It’s emerged that a recent decision to approve an $8m private hospital DA on Ewingsdale Road and McGettigans Lane by the JRPP was made without any community representation.
The Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) comprises nine panels that determine large-scale developments across NSW and approve almost 100 per cent of applications before them.
The Northern JRPP, headed by former National Party MP Garry West, will soon be deciding upon the contentious West Byron suburban/commercial greenfield development.
The debacle throws into light the lack of any community input with large developments across NSW.
While elected councils determine all development applications below $20m, unelected JRPPs decide on DAs estimated over $20m as well as specialist DAs under $20m, such as medical centres.
The private hospital proposal by Melbourne-based developers comprises medical and specialist consulting rooms, a day theatre, pharmacy, 12 overnight-stay units, cafe and basement and ground-level parking.
Last week JRPP chair Garry West dismissed questions by The Echo regarding how increased traffic from the hospital will be managed.
One of the local representatives on the JRPP, mayor Simon Richardson, does not support the decision and told The Echo he resigned from the panel owing to the ‘inherent flaw’ of not being able to speak publicly to the JRPP on contentious developments while also being a panel member.
Council staff say other community members are Cr Basil Cameron and David Milledge, but they were not present.
Mayor Simon Richardson describes the JRPP process as ‘non-democratic and it was established to be so.’
Failure to appoint
Despite the mayor’s resignation from the panel, Council staff and the JRPP failed to ask community panel replacement David Brown to attend last week’s meeting.
Brown, an urban planner, told The Echo, ‘I was appointed to the JRPP at the last (August 22) Council meeting. I was not invited to the McGettigans Lane [and Ewingsdale Road] meeting.’
So who observed last week’s JRPP meeting? Ewingsdale Progress and Public Hall Association vice-president Lindsay Wootten told The Echo that he attended, along with longtime resident and immediate neighbour George Flick.
The Echo also confirmed the manager of the Bright Side Medical Centre in Bayshore Drive also attended, but they declined to comment.
Wootten told The Echo that ‘The meeting was not well publicised,’ that the ‘process was unfair,’ and that he believes the local medical fraternity do not think this facility is needed.
Yet Wootten said his association is ‘not against development of this lot.’
‘However, the view of the association is that this development is too high and too large overall for the size of the lot. The lot is in a very prominent position and with three storeys it is likely to dominate the view from surrounding areas.
‘There should also be buffer zones between the development and surrounding lots.
‘In addition, the development will exacerbate the already very poor traffic situation at the intersections of McGettigans Lane/Quarry Lane and Ewingsdale Road and increase the danger to road users. There are frequent accidents in and around the intersections.’
Cr Paul Spooner (Labor) told The Echo that the state government needs to undertake a review of the operation and conduct of the Northern JRPP. ‘The recent approval of the Ewingsdale Road Private Hospital demonstrates the lack of planning controls that local councils like Byron Shire now have in NSW.’
He said, ‘The Ewingsdale Road Private Hospital approval demonstrates if a developer keeps knocking on the door of the state government they can eventually expect to get an approval. This particular DA has been to the JRPP three times over the last 12 months.
‘Each time, it was recommended by Council staff for refusal primarily owing to concerns about traffic management at the intersection of Ewingsdale Road and McGettigans Lane.
‘Why is the state government allowing a panel to progress without local representation?’
Questions to MPs
The Echo asked NSW Labor MLC Walt Secord, ‘If elected at the next election, will your party commit to abolishing the JRPP and returning large decisions like this to democratically elected councils? If not, why?’
The Echo also asked, ‘Given this recent decision lacked even basic community input and will exacerbate traffic, how can Byron Shire residents have confidence in this unelected planning panel?’
Secord replied that he broadly supports the JRPPs but said, ‘There is growing concern that the Berejiklian government has stacked out the Joint Regional Planning Panels (JRPPs) with Liberal and National party-affiliated individuals across the entire state.’
Local NSW Nationals MLC Ben Franklin has previously told The Echo he supports JRPPs.
What are the panel paid?
According to the NSW Public Service Commission – NSW Government Boards and Committees Remuneration (August 2017), the yearly pay-packet for the chair of the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel is $51,315.00. And the remuneration amount for the chair, per day (if applicable) is $1,866. A member of the panel receives $39,463, according to the Public Service Commission.