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Byron Shire
September 21, 2023

Ballina State Significant Farmland safe from development – for now

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

The Ballina Shire Council has endorsed a revised list of areas considered for potential future development after the NSW planning department blocked its attempt to add State Significant Farmland (SSF).

Several council meetings last year featured debates over inclusion of the SSF, known as Area 28, between the plateau villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar.

Council staff at last month’s ordinary meeting reported 33 submissions on last year’s proposed Strategic Urban Growth Area (SUGA) list, most of them calling for state significant farmland and/or Area 28 to be excluded.

The calls echoed state planning department advice in November that it would only approve the updated list if two proposed new areas, including Area 28, were removed.

Council staff complied with the condition and councillors last month agreed on the shorter list but it seems some are still determined to see the land developed via other planning documents yet to be determined.

Developers eying off SSF for private hospital, affordable housing

The council received many submissions on the old SUGA list describing a desire to maintain the SSF as a buffer zone between the two villages.

Some specified they didn’t want a new hospital built on the land.

Last year a Sydney-based surgeon expressed interest in developing the land for a private ‘health campus’ and sent a representative to a council meeting to express support for including the SSF as a SUGA.

Greens Cr Simon Chate said at the time the idea was ‘fake news’ given there was no official Development Application for the SSF but that didn’t stop Independent Cr Rod Bruem expressing enthusiasm for it during the meeting.

A submission from Kym Bambrook said ‘whilst a hospital would bring jobs, the infrastructure in the area cannot possibly provide for the increased volumes of traffic’.

Another from Bonnie McGuiness said ‘we don’t need a private hospital, we need the creeks and the trees’.

The so-called ‘fake news’ of a new hospital inspired one submitter, with Glenn Thompson saying he’d spoken to ‘many Alstonville and Wollongbar residents’ and all had said they supported a ‘potential private hospital’.

‘Those opposing are a very small minority and white noise !!’ Mr Thompson wrote in his submission.

But in fact, Mr Thompson’s support was in the submission minority.

Tony Hart gave a public deputation at last month’s council meeting in support of the expanded SUGA list, saying he represented clients in the impacted area.

Mr Hart described a ‘confronting situation that’s in front of everyone in regards to the lack of available land and also anything associated with either social or affordable housing that can be brought onto the market in a fairly quick manner’.

He invited everyone to a ‘briefing’ on the 5th of June ‘in order to present an initiative in regards to affordable housing with one of the area’s principal community housing groups’.

Council requested to consider impacts of removing SSF

But by the time staff brought the SUGA list back to the council for endorsement at last month’s ordinary council meeting, they’d already removed the two areas most controversially added to the SUGA list year.

They were the same two areas identified by the state planning department as necessary for removal.

The other area removed from the list was a proposed extension of existing urban land at Ross Lane where it meets The Coast Road at Lennox Head.

The department said of the plateau land at Alstonville staff needed to provide evidence of more consideration of the potential impacts of removing state significant farmland.

The department has since updated its Urban Growth Area Map for Ballina as part of a finalised North Coast Regional Plan 2041.

The council’s failed proposals for Area 28 (Russellton Industrial Estate) and refinements to Area 10 (Ross Lane/The Coast Road) are excluded from areas mapped as urban or employment land ‘Investigation Areas’ in the plan.

Ballina council strategies and plans conflict on SSF

But it seems Ballina Shire Council staff aren’t prepared to abandon development prospects for Alstonville’s SSF.

Staff notes on last month’s ordinary council meeting agenda said Area 28 and the refinements to Area 10 would still be reflected in the council’s Local Strategic Planning Statement and Local Growth Management Strategy in the next review of these documents, as per the council’s vote in October last year.

‘Evaluation of the expansion of the Russellton Industrial Estate is an action of the Wollongbar Strategic Plan,’ staff noted.

The Russellton Industrial Estate is council-owned land on the plateau next-door to the SSF in question.

Staff said expansion would be considered for inclusion on the council’s work program ‘once the outcomes of a regional study into industrial/employment land supply (being prepared by the DPE) are published’.

The state department’s determination process had required consultation with the NSW Rural Fire Service, staff said, that had subsequently raised no concerns or issues in relation to bush fire.

‘Essentially this means they can be investigated further in relation to their potential for urban development,’ staff said, referring to the two failed SUGA lots.

‘This work could be done by Council or the landholder (and is typically done by the land holder at their cost),’ staff said.

Councillors voted unanimously to authorise the general manager to finalise and implement the amendment of the Ballina Local Environmental Plan 2012 to reflect the latest SUGA list and mapping.

‘We’re just approving what the state government has allowed us to approve,’ Independent Councillor Phillip Meehan said in his right of reply.

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