The Iron Gates development at Evans Heads, that is on flood and bushfire-prone land as well as being surrounded by Indigenous and environmentally sensitive, land has now had two independent reports determine that it should not go ahead. The decision on the complex and controversial 2014 development application (DA) from Graeme Ingles company GoldCoral Pty Ltd, which morphed into the current Concept Development Application (CDA) in August 2021, will be decided on by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP).
Development of the land has been pursued since the 1990s and in 1997 the existing development consent was removed by the Land and Environment Court following illegal clearing and other works by the land holder. Approximately $2 million in remediation works were ordered at the time which have never been carried out. According to legal advice provided to Richmond Valley Council those Court Orders are still outstanding.
When the NRPP is to make a decision on a DA the relevant council, in this case Richmond Valley Council (RVC), is required to supply a planning report for the NRPP to assist it in its determination process. Taking this one step further the RVC sought an independent assessment of the CDA by town planning consultant Malcolm Scott. In his 219 page, June 2022, report Scott recommended refusal of the DA.
The review of the review
Scott’s independent planning assessment then became the subject of a peer review assessment by Kim Johnston of KJ Planning, a review commissioned by the Department of Planning and Environment on behalf of the NRPP in July 2022. The public was unaware of this review until this week when the NRPP announced it on its website.
The Johnston peer review canvassed a number of ‘key issues’ with the ‘main issues including Ecological and Biodiversity Impacts, SEPP 71 [Coastal Planning] Matters, Subdivision Design and Public Open Space, Bushfire, Flooding, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, Infrastructure and servicing (including upgrade to Iron Gates Drive), Earthworks and Groundwater, Riparian and Wetland Impacts associated with SEPP 14 wetlands and Evans River’.
‘Other key issues identified included potential land contamination and acid sulphate soils, traffic and road layout matters, the management of social impacts and biting insect impacts and matters relating to the proximity of the site to the airport and military operations [of the RAAF’s Evans Head Air Weapons Range],’ stated the report.
The Johnston Report concluded that ‘Following a thorough assessment of the proposal and consideration of the Independent Assessment Report [Scott], it is considered that the proposal results in significant ecological and biodiversity impacts, fails to satisfy various matters under SEPP 71 and has failed to adequately address a number of significant site constraints.
‘The inclusion on the site and/or proximity of SEPP 14 wetlands and the Evans River as well as the significant vegetation which exists on the site requires the proposal to be responsive to such site constraints, which has not been adequately demonstrated by the proposal. The lack of adequate buffer zones and other mitigation measures, including a comprehensive stormwater management plan, result in the proposal being unsatisfactory having regard to the important environmental conservation areas within and adjacent to the site.
‘The proposed design of the subdivision is also considered to be unsatisfactory, as it has not been drawn from a thorough site analysis nor does it represent an integrated urban and landscape design response to the site conditions. The subdivision layout arising from an earlier approval on the site appears to have been the reason behind the design.
‘The proposal has also not satisfied various preconditions to the grant of consent and does not provide an adequate response to the matters required to be outlined in a draft master plan, which has been replaced in this instance by the proposed concept development application.
‘In short, the development application has not resolved significant and fundamental concerns with the proposal.
‘The proposal is considered unacceptable and accordingly this peer review concurs with the recommendation for refusal as outlined in the [Scott] Independent Assessment Report.’
Will State government move away from developing in flood prone area?
Dr Richard Gates, spokesperson for Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development said today that the conclusion of both independent planning reports are very very clear: the DA should be refused. Any notion that the DA might be accepted by putting in place ‘conditions of consent’ is wishful thinking. These reviews clearly condemn the Iron Gates proposal, full stop.
Dr Gates said today that there will no doubt be a rebuttal(s) from the developer about the independent reviews but given the nature of the comprehensive grounds for refusal provider by the independent reviewers and previous responses from the developer, it is hard to see how the proponent can come back from such devastating criticism. However, the matter still needs to be determined by the NRPP.
Dr Gates said that ‘in view of the reports he anticipated that the NRPP will call a public hearing in the near future where submission from the public will be heard and a final determination made about the development. The determination may or may not be made on the day(s) of the hearing but those who wish to have their say need to prepare now’.
‘It is time the concept of residential development of the Iron Gates was buried and no further application for such development entertained at any level of government in the future.
‘The current Draft North Coast Regional Plan 2041 on exhibition until 24 August 2022 makes it clear that the State government “…will direct new development away from high-risk areas that are prone to bushfires and flooding.” Here is the opportunity for state and local government to match their rhetoric with real action for this bushfire and flood-prone site by making sure that there is no Phoenix Iron Gates.’