The controversial 184 lot subdivision including 175 residential lots, and 3 residue lot Iron Gates development at Evans Head is back in the spotlight following the withdrawal of the Master Plan (MP) by the developer.
The developer has been attempting to develop the site, through a range of different companies, since at least the 1990s. The DA went to the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) in 1997 and the L&EC removed development consent for the development due to the serious breaches of the development application (DA) that the developer had undertaken. They were also ordered to do approximately two million dollars worth of remediation at the site that has never been done. According to advice provided to Richmond Valley Council, those Court Orders are still outstanding.
Further unauthorised clearing took place at the site in 2016.
Master Plan withdrawn
The legislation under which the current DA was submitted in 2015 requires that a MP is completed in conjunction with it. The MP went on exhibition on the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DOPIE) on 24 February 2016, however, it has now been withdrawn with no public announcement by the proponent or government to let the community know.
Richmond Valley Council’s (RVC) DA Tracker shows the last data entry for the current DA was September 2019 and Council’s website is still spruiking an amended development application (DA2015/0096) advising that ‘prior to the determination of the DA’, the NSW DOPIE ‘must endorse a master plan for the development’ with ‘All enquiries regarding the master plan’ to be ‘directed to the Northern Region Office of the Department’.
The current applicants are listed on RVC DA tracker as Planit Consulting and GoldCoral Pty Ltd.
Dr Richard Gates from Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development Inc. said today that ‘it was particularly disappointing that both state and local governments have failed to keep the public informed of the status of the Iron Gates development. It’s almost two years since we heard anything yet a number of us made comprehensive submissions about both the DA and the Master Plan which deserve a reply.
‘This controversial development has cost ratepayers and taxpayers a great deal of money, time and effort. To retain confidence in the planning process in NSW there should have been a timely statement telling the public what has happened to the development. At the very least those who had made submissions regarding the proposal should have been informed about the withdrawal of the Master Plan and the reasons for that withdrawal,’ he said.
Dr Gates said that it was understandable that the Master Plan was withdrawn as it contained ‘many shortcomings’ as a planning document.
‘The land for the development is still, inter alia, the subject of Land & Environment Court Orders for remediation, a planning nightmare for bushfire risk, part of a government-identified wildlife corridor that should be preserved, and a major intact coastal Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Landscape that should be retained for future generations (Riebe, 2016).’
A National Park
National Parks tried to acquire the Iron Gates land on at least four separate occasions but were unsuccessful for reasons not publicly known.
‘The acquisition could have been used for capacity building for the Aboriginal Community in conjunction with National Parks. It seems that there is still the opportunity for this to happen particularly now that the importance of the area to the Bundjalung Nation has been widely recognised through Native Title completed Determinations and in particular through evidence provided by the local Bandjalang People.
‘This is a live issue highlighted by the failure of the state government to follow through on its promised Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill (2018) for the protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. The promising draft Bill has disappeared leaving protection of Aboriginal Cultural matters to antiquated and deficient National Parks legislation, a throwback to an earlier era,’ Dr Gates said.
‘The land should never have been zoned for residential development in the first place. The land was rezoned in the early 80’s, forty years ago next year. The community has tried to have the land rezoned to a more appropriate “environmental” zoning over many years in keeping with what it is, with the last attempt occurring when Council was developing its latest LEP. Council wasn’t interested in what the planning and legal experts had to say demonstrated by its failure to attend the meeting organized by the community. Richmond Valley Council and its predecessor Richmond River Shire Council have always been hell bent on residential development on the site despite enormous legal bills for ratepayers, and the inappropriateness of the site for residential development.
‘Make no mistake, the Iron Gates is an enormous firetrap for residential development. If anyone is attending to any of the debate about our recent disastrous fires, any plan for residences in this location is just plain dumb and dangerous. Richmond Valley Council, in particular, which was badly affected by fire, should be recommending against the development.’
Future of the site
Dr Gates said that the best outcome they see for the community is for the land to be rehabilitated as required by the L&EC and for it to be zoned ‘environmental’.
The land should be ‘resumed by the State Government as an “offset” for coastal lands being destroyed elsewhere,’ Dr Gates said.
‘The developer should be paid out for the unimproved capital value of the land less the cost of rehabilitation. And the land should become part of the National Parks estate. That would be the right thing to do from a number of perspectives including appropriate land use, the public interest and recognition of the long-standing connection to Traditional Owners and opportunity for capacity building.’
A spokesperson from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment told The Echo that ‘The Master Plan was withdrawn by the proponent in a letter to the Department on 19 July. The development application is currently under consideration by Richmond Valley Council.’
♦ Updated with DPIE comment on 19 August.