It is a saga that has been going on for over 30 years and that some hoped might finally have come to an end. But that is not to be the case with an appeal against the refusal of the Iron Gates development application (DA) at Evans Head now having been submitted to the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) of NSW.
Goldcoral Pty Ltd run by developer Graeme Ingles is seeking to overturn the recent refusal of the Iron Gates DA that was refused on multiple grounds including the high flood and fire risk of the site as well as the design of the development.
Cost to the community
The decision was made by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP), however, under NSW planning laws, Richmond Valley Council (RVC) is the respondent to the appeal.
Richmond Valley Council General Manager Vaughan Macdonald said while Council respected the development assessment processes and the right of all applicants to appeal planning decisions, it was disappointing the Richmond Valley community would now have to carry the cost of defending this decision.
‘The NSW Government established regional planning panels because it did not trust councils to make decisions on significant planning matters, such as those proposing the scale of development the Iron Gates proposal seeks,’ Mr Macdonald said.
‘Yet we will now experience the resource impacts of the NRPP’s decision being challenged, as our local community will be left to carry the cost of the court process.
‘At a time when the Richmond Valley is focused on the challenge of recovering from the worst flood on record, I’m sure our community would rather see these funds spent on fixing roads, repairing drains and helping people to get back into their homes.’
Following the 2022 floods, the NSW government has said that they will adopt the Flood Inquiries recommendations that includes not developing flood-prone land in the future. However, this still leaves significant land in flood-prone areas that already has either approvals for development or are zoned for residential development as in the Iron Gates situation.
‘Iron Gates is a legacy zoning for which there has been ample evidence for a long time that it was an inappropriate place to turn into a residential area,’ Dr Richard Gates from Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development Inc told The Echo.
‘When the LEP was being developed for RVC in around 2010–11 the community asked Council to hold a formal hearing on this development at Evans Head and council refused to hold a hearing. The community at Evans Head then organised a meeting and Sue Higginson, who was with the EDO at the time, presented at that meeting. The council were invited, but declined to come. It was clear at the time that this land was inappropriate that residential developments yet it seemed that the council actively opposed changing the zoning. We don’t know why?
‘At the NRPP hearing the developer, Mr Ingles said he was encouraged to put in the DA in 2014 by then RVC general manager John Walker (who is currently acting GM for Lismore Council),’ said Dr Gates.
‘Certainly, there has always been a push from the State Government for residential development but there are lots of other areas this could happen. Why you would continue to push for an area that is highly flood and bushfire prone is beyond me.’
Buy it back
Prior to 2005 National Parks had sought to have the State Government purchase the Iron Gates site four times due to the important environmental and cultural value of the site. Currently, it is included in RVC documents as a wildlife corridor.
‘I actually met with state cabinet secretary on 30 April 2002 where I put a position paper which said the land should be acquired by NP and in that I suggested it could be a small depot site for NP or a very useful training location for Aboriginal people especially due to the importance of the area to both Bundjalung nation and the Bandgalang people of this area.
He was non-commital with the State Government repeatedly stating they haven’t got the money.’
In 1997 the site was subject to a remediation order by the L&EC of approximately $2 million after the developer had illegally cleared areas of the Iron Gates site. While these are still required to be fulfilled.
‘I had written to a number of Ministers around 2005 to ask why they hadn’t enforced the remediation orders, they said it wasn’t their responsibility – even though it was very clear from the judgments that they did have the carriage to ensure that remediation took place.
‘The big issue for me and others, to what extent has there been political interference in re-zoning of this land to non-residential and environmentally significant status,’ said Dr Gates.
‘Particularly in view of the fact that this is in the pathway for aircraft that use the Evans Head weapons range. It was particularly disappointing that while the department of defense said it did not support the proposal when the evaluation report came out one said the military had agreed if a certain standard of prevention measures in place eg glazing of windows.
‘Why would they support this land use conflict when they know from their experience at Williamtown and Salt Ash Air Weapons Rage that there have been huge amounts of complaints and issues there?
‘When you look at the weapons range you see that the Iron Gates site is closer the target area for training than is the northern, southern or eastern of weapon ranges zones. So why would you put people in a position where they are going to be exposed to noise in excess of 90 dBA?’
The matter has been listed for a directions hearing on Monday, 24 October and RVC will be following the process required by the Land and Environment Court said Mr Macdonald.