It’s been going on for around 25 years, the developer Graeme Ingles, most recently of Queensland based GoldCoral Pty Ltd, has been pushing to develop the Iron Gates site near Evans Head since the 1990s while the community has pushed back. Now the community has 30 days to comment on the latest amended DA for the site before it goes before the Northern Rivers Planning Panel (NRPP) once again.
This follows a recent decision by the NRPP to allow an amended plan for the development under Clause 55 of the Environment Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.
An approved development application (DA) was challenged and removed by the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) in 1997 after the developer took did unauthorised works at the site. The L&EC ordered around $2m of remediation for the site that has never been completed. This has been followed by repeat applications for a DA at the site with the current one being put in in 2014 for a 175 lot subdivision.
The decision to allow the amendment to the DA ‘came as a surprise to many because of the strength of the NO recommendation,’ said the president of the Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development Dr Richard Gates.
The decision appears to have been influenced by the letter from the developers solicitor, Mills Oakley’s Aaron Gadiel which said that ‘…the applicant has determined that it will commence a Land and Environment Court appeal’ and that ‘The applicant proposes to use this process to progress the development application through to determination. The applicant’s hope is that this matter will be able to be resolved by a “section 34” agreement in the early stages of the proceedings’. Section 34 agreements are made through a Land & Environment Court Commissioner rather than through a full Court hearing.
The amended plan has gone back to Richmond Valley Council (RVC) for assessment and will go on exhibition on 24 September till 24 October.
‘That is just 30 days in which to digest the current material and prepare a response,’ Dr Gates told The Echo.
‘Because the amended plan is an amended plan it should share many similarities with the original plan, or at least you might think so. However, it remains to be seen how similar the new material is to the old.’
Dr Gates said he had received advice that ‘the amended plan should not have been accepted under Clause 55 because there are major changes to the plan. An example is the development being separated into two components, an initial plan requiring a DA and a second component requiring a separate DA approval, a ‘concept development’, at a later date. This is not a minor change to details which would fall under the rubric of an amendment but a major change with the requirement for a Master Plan apparently ‘disappearing’. I remain to be convinced that it is a not a new proposal.’
Are taxpayers footing the bill?
The extent of the advice provided by the State government on the development considering the detailed advice provided by the State Government Architect (GA) in October 2020.
‘In a six page letter to the developer the GA states that “presentation to the Panel lacked detail on a range of matters” and “on the basis of the information provided” “a number of significant issues remain unresolved.” The letter then provided extensive advice about what needed to be done at this “sensitive coastal site of regional significance”,’ explained Dr Gates.
Dr Gates said he ‘wondered how many other developers received extensive advice of this kind and what precedent it would set for the future. But more than that who was paying for the advice? Was this coming out of the taxpayer and ratepayer pockets yet again.
‘This developer has racked up a substantial bill for us all given that this matter has been in effect running for almost a quarter of a century. It would be interesting to total up the real cost of this project to the public. We know that in legal costs alone the bill has gone past the million dollar mark. That is coming out of our pockets.
Dr Gates said he also had a problem with the fact that because the government was providing extensive advice for the development that it would be much more difficult to knock the development back.
‘The government is hardly likely to refuse an application where it has been providing advice even if the developer only goes part way to meeting the requirements of that advice,’ he told The Echo.
‘Yes, the NRPP is an independent panel and it has demonstrated that it doesn’t take the advice of the Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment in its recent decision to allow an amendment to the plan but ‘sunk costs’ can play a role in decision-making of which the decision-makers may not be fully aware. And other decision-making biases may creep into preparation of reports. There is extensive literature on decision-making in uncertain circumstances and certainly, the current proposal is not exempt from those psychological processes in decision-making. The current proposal is not just about black letter law but involves some degree of interpretation and dependence on others for advice.’
Highlighting the fact that around half of the RVC LGA had been badly affected in the recent Black Summer fire Dr Gates said ‘Putting people in a harm’s way in a satellite development would seem to be a very unwise decision.’