A proposal for the Iron Gates site near Evans Head has been pushed by developers for over 30 years in one form or another. The local community has continued to fight against a development they have tirelessly pointed out was at risk of bushfire, floods, and damaged Indigenous cultural heritage and the environment.
The current development application (DA2015/0096) is set to be decided on by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) in the coming weeks and the panel did a site inspection last Friday, 22 July. The DA is for the ‘Subdivision of land to create 186 lots being: 178 residential lots, 3 public reserves, 2 fire trail lots and 3 residential parcels, associated works, infrastructure and the demolition of existing buildings’.
The current DA has been running for more than seven and a half years and has been publicly advertised five times (2014, 2015, 2019, 2021, 2022) with 656 public submissions, 947 petition signatures and 23 postcards against the proposal and 249 supportive, many of the latter a form letter.
The Richmond Valley Council (RVC) had engaged independent town planning consultant Malcolm Scott to assess the DA who concluded in his report that ‘in his opinion the proposed development is not a good planning outcome having regard to the environmental sensitivity of the land and locality. The design of the subdivision is not of a contemporary standard and does not reflect or embrace accepted urban design principles which seek to generate a high-quality living environment’.
Mr Scott briefed the NRPP ‘on the recommendations of his assessment report of the Iron Gates development proposal and led the Panel to key locations in relation to the proposal on the site and its access’.
The site inspection was attended by four NRPP Panel Members: Paul Mitchell (chair), Stephen Gow, Penny Holloway and Peter Jeuken (with connections to Lismore City Council), a new addition to the Panel, and Stuart Withington, of the Planning Panels Secretariat. The Site Inspection was also attended by RVC assessment staff Angela Jones, Andy Edwards and Travis Eggins but not long-time council planner for this particular development Tony McAteer who gave an apology.
The developer Graeme Ingles was not at the inspection. Mr Ingles was director of a previous company Iron Gates Pty Ltd, now liquidated, which had outstanding Land and Environment Court Remediation Orders against it for previous work on the Iron Gates site. Mr Ingles had his existing DA removed in 1997 due to unauthorised clearing of the site and was ordered ‘to restore the land at a cost of $2m’. According to legal advice provided to Richmond Valley Council those Court Orders are still outstanding.
Not fire safe
Mr Scott’s independent report also highlights the high risk of bushfire as a key issue and does not agree with the Rural Fire Service (RFS) assessment in relation to bushfire safety or the Heritage NSW assessment of the impact on Indigenous cultural heritage at the site.
‘I am particularly concerned about the high bushfire risk of the land and of adjoining land zoned for environmental protection (in particular for Iron Gates Dr) and that the alternate measures proposed to mitigate the risk and threat are not adequate,’ stated Mr Scott’s report.
‘It is my opinion that many of the key issues raised in the objections to the DA and Concept DA cannot be addressed by conditions of consent and the submissions should be given weight in the determination of the Concept DA.
‘Having regard and consideration to the key issues relating to the Concept DA and my assessment of the proposal it is my opinion that the Concept DA fails to satisfactorily achieve relevant planning and environmental merit considerations and statutory planning controls.
‘Having regard to the consideration to the key issues relating to the Concept DA and my assessment of the proposal and issues raised by submitters in objections I do not concur with the recommendations of approval by:
- NSW Rural Fire Service regarding bushfire safety and
- NSW Dept of Premier and Cabinet, Heritage NSW, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Regulation, regarding impact on Aboriginal cultural history.’
RVC failed to support report
At last Tuesday’s (19 July) RVC meeting Mr Scotts report (Item 19.7) was ‘received and noted’ but no councillor moved that the report be ‘endorsed’.
Long-term opponent of the Iron Gates development Dr Richard Gates who attended and spoke at Council’s meeting against the proposal along with other Evans Head residents said today that Council’s failure to support the assessment of the independent town planner and to note it only was a ‘Pontius Pilate’ moment.
‘Councillors could easily have taken a position on the independent town planning assessment and endorsed it but failed to do so leaving the community wondering why councillors had washed their hands of the DA,’ Dr Gates, who is an Executive Member of the Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development Inc, told The Echo.
‘We know that council refused to consider rezoning of the land to a more appropriate environmental zoning when it was developing its Local Environment Plan (2012). Not only did council refuse a Hearing on the matter which it was entitled to ask for, but declined to come to a well-attended meeting on the matter organised by the community.
‘It would appear that despite wide-spread community opposition to the development reflected in the number of comprehensive objections to the current DA, successful Court cases in the 1990’s objecting to the development, and now a powerful independent planning assessment recommending refusal of the DA that Council is captive of the State government’s push for development without regard to consequences for the community and its wishes,’ he said.
‘Council does not appear to be listening and seems prepared to support a development which puts people in ‘Harm’s Way’ in an isolated location subject to very high bushfire risk and flood and high impact aircraft noise. Has council learned nothing from the bushfires and floods which have so badly affected this community?! We certainly know that it has learned nothing about aircraft noise and safety.’
Dr Gates noted that those who are seeking further advice about the proposal will find very little current information about the development on council’s DA Tracker. There is no mention of the independent consultant’s report and the disposition of the DA with the NRPP. Council continues to fail to keep ratepayers informed about important major development matters.