Complaints over large-scale illegal building and land clearing for a proposed commune-style village at Mt Burrell in the Tweed Valley has prompted Tweed Shire Council planners to recommend legal action to stop any further work and to try to punish the owners.
Council officers who inspected the property at 3222 Kyogle Road last month say major and unauthorised building, earthworks and vegetation removal had been undertaken since they inspected the property a number of times last year following complaints from adjoining neighbours.
Owners told council staff during their inspections last year that the works undertaken till then were in preparation for a proposed 36-share multiple-occupancy development, and that they were going to engage a planning consultant to prepare a development application (DA).
But further complaints about increased building activity on the 248-hectare property led council to once again inspect the property in February where they saw major ‘serious’ and large-scale unauthorised works had been carried out.
In a report to be presented to next Thursday’s (7 April) council meeting, staff say there was an ‘urgent imperative’ for council to establish a ‘clear legal path’ to proceed in their dealings with the owners, Wollumbin Horizons Pty Ltd.
Planning chief Vince Connell says the proposed development was being promoted through social media sites as the ‘Bhula Bhula Intentional Community’.
The community’s Facebook site advertises and promotes the project as a ‘new village’.
Mr Connell said that ‘in respect of the allegations of unauthorised use, the owners initially advised that there were only minor, site preparation works and activities occurring’.
‘From three initial site inspections in late 2015, council officers could find no evidence of works or activities that required council approval,’ he said.
‘Further complaints from adjoining owners were received in late 2015 and early 2016 with allegations of increased activity and movement in and out of the subject site.
‘On the basis of these concerns, the council officers conducted a comprehensive site inspection on 22 February 2016 in the presence of the owners’ representatives, and noted that there had been substantial, apparent unauthorised, building and earthworks, vegetation removal and land use activity undertaken since the last site inspection.’
Mr Connell said that on 23 February 2016, council wrote to the owners and instructed them ‘to cease all unauthorised works and land use, and to show cause to explain and justify this activity by 15 March 2016’.
One 23 March the owners wrote to council seeking a 90-day extension of time to provide a response to the allegations, but council wrote back saying it would only grant a 60-day extension.
‘Taking into account the current uncertainty regarding the collective view and support of all unit owners of Wollumbin Horizons Pty Ltd and their solicitor, as well as the seriousness and scale of unauthorised works carried out to date, it is considered that there is an urgent imperative to establish a clear legal path for council to proceed in their dealings with the owners,’ Mr Connell said.
‘It is therefore recommended that council proceed to engage solicitors to ensure that any unauthorised activities are ceased, that such works are removed, and to provide guidance on any punitive actions that need to be taken against the perpetrators of the unauthorised works.’
Mr Connell also recommended removal of ‘unauthorised structures and vehicles including, but not limited to, sheds, caravans, tents and shipping containers; and to install sediment and erosion control measures’.
He also urged for legal advice to be sought over ‘options for punitive action against the owners’ for the unauthorised works.
In his report Mr Connell said that after a third site inspection last November, the owners’ representative ‘stated that after three site inspections, it was now “verging on harassment” as no works, apart from road maintenance, fencing and weed control, had been undertaken on the property’.