The dust storm that was blown up by hot westerly winds on Monday at Evans Head Manufactured Homes Estate has raised questions about the ability of the Richmond Valley Council (RVC) to not only manage the large scale development but to assess the upcoming Iron Gates development.
According to locals the dust storm badly affected a large number of local residences adjacent to the Manufactured Homes Estate along Currajong Street whose houses and backyards were filled with dust and sand.
Controversial rezoning approval
The site was approved for development in 2017 by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) under then chair of Garry West. It occupies part of what was once the World War II Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome containing taxiways and Bellman Hangar sites.
‘The land for the development was sold off by Richmond Valley Council for residential development following controversial approval for rezoning by then NSW Planning Minister Kristina Keneally,’ said Dr Richard Gates, President of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee Inc (EHMAC).
‘Keneally was unresponsive to requests from the EHMAC to explain how she had approved known contaminated land immediately adjacent to an airfield for residential development in contravention of State Environmental Planning Policy 71 (Coastal Protection) and in spite of evidence showing risk for aviation accident.’
Where is the dust plan?
According to Dr Gates the approval for the development of the Manufactured Homes Estate ‘included a requirement for a “Management Plan” before the filling operation started. That Management Plan was to include a “dust suppression” strategy to protect the environment.
‘I have not seen the Management Plan but if there was one, it has failed badly letting the local people down and raising serious questions about Richmond Valley Council’s capacity to management large developments. But more than that raises serious questions about council’s liability in what will be a significant clean-up operation and potential cost to ratepayers,’ he said.
‘There was no-one on site yesterday during the dust storm and apparently there were difficulties raising council and the contractor doing the work on the site. This is not the first time there had been a dust issue at Evans Head with new development where council have managed the matter poorly.’
Off site building
The premise of a manufactured estate in NSW legislation is that the housing is built off site and then erected on site, however, it appears that the houses are being built on site.
‘Has Council changed the status of the development but not informed us about the change?’ asked Dr Gates.
‘Council does not have a good track record when it comes to keeping stakeholders informed about what it is doing. We prepared the original successful application for State Heritage Listing of the site in 2002 and have stopped council for making serious blunders in the past such as irrigating the airfield with effluent from the local sewerage treatment plant, a plan which would have destroyed most of the drainage system of the airfield plus environment,’ he pointed out.
The issue of flooding at the site was also drawn the NRPPs attention prior to the approval of the Manufactured Homes Estate DA.
‘The current development includes a very large amount of fill to not only replace the material lost during “decontamination” of the site but to build up the land for the development well above the existing ground level for the aerodrome,’ said Dr Gates.
‘Prior to the fill the land flooded regularly, the problem being made worse by the fact that Richmond Valley Council destroyed the major drainage system which had effectively drained the aerodrome.’
Iron gates DA
‘Overall the failure of Council to manage the major dust problem yesterday at the Manufactured Homes Estate along with a number of other failures relating to development raise serious questions about Council’s capacity to manage large complex projects,’ Dr Gates said.
‘But more than that raise serious questions about Council’s capacity to evaluate effectively the fourth version of the proposed Iron Gates development and manage it should it be approved. We note that Council was named by Iron Gates Pty Ltd (in liquidation) and developer Graeme Ingles as a ‘first defendant’ in a $30 million Queensland Supreme Court case in 2006.’
‘The State government through the Northern Regional Planning Panel has passed the buck for evaluation of the proposal to an apparently “unwilling” council which stated in correspondence to the NRPP (24 August) that “It is reluctant to assume the Ministerial responsibilities for assessment of the SEPP 71 master plan heads of consideration which come with the amended/varied development application”. ‘
Dr Gates said today that there was a need for an independent investigation of what happened at the Manufactured Homes Estate on Monday including an examination of council’s capacity to evaluate and manage large projects. Y
‘Yesterday’s “Desert Storm” was not acceptable and should never have happened,’ he said.
‘Will ratepayers end up paying the bill as they did for decontamination of the airfield which cost ratepayers millions of dollars?’
Submissions on the Iron Gates DA can be made until October 24.