore City Council.
‘They were intended to protect Aboriginal heritage sites and areas of environmental value,’ she said.
‘These zones included regenerating lowland sub-tropical and dry rainforest, which provide habitat for threatened fauna, such as koalas, the Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, and threatened microbat species, as well as sites containing the rare native plant species, Thorny Pea and Hairy Joint grass.’
Ms Higginson said the environmental protection zones were removed, apparently, due to the NSW Department of Planning’s ongoing review of the use of environmental zones by councils in northern NSW.
Mr Ryan objected to the removal of zoning due to its potential impact on the cultural heritage and environment of the North Lismore Plateau.
The basis of his objection related primarily to the fact that the Environmental Plan that was made was fundamentally different to the one everybody thought was being made, and to what was publicly exhibited.
Mr Ryan argued that given that no opportunities for public consultation were provided in regard to the fundamentally altered Local Environmental Plan amendment, there had been a failure to provide procedural fairness to the community as the law requires.
‘I’ll be going out to dinner tonight to celebrate. Maybe fish and chips I might even have a sip of wine even though I haven’t touched it for five years,’ an emotional Mr Ryan said after learning of the judgment.
He said he would be meeting with his solicitor as soon as possible to go through the details of the judgment.
Meanwhile, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell described the decision as ‘disappointing’ but said the council remained committed to the development.
‘We will be reviewing the judgment and seeking legal advice and look at what we can do to correct the problems (identified by the court).
‘A report will come back to council to complete the necessary steps to make sure the development goes ahead because we’re committed to this.
‘The development would create over 1,300 lots with more than 1,500 dwellings and we need this for our future workforce and for affordable housing.
Cr Dowell said it would be ‘several more months’ before the council could be in a position to re-advertise the proposal.