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February 25, 2021

Developer denies letter to minister was an ‘ultimatum’

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Billionaire property developer Bob Ell, right, confers with his right-hand man Reg van Rij,centre during the announcement by former lands minister Tony Kelly of approval for Leda’s Cobaki subdivision.

One of Australia’s wealthiest developers, who wrote to the premier in January lobbying for the new Tweed hospital to be built on a site that he owns, denies the letter was intended as an ultimatum.

The emergence of the letter, written by Kings Forest developer Bob Ell, is the latest in an ongoing political stoush about the hospital site, which is now mired in controversy.

The Coalition have selected state significant farmland at Cudgen for the hospital, whereas Labor continues to advocate for a site at the yet-to-be-developed Kings Forest.

Piling on the irony, both sides are accusing the other of pushing a developer’s agenda.

Roadside signs calling for a hospital to be built at Kings Forest. Photo supplied

Early site works have already commenced at the Cudgen site, opposite the Kingscliff TAFE, where adjacent land has also recently been sold to a developer.

Labor has made the matter an election issue, stating that – regardless of the site works at Cudgen – it will move the hospital to Kings Forest if it wins the election on March 23.

In the middle sits the Relocate Tweed Hospital Group, which is staunchly opposed to the removal of state significant farmland status. Its preference, along with the Greens, is to see the hospital retained at its current Tweed Heads site. But, if that’s not logistically possible, the group has accepted Kings Forest as a suitable alternative.

On Monday (March 5), health minister Brad Hazzard revealed that he, the premier and two other ministers had received a letter from Mr Ell on the subject of the hospital.

Minister appalled

‘I had a discussion with one other minister two or three weeks ago about it and said I was appalled to receive that letter – and he felt the same way. I was the planning minister for three years as well and I’ve never had a letter – ever – like that,’ he told ABC radio on Monday.

In the letter, Mr Ell wrote that, ‘Kings Forest is not classified as state significant farmland. Zoned for development and endorsed by successive governments for some 30 years, it has been adopted as a key urban expansion area’.

‘Kings Forest can provide a hospital site and adjacent land for hospital-related development up to about 32 ha, level, without rock and above probable maximum flood. There are potentially significant cost savings in constructing the hospital here compared to the selected site,’ he added.

But two paragraphs later, Mr Ell wrote, ‘Without a decision to locate the hospital at Kings Forest I will not be commencing residential development. Were it to be chosen as the hospital location, however, the site can be delivered in accordance with the firm commitments we made in our submission to Health, with acceptable performance guarantees delivered,’ he wrote.

Not belligerent – Leda

Leda’s development manager Rej van Rij said that given the controversy surrounding the existing site, and Labor’s support for Kings Forest as an alternative, Mr Ell had written to the government in an attempt to ‘take the politics out of it’.

‘What Mr Ell has said wasn’t belligerent. He expressed a strongly held view that Kings Forest was preferable site,’ he told Echonetdaily

‘Giving it the tone that “this is a threat” is political.’

He added that, in a declining market, Mr Ell had to make a decision whether to proceed with Kings Forest or another development at Cobaki first.

‘Our feeling now is that with 4,500 lots at Kings Forest and 5,500 at Cobaki, the market is not strong enough to take them both.

‘But if the hospital came to Kings Forest it would be strong enough to start.’

Mr Van Rij said Mr Ell was ‘taken aback that the minister saw fit to go public’ with the letter.

Relocate, Labor’s positions

Hayley Paddon, spokesperson for Relocate, said its position ‘has never been about where the hospital should go it’s always been “anywhere but state significant farmland”.’

She added, ‘Mr Ell’s position is his own. The Relocate Group in no way speaks for Bob Ell.’

Shadow health minister Walt Secord told Echonetdaily, ‘Property developers do not and should not have a say on the final location of a new Tweed Valley Hospital.’

‘That is the decision that rests solely with people of the Tweed on March 23.

‘The election will be a referendum on the final location of the Tweed Valley Hospital.

‘The Nationals want to build the hospital on Cudgen farmland so they can lift the height limits at Kingscliff from its present three-storey limit and open up state significant farmland for development while Labor’s position is clear.

‘Kings Forest is shovel ready. It is a better site and construction will be faster and on budget. This 860-ha site already has both state and federal approvals; a koala plan of management in place and has all services on site’, he said.

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  1. Odd that Hayley Paddon would claim it was never about picking a site when her statement supporting Kings Forest is on Public Record.
    That statement by Hayley Paddon, on behalf of Relocate, recommends Kings Forest after a ‘thorough investigation’ and calls the preference for that site a ‘no brainier’. Since then she has stated that she regrets that decision.
    Now, with Relocate supporters split between Kings Forest and upgrading the existing hospital, she sits on the fence out of fear of losing supporters.
    Relocate would settle for a sub-standard upgrade or major delays instead of actually making a decision again. They don’t care about the delivery of health services.

  2. Yes let’s reward Bob & Reg for their wonderful stewardship of Kings Forest over the past 20 years….. their love of, and care for sensitive environments, wetlands and koala habitat; their respect for the rule of law and adherence to court ordered remediation works; their demonstrated commitment to threatened species management – particularly the now critically endangered Tweed Coast Koala population, and the now-extinct endangered population of long-nosed potoroos at Cobaki Lakes. Does no-one recall anything beyond last week?

    Voting will be a hard choice up there given the main candidates support for their respective sites and the fraught nature of both Cudgen and Kings Forest. Both sites will result in inappropriate Gold Coast style over-development surrounded by another Salt + Casuarina urban sprawl with high rise towers and choked roads. Either one will lead to the loss of significant farmland (Alstonville red soil plateau style) or valuable bushland that was once proven to harbour viable populations of threatened species, and once deemed worthy of permanent protection in our reserve system.

    Surely there is another, flood-free less-destructive option closer to the population centres and existing road networks that won’t [raise any accusations of ] favoritism, nepotism or corruption?

  3. The land at Cudgen has been rezoned from farmland And if the developer is ready to go at KF, let’s call a shovel a shovel, in my opinion his letter to the Minister wasn’t so much an ultimatum but more akin to blackmail.
    As independent experts have already identified Cudgen as the best site for a hospital, then start digging at Cudgen.

  4. All this shows is how powerless the community really is against this NSW LNP Govt.
    Tweed Shire Council is all our community have to defend us against the NSW LNP Govt, riding roughshod over us. Our State member complicit in the problem our community faces.
    Our Federal member unable to act against the NSW Govt, only able to protest with her community.
    If the LNP State Govt are re-elected there first move against the community could may well be the removal of our elected councillors and an LNP Govt administrator appointed.
    And there is nothing we could do about it, if they decided to move against our community and silence their only detractor and obstacle, the Tweed Shire Council.
    To then unleash an unfettered assault on the entire Cudgen plateau and the building heights of the entire Tweed coast.
    It is imperative that all of us vote 1 Labor, 2 Greens or visa versa, we must preference each other and maximise our vote against the Nationals and not split the progressive vote.
    If we fail, we may well fail, Katie Milne, Reece Byrne, Ron Cooper and Chris Cherry. Think about just how serious this election really is and what is really at stake in the Tweed and for that matter Lismore, Ballina and the whole of NSW?

  5. The entrance to Kings Forest is over a flash flood road. Why would you risk placing an emergency facility there? It is also a fire safety risk with only one access.


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