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.
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.
‘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.