The controversial Iron Gates development application (DA) at Evans Head, that has been waiting for a decision on the current DA for eight years, and been fought against by the local community for over 30 years, was refused on Tuesday by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP).
However, in their decision the NRPP were clear that the development site is currently ‘zoned R1 General Residential and that limited residential land supply and high housing costs are key issues at Evans Head’.
The DA was refused on grounds related to fire risk, flood risk and subsequent fill requirements and not satisfying a number of statutory requirements relating to State Environment Planning Policies (SEPP).
The proponent’s solicitor, the developer is Graeme Ingles under his company Goldcoral Pty Ltd, sought a 48-hour delay to get further information on road width measurements, that they were unable to answer, for the single access road to the Iron Gates property following questions from the chair about the width of the road and limited potential for widening given it ran through wetlands. This was denied and the NRPP Chair, Paul Mitchell, put it to the solicitor that it was bit late to be requesting (yet another) extension of time given the history of the application.
During the decision verdict Mr Mitchell said that ‘that the land in question contains an environmentally-important rainforest area, is surrounded by other environmentally and culturally valuable land, and is only accessible by a single road which is severed during floods. Accordingly the panel believes that a suitable scale of development at Iron Gates could be appropriate, but ONLY if its design and scale were compatible with the sites setting and the application fully addressed all applicable environmental and other constraints particularly emergency access and egress.
‘In the above context the Panel believes the current application is unsatisfactory and should be refused and we give our reasons for that as follows:
‘The proposal is unsatisfactory from a bushfire risk perspective.
‘While we are mindful of the fact that the RFS (Rural Fire Service) has issued General Terms of Approval, the Panel believes the application has failed to demonstrate that the risks below have been resolved. We have [identified] four risks and will give you the general tenor of them:
‘The Iron Gates Drive provides the only vehicular access to the site. [It] is narrow for a significant part of its length adjoining the wetland and bridge, and we’re concerned about the narrowness for significant length. Consequently, the Panel is not satisfied that suitable access for firefighting and other emergency vehicles concurrent with evacuation of residents could occur safely and effectively.
‘Our second concern is the absence of a perimeter road around all of the proposed residential area is not consistent with good practice in subdivision design and the proposed fire trail appears to be inadequate because of restrictive vehicle turning movements and level variations.
‘Our third concern is the Intrusion of Asset Protection Zones (APZ) into a large number of residential lots, combined with a lack of ready access to those lots means that the maintenance of low fuel loads in those areas could well be problematic and be difficult for regulators to monitor and enforce.
‘And our final concern is the narrow width of a number of the residential roads within the proposed subdivision and consequently to ban on-street parking on those roads to provide access to firefighting and emergency vehicle is likely to present unsatisfactory and impractical situations,’ he explained.
Ecological and flood impacts
‘The proposal is likely to have unacceptable ecological impacts principally because of the substantial earthworks and filling required, insufficient buffers adjoining the rainforest wetlands and foreshore reserve and poor subdivision design, particularly an excessively large development footprint and the road which separates new lots 136 and 137, both of which contain ecological valuable areas.
‘Proposed stormwater management system particularly in its incorporation of onsite infiltration is unsatisfactory because it creates risks of sodden ground and creation of mosquito habitat.
‘The Proposal does not include satisfactory arrangements for the evacuation of residents or “shelter in place” during flood events but may be impractical because no onsite retail or necessary community facilities are proposed.
‘Earthworks design of the subdivision is unsatisfactory because of “excess” earthworks and filling and overly high retaining walls and insufficient buffers to ecological important rainforest, wetland and foreshore areas and is unsatisfactory from a bushfire design perspective.
SEPP not met
‘The proposal is unsatisfactory in that it does not satisfy several applicable statutory requirements including SEPP 55 in relation to land contamination, SEPP 71 in relation to potential conflict between land and water based activities, or the provisions of the Threatened Species Conservation Act in relation to proper assessment on a number of potentially endangered species on the List and the provisions of the Richmond Valley Local Environment Plan in relation to subdivision design, particularly the incorporation of appropriate buffers and suitable road design and some of the risk previously mentioned,’ said Mr Mitchell.
Legal basis for rejection
‘For reasons we have given, the proposal (DA) in the panel’s opinion does not represent orderly development nor is it consistent with the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development and we believe that its approval would not be in the public interest’.
Panel Chair Paul Mitchell then concluded his remarks with the following statement: ‘We note that it is important that all people involved note that there is a need for the community to recognise that the land is zoned for residential purposes, is privately-owned and the decisions which have been taken are legally enforceable and need to be recognised. We have a number of very solid concerns which we have outlined and we will flesh out but have noted with this specific proposal that there is a need to recognise the legal status of the land’.
Turn into National Park
While the audience enthusiastically applauded the result Dr Richard Gates from Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development Inc told The Echo that ‘the Iron Gates battle is not over as the land is inappropriately zoned for residential development and needs to be rezoned.’
Dr Gates said that this is something opponents of the Iron Gates DA have been trying to do for years but Richmond Valley Council has ignored.
‘You just have to look at the history of the site to know that the community opposes it but Council seems to be captive of the State government’s mad push for housing development everywhere without any consideration for environmental constraints or limits to growth,’ he said.
‘Just look at the idiot regional plan for development for 2041, a developers’ wet dream!’
Dr Gates said he would ‘not be surprised if there are further attempts for residential development on the site and that there might be Court action by the developer given previous history, but such action would be met with community opposition.’
Responding to questions from the Echo developer Graeme Ingles said that they will appeal the NRPP decision.
‘The development application will be appealed to the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) . We will be responding to the issues raised by the Northern Regional Planning Panel and the community. We will look to do that through the Court process.’
The Echo had also asked if they would consider selling the land to the State government and their timeline for the 1997, $2 million L&EC ordered remediation work.
Mr Ingles sid ‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment further on the matter while the Court process is pending.’
Re-zone the land
Dr Gates has said that it is now tiem for the land to have the residential zoning from the 1980s removed and for it to be re-zoned as environmental.
‘The focus now must be for the land to be rezoned to a more appropriate environmental zoning in keeping with its natural status, for it to be resumed by the State with appropriate compensation for the current owner of the land, less the cost of rehabilitation of the site according to the remediation Orders of the Land & Environment Court from 1997 which the developer had not done previously. ‘The company which was the legal vehicle for a previous DA for the site was put into liquidation at the time and had no resources for remediation,’ said Dr Gates.
‘An ideal use of the land would be incorporation into the National Park Estate as it is an identified wildlife corridor joining Bundjalung National Park to the south of the Evans River with Broadwater National Park to the north and is surrounded by Crown Land which has Native Title recognition and is culturally significant. This is not a new idea as Parks have tried on many occasions to get the State to purchase the land.’