The developers of the $250m proposed development on State Significant Farmland (SSF) next to the new Tweed Valley Hospital, called Cudgen Connection, presented their case for developing the site to Tweed Shire councillors yesterday afternoon.
They are seeking to re-zone 5.7 hectares of SSF to build a $250m private health care and education facility that also includes a farmers market and koala ‘Centre of Excellence for Koala Research’.
However, following the controversial rezoning of SSF for the site for the Tweed Valley Hospital local Nationals MP Geoff Provest gave a commitment that the rezoning would not be a means for opening the door for further development on the SSF of Cudgen plateau.
The first hurdle that the developer needs to jump is the rezoning of the site at 741 Cudgen Road, Cudgen for the development and then they would seek to gain state government approval for the development itself.
Responding to questions from The Echo the Cudgen Connection Project Team (CCPT) and developer Allan Larkin, Digital Infratech Director, said they were ‘pleased to welcome Mayor Cherry’s comment that the Tweed community would be very receptive to the proposed health and education-led precinct’.
They said that in regards to the Mayor’s concerns over the proposed site not being the right location they believe that the current SSF zoning ‘is incorrect zoning of the 5.7 hectare site’.
The developer has gone to significant lengths with a range of experts to demonstrate the lack of suitability of SSF zoning for the site. This includes that ‘The site has not been farmed in decades (approximately 40 years); Current zoning was created in 2005 – the result of a line drawn on a map without undertaking any scientific analysis of the site; The site does not meet the NSW Government’s criteria for suitable farming; The site is not of (agricultural) importance or significance according to a consortium of specialists including economic analysts, agricultural land assessors, traffic experts, town planners, and health infrastructure specialists’.
They also stated that ‘the 5.7-hectare parcel is significantly smaller than the NSW Government State Significant Land threshold (20 hectares)’.
However, when the Cudgen plateau was zoned as SSF, in total it was approximately 600 hectares that was preserved and made up of a range of properties. By rezoning the land for the Tweed Valley Hospital that was reduced to approximately 540 hectares. It is understood that if the overall parcel of land zoned as SSF drops below 500 hectares it exposes the whole area to losing the SSF protection it currently holds.
Responding to the CCPT presentation Mayor Cherry told The Echo that ‘The last two years of COVID have taught us that the local food bowl security is incredibly important to the community. While the site might not be best suited to traditional horticulture and agricultural methods it has been recognised as farmland that can be utilised in the future especially with innovative, modern farming techniques.’
Independent Councillor Meredith Dennis supported Mayor Cherry’s comments saying that ‘The land on which this development is proposed is State Significant Farmland, and although it has not been farmed on for many years this land is to be saved and used for our future food bowl needs.’
Other sites available
A number of other development areas have already been set aside for future development as part of the Tweed Regional Economic Development Strategy and Tweed Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS) including land in Kingscliff referred to as Gales Land and the old Tweed Hospital site.
‘Last night the proponents revealed the reasons they did not believe the existing hospital site, Gales Land or Kings Forest were appropriate for this development,’ said Mayor Cherry.
‘These were mostly simply a copy paste from Health Infrastructures’ consideration of these sites when they were relocating the Tweed Valley Hospital and I would like to see a much more comprehensive consideration of these locations. This could be an incredible asset for the Tweed Shire if it was at a location that our strategic planning has identified as suitable, which at present it is not.’
Following yesterday’s presentation Greens Councillor Dr Nola Firth told The Echo ‘I remain concerned about rezoning our land to fit commercial interests rather than following a strategic plan where new initiatives fit into current zones. Kings Forest and the Tweed Hospital were suggested to the developers as sites with more appropriate zoning.’
Mr Larkin agrees that agricultural land is important telling The Echo that ‘our team believes that maintaining good agricultural land for future generations is essential.’ However, he said that ‘this particular site fails all criteria for the determination of important and strategic farmland. We believe the site was incorrectly included in the strategic farmland listing and significant changes have occurred in neighbouring land uses as well as community needs in the precinct.
‘The current site restrictions do not benefit the community and the proposed Cudgen Connection has considerable opportunities for the community,’ he said.
Mr Larkin and the CCPT also highlighted that they predicted the creation of 1,000 jobs, a reduction in pressure and waiting times in the public health system and ability to attract specialists to the region, an improved public transport system through the delivery of a transport interchange, and co-location of other health services.’
However, Richmond Greens candidate Mandy Nolan said that ‘Nobody but the developer wants this here. Yes, our community wants investment in aged care, health, education and housing but this is the wrong place to put it and they’re the wrong people to do it.
‘The community would pay for this development twice. First with our farmland and again when paying for privatised essential services. Government needs to pay for this infrastructure elsewhere, otherwise it’s a lose-lose for the community and a win-win for the developer.’
Agriculture minister supports Provest
Local member for Tweed Geoff Provest (Nationals) provided an ‘iron clad’ assurance to the local community at the time the new Tweed Valley Hospital site was rezoned saying that no further SSF would be used for development purposes.
This position has been supported by NSW Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders (National) who told The Echo that ‘I am aware of the proposal, and I share the concern of the Member for Tweed. I refer you to his comments on the matter, which I agree with wholeheartedly: “Whilst we are building a state of the art health facility at Cudgen that should not be seen as a green light to concrete additional Cudgen farmland. This is not welcome”.’
It was also reported yesterday that the Minister for Planning, Anthony Roberts told The Echo that, ‘The NSW Government made a commitment to protecting the remaining Cudgen farmland in the Tweed Shire. I support the local member and thank Geoff Provest for his advocacy in ensuring this land is protected for the Tweed Shire community’.
The ICAC should be investigating all the players in the entire suspect Hospital land rezoning, PERIOD! I doubt Provest will even run at the next election, he has nothing to lose really! He’s simply playing good cop bad cop? The Sydney Liberals have probably already given this the nod the same day they did the original rezonings? Perhaps councillor Owen could inform the Tweed Shire community on just what his Sydney Lieberal parties next move on the Cudgen plateau will be after this one? Perhaps show a Morrisonesque glossy colour coded brochure, of which developments will get priority?