Concerns have been raised over the transparency of the process of the Northern Rivers Planning Panel (NRPP), by which it reached a decision, in relation to the Iron Gates development in Evans Head, to ‘accept the amendment of the application under Clause 55 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Regulations 2000’.
The developer Graeme Ingles, of Queensland based GoldCoral Pty Ltd, has been trying to develop the site since the 1990s, and has failed to do site remediation that was ordered by the Land and Environment Court. At that time (1997) the court’s decision removed the existing approved development application (DA) as a result of the developer’s actions in clearing the site.
The current DA was submitted to the Richmond Valley Council (RVC) in 2014 and the developer sought a Clause 55 variation by the NRPP to again submit plans to develop the site. This was granted by the NRPP at their 6 September meeting. Two RVC councillors on the NRPP panel (Robert Hayes and Daniel Simpson) declared a conflict of interest in the decision.
The Echo understands that the attendees at the meeting on 6 September included the developer, his planner, and a lawyer from law firm Mills Oakley (Aaron Gadiel). However due to the low level of detail supplied and lack of access to all the documentation on which the decision was made questions remain in relation to why the variation was approved.
‘We are not privy to material, including the Mills Oakley correspondence which is listed as part of the decision consideration documentation,’ said Dr Richard Gates, president of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee Inc.
‘All the other material is available but not the letter from the law firm dated 31 August 2021 which begs the question: “Why has it been kept from the public?”.’
It has also been noted that the public are not privy to information on how the NRPP reached its decision, the date when the amended application was submitted, the disposition of the Master Plan and there appears to be no public record of the minutes of the meeting.
Dr Gates told The Echo that, ‘in view of all the litigation which had occurred in the past including a $33 million law suit by the developer [against] Richmond Valley Council and others, that the NRPP might be erring on the side of caution to avoid future potential litigation and that the [NRPP may have] weighed this up against the many arguments which had been canvassed against the development provided in documentation on the NRPP website.
‘The current proponent [Graeme Ingles] has been pursuing the Iron Gates development now for nearly a quarter of a century and it is a long and complicated matter in two different State legal jurisdictions.’
Because of that Dr Gates has asked that the public be ‘extended the courtesy given the developer’ of a long period of time to assess the latest version of the amended plan to chase up pertinent materials and make enquiries so that the public can make an adequate response.
In their submission to the NRPP in relation to the development, RVC raised the significant cost to the ratepayer of the ongoing assessments required of council in relation to the DA. They also pointed out that the application had ‘failed to provide sufficient information… for the consent authority to make a thorough assessment of the proposal.’
‘What steps are being taken to reimburse Richmond Valley Council for all the work it will now have to do in reassessing the latest version of the amended plan because of the financial burden it places on ratepayers?,’ Dr Gates asked.
‘Richmond Valley Council has imposed a Special Rate Variation on ratepayers now over many years even though it was one of the most disadvantaged local government areas in the State. It seems to us that it is grossly unfair that ratepayers should continue to be punished for the apparent failure of the proponent to produce a DA which meets minimal design and planning standards over a very long period of time and with assistance from the public purse, for example the advice provided by the Government Architect,’ he said.
‘That the problem was made worse because of outstanding Court Orders in the Land & Environment Court for remediation of the site for problems created by the proponent. All of this begs the question: “At what point is the public interest being taken into consideration?’