The controversial Iron Gates site at Evans Head along the Evans River has been withdrawn from sale.
The property was put on the market late last year with Ray White Real Estate following the unsuccessful attempt by the developer Graeme Ingles to have his development application for a large residential housing estate on the site approved by the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP).
No reserve price for the land was publicly available and expressions of interest were sought with a closing date of 6 December. Information made available to Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development indicated the asking price started at around $20 million but that this was most likely for the unimproved capital value of the property, that is without an approved DA for residential development. An approved DA could increase the asking price considerably.
The comprehensive NRPP refusal of the DA followed an eight year long development application process with Richmond Valley Council involving multiple changes to the application and refusal by NSW Planning to exempt the development from a compulsory Masterplan. According to the developer, Graeme Angus Ingles, in evidence given at the NRPP Hearing in Evans Head late last year, the former CEO of Richmond Valley Council, John Walker, had approached him in mid-2014 and told him the town was ‘in desperate need of residential land and there was none available and I held the only piece of land zoned residential …and he begged me to submit a DA to sort this problem out for the town…’. Mr Ingles went on to say he submitted a DA in late 2014 ….at ‘…enormous cost…’ to him.
Two comprehensive independent planning assessments of the final DA in late 2022, one by Council and the other by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommended the application be refused and did not leave the door open for an amended application on planning grounds.
The community also overwhelmingly rejected the Ingles proposal with hundreds of individual submissions speaking against it far in excess of those who favoured the proposal. Reasons the DA was not approved included the high risk for fire and flood, adequacy of the plan itself with regard to environmental and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage matters, and fundamental, unresolved planning issues which the developer had failed to address.
Developer failed to fulfill court orders
The community expressed repeatedly, over many years, concern about the fact that developer Ingles had not fulfilled long-standing 1997 Orders of the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) for remediation of the site for work he had done much earlier in breach of various Acts. The 21 Orders included rehabilitation of the two large drainage canals (317 and 260 metres respectively and both 15 metres wide and 2 to 4 metres deep) dug by the developer to deal with major ‘water’ issues on the site. The site floods regularly when it rains and a segment of it is part of a floodplain and SEPP 14 Wetland.
The developer put his company Iron Gates Pty Ltd into liquidation after the Court Orders were made claiming that there weren’t funds to do the work. The government undertook some interventions to protect the Evans River from run-off but the developer did nothing.
The community found, and continues to find, it difficult to understand how the same developer, with a different company, could then put in a new DA in 2014 for a similar development on the same site without the remediation work being done. Many asked how could Council accept an application for development with an outstanding rehabilitation ‘debt’ over the property? The developer claimed that the responsibility for the work rested with the property and not him.
The recent withdrawal of the Iron Gates site from sale follows the appointment of Costa Nicodemou (Newpoint Advisory, Sydney) on 1 February as administrator for Goldcoral Pty Ltd, the company responsible for the current development at the Iron Gates. Nicodemou also appointed solicitors Corrs, Chambers, Westgarth to assist in the process and instructed them to continue with the challenge in the L&EC to the 2022 decision of the NRPP with a goal of achieving a successful challenge to its decision. A Section 34 L&EC conciliation meeting with a single commissioner is scheduled for Evans Head on-site for 6 March. The community still does not know what the grounds for the challenge are from the administrator.
According to information obtained by Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development, the administrator has not revealed who instructed him to put Ingles company Goldcoral into administration but documentation publicly available shows that Perpetual Corporate Trust, ‘provider of corporate trustee services to the managed funds industry and debt markets in Australia’ provided the instruction. What is not known is the actual name of the client or clients of the Trust who put the Iron Gates property into administration which begs the question why isn’t such information readily available to the public? Why the ‘corporate veil’ over information in the public interest?
Cour order in limbo
Dr Richard Gates from Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development (EHRSD) said today that a consortium of interested parties was now examining inter alia the current administration process involving Goldcoral and the outstanding L&EC Court Orders for remediation of the Iron Gates site. Dr Gates said that the developer had challenged the findings against him for remediation of the site but had lost the challenge. He said the Court had concluded that ‘It has not been demonstrated that this court should interfere with any of the findings of fact, or any aspect of the discretionary judgment, of Stein J. Consequently, the challenges to the orders made by Stein J and Pearlman J must fail.’ [Iron Gates Pty Ltd v Oshlack & Anor Matter No 40485/95  NSWSC 5 (5 February 1998)]. The appeal was dismissed with costs awarded against the developer.
Dr Gates said that the former Evans Head and District Water Committee Incorporated (which had been set up to deal with water issues at Evans Head many years ago including copper contamination of drinking water, contamination of Salty Lagoon in Broadwater National Park by effluent from Richmond Valley Council’s Sewerage Treatment Plant which led to a large fish and bird kill in December 2005, and Evans River contamination issues) had written in 2005 to both the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning and Minister for Natural Resources, Craig Knowles, and subsequently Attorney General of the day, Bob Debus, asking for enforcement of the outstanding 1997 Court Orders. Minister Knowles, through his Deputy Director General advised that the Minister ‘was unable to intervene in the matter while legal issues regarding [the] site remain unresolved’ and that ‘Adherence to Court Orders is a matter for the Attorney General’s Department’. Debus’ Department wrote that as this (the remediation orders) involved ‘private legal matters’ that ‘enforcement of the orders of the Court is a matter for the applicant…”, leaving the matter unresolved and begging the question, had there been an examination of the Remediation Orders by Debus or Knowles departments?
Dr Gates noted that in the Remediation Plan for the ‘work’ to be done by Iron Pty Ltd that the ‘Authority’ referred to in the Remediation Plan was the Department of Land and Water Conservation or its delegate and that in the event the Department ‘refuses or is unable to act as the Authority’, Minister Knowles Department, Alan Oshlack and Iron Gates would by ‘mutual agreement in writing’ decide who the independent expert Authority would be. It was also noted that ‘In default of agreement, the Authority shall be the person appointed by the Court’. Such an appointment does not appear to have happened leaving the Remediation Orders in limbo and still outstanding.
Failure of government
Dr Gates said that new information which had come to light put a new complexion on the L&EC Remediation Orders. We have been able to access the original Court document for remediation and it says that: ‘If Iron Gates Pty Ltd disobeys this Order then Iron Gates Pty Ltd and its directors Graeme Angus Ingles and Patricia Ann Strawbridge will be liable to fine or sequestration of property or both, and the said directors to imprisonment’. None of this happened.
Dr Gates said that advice was currently being sought about this new information particularly in light of legal advice provided to Richmond Valley Council by its solicitors in November 2014 that the Remediation Orders still stand.
Dr Gates said it is of concern to his group, and probably to the wider community, that the Court orders have never been executed when they are very clear about what should happen. It would appear that there has been a serious failure of government.
Dr Gates said today that a question was being asked about whether the current challenge by the administrator for Goldcoral to the NRPP decision should be suspended until the Remediation Orders matter was settled. Although there was concern that the Iron Gates DA matter might drag on when the community just wanted the matter resolved and the DA challenge thrown out once and for all. The community is sick to death of the Iron Gates matter and the huge cost it is and has been imposing on the community.
A widely held view in the community now is that the Iron Gates should be rezoned in keeping with its conservation status and acquired by the government for public use. Given its proximity to the RAAF’s Evans Head Air Weapons Range perhaps the Department of Defence might be asked to contribute to the purchase to provide a buffer zone and prevent a land use planning conflict as is currently seen at Salt Ash near Williamtown.
So Atlantis 2 is on hold?