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March 31, 2023

Lismore Council votes against a government-imposed Planning Panel

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Last night in yet another massive four-and-a-half-hour, to-be-continued Lismore City Council meeting, Councillors debated the merits of the government-imposed Lismore Local Planning Panel and voted to fail to constitute the Panel.

The original motion was to constitute the Lismore Local Planning Panel in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, appoint a chair, community representatives and relevant expert representatives to the panel.

Cr Big Rob proposed an alternate motion that Council fail to constitute the Planning Panel.

Cr Adam Guise spoke in support of the alternate motion. ‘I do not support the state government sacking Councillors from planning decisions and imposing a government-appointed planning panel upon us. 

Ambush shock announcement

‘This was an ambush shock announcement a few days before Christmas at the end of last year. It’s interesting the way this has come about because there was no consultation with Councillors. In fact, it’s counter to what Councillors resolved originally earlier in the year – we were presented a roadmap from the OLG as part of this $20 million funding agreement. On that roadmap was an action item to essentially get Councillors out of planning decisions and appoint a separate planning panel to make planning decisions. This was met with much surprise from Councillors and after initially rejecting the roadmap that contained that action, Council actually resolved to adopt a roadmap that had no action of this sort in it. 

‘It was a very clear message to the government, that we were not prepared to lose our planning panels under this premise of taking the money from the OLG.’

‘Fundamentally, my role, our role here as Councillors, as representatives of our community, is to take leadership and involvement in planning decisions. It’s one of the core obligations and roles of Councillors.’

Hotly debated topic

Cr Andrew Gordon said the topic had been eagerly anticipated by this community for a long, long time. ’It has been hotly debated and I must admit, it’s probably the single conversation I’ve had for the last week. I think if you look, historically, at the performance of this Council, planning has always been a thorn in our side. We don’t seem to get it right. It seems to be politically biased it has been for a long time. It probably is today. 

‘It’s probably the forum that creates the most amount of conversation as far as complaint goes, whether it be allegations of corruption through relationships or alliances or whatever other people might think that you have with people. And I think it’s probably the single most complained about component of Council through the code of conduct. 

‘So, I eagerly await a planning panel and to say the community’s not being bought along is not correct. There’s 18 people (from the community) who have expressed interest (in being on the panel).’

Defer consideration until after a public briefing

Cr Darlene Cook rose to support the alternate motion on board but foreshadowed a motion that Council defer any consideration on the planning panel until after a public briefing. ‘I just wonder how long this imposed planning panel was part of the entire game plan of the interim General Manager. 

‘You may remember he boasted quite a number of times that he and the Mayor, had the minister’s direct line on speed dial. And I noted that some of the Ministers emails as printed in the attachments, are not even dated! So when were they actually received by the Mayor or the interim General Manager? 

‘Why was the lead-up to the announcement about the panel shared with the interim General Manager and the Mayor, but not with councillors? Not with our community who we represent?

‘The original planning panels in the Sydney area were created as a result of an ICAC investigation into corruption. Lismore council has never been accused of being corrupt. 

‘The other planning panels were implemented for councils in administration. We’re not at administration regardless of the Mayor’s comments to the media last year. 

‘This panel, allegedly established to help with the reconstruction, has taken all planning powers away from this Council. It’s ordering us to implement the minister’s directives. Council will establish this panel. Council will choose the panellists. Well, we haven’t had any say in this. Our community has had no say in it. Our community elected us to have this responsibility. It’s been taken away from us.

Time for a genuine effort by the minister

‘We still have some time before the panel commences formally in April so there’s time for a genuine effort by the minister and the department to sit down to public briefing with us and our community to explain why this panel was called for, what his reasons are behind his decisions, and to engage with us in an open and transparent manner so we can understand how we can best assist our community on the reconstruction preparation to rebuild our city.

‘Until we have genuine information sharing by the department and them listening to us, when we should not meekly handover our responsibilities.’

Cr Elly Bird said this is not a moment to silently sit and have all power taken from us. ‘We were elected by our community to represent them on matters that determine the future of our community who we are in this place and what development will look like. 

It’s not a moment to meekly standby

‘It’s not a moment for us just to meekly standby and see this done to us. We have a responsibility to our community to stand up in moments where the state government exercises control in this nature and I believe that that’s all we need to do.’

‘We don’t have much choice. It’s just going to get done to us regardless, but we have an opportunity to say that we object to the way that’s being done. It’s being rolled out – the good old just-before-Christmas, and then enacted today before the meeting with no consultation with us. 

‘I don’t believe that we get that community voice in this mechanism, in this structure. And I think Councillors, we have a moral duty to our community to oppose it.’

Looking under the bonnet

Cr Peter Colby said he seconded Councillor Rob’s motion because he was horrified. ‘When I started to look under the bonnet of this little car that was being delivered to us all bright and shiny and with all the right answers for the community – but the fact is that it takes all the power away from the Council. It’s not actually a true independent Planning Committee as you would like to say it is. 

‘We had no foresight into how this was coming through. We had no foresight and how that the selection process was going to be for the people. And then all of a sudden we have been told that it’s here. It’s going to be delivered. 

‘The fact is that this council has been bookended – at one end you stop the planning and you stop the ability to make decisions and at the other end, ultimately, at the end of the day, you take away the strategic planning the future of Lismore. Council then becomes very much rubbish and roads and delivering those sorts of services. 

Putting on Council’s big boy pants

‘I think it’s about time we actually put our big boy pants on and acted like a proper Council and took on the things that we didn’t think were right for the people of Lismore for the future.’

The Mayor took a vote on the motion that Council fail to constitute the Lismore planning panel. The vote for the motion were Councillors Bird, Colby, Ekins, Cook, Jensen, Rob and Guise, and opposed were Councillors Gordon, Hall, Bing and Krieg.

The Lismore Council meeting will resume tonight at 6pm.

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  1. You would think the LCC would welcome any assistance forthcoming from the Planning Panel, especially with the petty in-fighting, division and parish-politics that is usually displayed over such matters.
    FACT – our 2022 Flood was a truly exceptional event.
    Thus, we must have speedy, dynamic temporary solutions to its aftermath if the present impasse & delays to people affected are to continue.
    But sadly, power, ego and control are never surrendered voluntarily – especially in politics.

    • Taking away the power to decide DA’s has upset a few of them, that is for sure.
      I think it would be great if they focused on roads and rubbish for a change, like this new lot said they would.

      As someone who lost everything in that flood, I’ve felt pretty disgusted at what looks like in-fighting and personal agendas taking priority over compassion coming from this lot, casting a dark shadow on all our characters.
      The state government needed to do something, I’m glad that it is starting, no doubt this lot will struggle with any instructions going forward.

      • You will come up against such resistance (see below) coupled with usual parochialism and leftist agenda, Dingo.
        What you say is just common sense and definitely the way ahead.
        In such an emergency situation, post-flood, we need dynamism – not the infighting 4hr council meetings that we have presently.
        Councilors should stick to the famous “3Rs” of local government and immediately ditch any “progressive” deep mistrust, leftist agendas and “tit-for-tat” politicking.

        • It’s agonising to watch with any personal expectation of change, 4 hours, often longer of absolute tripe.
          The complaints to the OLG alone should have the State Gov paying attention, this council is dysfunctional.
          12 months after the flood things have improved in spite of this councils inaction, even the good intentions of some are lost in the muck slinging and narcissism that rules, not common sense.
          We were jammed in a storage room during the flood reading the lismore info exchange was threatening to ban people if they suggested those with a boat and some abilities help out..
          Having some direction would be preferable over what we have, bring on administrators next, it’s time for a reboot.

  2. The proposal does not look to be’speedy,dynamic or temorary’. It seems to be sneaky and undemocratic. There must be Councillors on any Planning Committee.

  3. If planning is to be taken from LCC by this panel, what expertise and qualifications are required for appointment?
    How many of the 18 community members who expressed interest in being on the panel are developers or real estate agents ?

  4. If Lismore need help with Planning matters, they definitely need help with infrastructure – the roads, sewerage, water and drainage are all in a disastrous state – and they were all in a poor state before the flood.


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