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September 26, 2023

GemLife to take Ballina Council back to court over West Ballina land

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Burns Point Ferry Road, West Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

Aged resort living developer GemLife is taking the Ballina Shire Council back to court over its application to build on ecologically sensitive land at West Ballina, the mayor says.

The revelation came in last week’s July ordinary meeting, during a forty-minute debate that included a lapsed motion of dissent from Independent Councillor Rodney Bruem.

The motion, raised on the basis of a point of order, lapsed because no other councillor would second it but Cr Bruem said he was ashamed and appalled and later lamented ‘division’.

‘The council has gone off and continued this, working in tandem with local activists, in my view,’ Cr Bruem said, ‘and I take issue with the advice you are being given by the general manager’.

The advice from staff was for councillors to proceed with rezoning ecologically sensitive land at Burns Ferry Road in West Ballina.

The rezoning would make the land the first in Ballina Shire to be zoned as C2 Environmental Conservation, under planning updates brought in by the former coalition state government.

The ‘local activists’ presumably included those who had shown up to the meeting in support of the rezoning owing to concerns over flood risks.

Cr Bruem accuses council of ‘mishandling’ rezoning matter

Part of the land proposed to be developed, on Burns Point Ferry Road West Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

The rezoning decision was backed by information used in a Land and Environment Court decision to reject GemLlife’s proposal at the time to build.

The court case featured eight ecological expert reports.

But Cr Bruem has spoken against conservation zones out of concern for ‘property rights’.

‘I would respectfully suggest that you obtain advice elsewhere,’ Cr Bruem said at last week’s meeting, ’cause I think this has been mishandled by this general manager from its inception.’

The general manager interjected, saying ‘let me just clarify, council staff implemented the decision, I’ve sent the mayor a copy of the letter’.

‘They actually went to the Department of Planning,’ the general manager said, ‘the Department of Planning sent a letter back saying, “you can’t do that”.

‘Please do not say we did not implement the decision.’

Cr Bruem accused of slander

Independent Ballina Shire Cr Eoin Johnston (PIC SUPPLIED)

Independent Cr Eoin Johnston  also took offence to Cr Bruem’s comments.

Cr Johnston said he wanted to raise a point of order against Cr Buem for calling councillors as ‘a collective group, staff, councillors, whatever, as devious’.

‘It’s an insult and it’s a slander,’ Cr Johnston said ,’and it’s gonna get the public out there, probably, who wish to believe in your allegations, that there’s some sort of orders taken, the mayor’s taken orders from the general manager’.

Cr Johnston said the accusation was ‘sort of casting aspersions’ on all councillors.

‘I don’t believe I used the word,’ Cr Bruem said, ‘if it came out, I’d withdraw it’.

Dissenting councillor laments ‘division’

Cr Rod Bruem. Photo David Lowe.

Ultimately, Cr Bruem voted in favour of the rezoning, noting it had no impact on a new court case presented to the council that week concerning GenLife’s development application.

‘GemLife have taken Council to court and court will now adjudicate on the outcome of that development application,’ the mayor said when introducing the agenda item.

‘The Land and Environment Court’s already rejected this once,’ Cr Bruem said later, ‘so I think we could have every confidence that it’ll do so again, so what’s been the point of all this?’

‘It’s just a whole heap of division.’

Green Cr Kiri Dicker spoke in favour of rezoning, saying it would send a signal to other potential developers of the site.

‘I think, and maybe it seems a bit scandalous, that the onus should be on developers to propose ecologically sustainable developments,’ Cr Dicker said.

‘The onus should not be on communities and councils to defend themselves using rate payers’ money,’ she said.

‘It’s exhausting for communities and it’s exhausting for this community at a time when they’ve experienced so much hardship and it’s a complete waste of money for councils so I’m not going to speak to the issue.’

Don’t forget the NRPP

Ballina Cr. Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.

The planning department removed the council’s power to decide on the GemLife DA prior to the latest rezoning process and it has been under review by the Northern Regional Planning Panel.

But the mayor told NRPP member Cr Jeff Johnson he wouldn’t be on the panel owing to the court case, raising questions over the NRPP process.

The legal basis of GemLife’s latest court action wasn’t made clear in the council meeting, other than that GemLife were arguing for the DA to be assessed on the existing pre-conservation zoning.

‘That’s the key point,’ staff said, ‘that’s what the department planning put, that clause in it’.

Council votes unanimously to protect West Ballina land via rezone

West Ballina DA notice on site. Photo David Lowe.

Earlier Cr Dicker had described the revised development proposal from GemLife as failing to avoid ecologically sensitive areas.

‘The entire site is ecologically sensitive,’ Cr Dicker said, ‘I think we need to just remember it has been unlawfully and consistently slashed in to ensure that it doesn’t provide foraging and nesting habitat for species and it will regenerate if it’s protected now’.

The council voted unanimously in favour of seeking finalisation of rezoning the West Ballina land as C2 Environmental Conservation.

The motion from Cr Phillip Meehan and seconded by Cr Simon Chate had three parts:

  1. That Council endorses the amendment to introduce Conservation Zones into the Ballina Local Environmental Plan 2012 and rezone land at Burns Point Ferry Road to C2 Environmental Conservation, as outlined in Planning Proposal BSCPP 22/007 (Attachment 1).
  2. That Council submits planning proposal BSCPP 22/007 to the Department of Planning and Environment for finalisation.
  3. That Council makes this decision as per points one and two acknowledging that this decision does not set a precedent and has no impact on the application of zones under the Deferred Matters C zone project.

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