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February 29, 2024

State knocks back Ballina council suggestion for development consideration on State Signficant Farmland

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Green belt between Russellton industrial area, looking towards Alstonville. Photo David Lowe.

The state’s planning authority has reportedly knocked back an initial application for State Significant Farmland in the Ballina Shire to be included on a list of potential development sites.

Greens Ballina Shire Councillor Simon Chate told The Echo on Wednesday a member of the Wolllongbar Progress Assocation had forwarded him an email from the NSW Department of Industry and Environment [DPIE] concerning a proposed list of particular Ballina Shire land lots.

The Echo has asked the department to confirm the information in the letter, parts of which Cr Chate read out over the phone but declined to forward.

Ballina Shire Council staff had submitted a requested revised list of proposed Strategic Urban Growth Areas, including two new areas, one of them State Significant Farmland on the Alstonville Plateau.

Surgeon seeks higher ground

Agreement from a majority of Ballina Shire Councillors including the mayor was sustained despite a series of related votes over multiple meetings, including a rescission motion from Cr Chate at October’s ordinary meeting.

Councillors in support of including the farmland next to the Russellton Industrial Estate at Alstonville said flood-impacted businesses elsewhere needed higher ground and younger families needed jobs.

But the story took a turn when a developer representative for a surgeon in Sydney turned up to the October ordinary council meeting spruiking a new private hospital for the land that hadn’t appeared in any formal development application.

Cr Chate said the idea was inherently ‘fake news’ but other councillors expressed support for a private hospital and what Cr Rodney Bruem described as a “Health Campus’.

More details and consultation required for new SUGA

Cr Phillip Meehan said he expected the land’s State Significant Farmland status to be a ‘hurdle’ and Cr Chate’s account of the DPIE letter, if accurate, proves him right.

Cr Chate said the DPIE wanted more information and investigation of the impacts of removing the SSF status, including more community consultation.

Cr Chate repeated the reference to community consultation, saying the council hadn’t tried hard enough to engage people in conversations about the potential change.

Ballina Cr Simon Chate. Photo David Lowe.

The Greens councillor suggested stalls at local shopping centres on the plateau and nearby could be more effective at generating community debate, compared to the mainly online process administered by council staff.

‘The department has approved all of the SUGAs that the Ballina Council has requested, except for the two additional ones, which is the SUGA number 28, the Alstonville one and sugar number 12, which is a Lennox Head one as well,’ Cr Chate said.

Cr Chate quoted the letter as saying ‘a range of issues including flooding’, and ‘important farmland’ had to be addressed before the Alstonville site could be considered as a SUGA.

The department was wanting a detailed assessment of agricultural capacity, and the impact of any changes on surrounding lands, Cr Chate said.

‘So we’re talking about the State’s Significant Farmland, it’s important,’ Cr Chate said,’to ensure that any proposed rezoning and development is consistent with relevant state and regional planning provisions’.

Cr Chate described the letter as ‘a great resource for the community’ but when asked for a copy, said the department had advised the recipinent to pass on its contact details instead.

*Friday 11 November update: a spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Environment has belatedly responded to requests for clarification by saying, ‘We recently approved Council’s adopted Strategic Urban Growth Area Review, with the exception of two proposed additional areas that need further investigation to address a range of issues, including flooding and important farmland.

‘The updated Review was approved on 4 November 2022. The two areas requiring further work are in Alstonville and Lennox Head.’

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