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June 18, 2024

Why does Iron Gates developer get another bite at the DA?

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Flooding on the Iron Gates where building and infrastructure will be. Photo supplied

Locals, concerned residents and other parties were left in the dark for the first 15 minutes of the Iron Gates (Goldcoral Pty Ltd) Land & Environment Court (L&EC) hearing in Sydney on Monday (20 May) when the court failed to turn on the sound for remote access. 

The case has seemed to be taken over by Chief Judge Justice B Preston following the previous ruling that the Iron Gates development application (DA) had had significant change since the Appeal had been made in September 2022 requiring a new DA to be submitted. This has left locals and residents questioning why the developer is once again getting another go at getting the DA approved through the courts.

Iron Gates near Evans Head-PMF Peak Flood Depth. Dark blue is greater than 2 metres, Indigo represents greater than 4-metres. Source BMT Flood Study, Volume 2, p145.

In early 2023, Graeme Ingles company Goldcoral Pty Ltd was put into administration by the new players including the financial backers to the site. The new team then appointed alterntative administrators to those put up by Ingles and poured two and half million dollars into the case in both legal and consultancy fees in just one year.  

The current appeal (Goldcoral Pty Ltd v Richmond Valley Council) is against the refusal of the Northern Regional Planning Panel (NRPP) to approve Goldcoral’s application, in September 2022, for a large controversial residential development at Evans Head at the property known as the Iron Gates. The land is at high risk for flooding and bushfire and of major cultural significance to Bandjalang.

Developer Graeme Ingles. Photo inglesgroup.com.au

According to the developer Graeme Ingles in testimony given at the NRPP Hearing in September 2022, the then general manager of Richmond Valley Council, John Walker, invited him to make an application for a residential development on the Iron Gates site. The invitation came despite long-term community opposition to the development and court orders Ingles had never met.

Remediation Order for Iron Gates development on 4 July, 1997 from the NSWL&EC.

Court failures

The property is the subject of a 1997 L&EC Order for remediation works by the developer Ingles following his illegal works on the site that led to the L&EC removing the exisiting DA approval for the development on the site. The remediation work was supposed to have been completed within two years, but despite threats of fines and imprisonment shown on the Order, the remediation work was never done. This has left residents wondering why no action was taken, and why Richmond Valley Council and the NSW Planning system accepted a subsequent DA with an outstanding Court Order.

Response from Peter Sutherland, Deputy Director General 22 March, 2005 in relation to Iron Gates development.

When the sound was finally turned on for the Monday, 20 May pre-trial meeting for the current Iron Gates DA, that has been running since 2014, it soon became apparent that the Chief Justice was checking to see if arrangement set by him on the 1 May, in the form of formal court arrangements with set dates and instructions, were being carried out and on track for the 3 June hearing.

There was a great deal of questioning by the Judge about the ‘conditions for consent’ (‘without prejudice’) and bundling of voluminous documents, and the ‘need’ for the parties to the case to deal with unresolved administrative and legal matters, presumably to assist the Court in its deliberations.

Attorney General’s Department re Iron Gates remediation, 13 May, 2005.

He made comment about resolution of bushfire issues by an expert panel appointed by both sides but subsequent discussion indicated that there was still disagreement because of unresolved ecological issues.

The Chief Judge expressed some frustration with the number of unresolved matters and encouraged the parties to work together to find agreement where they could so that the Court need not consider them at the formal hearing, and to list unresolved matters for Court resolution.

Simone Barker (nee Wilson), daughter of the late Lawrence Wilson who opposed the development back in the 1990s accompanied by supporter Jaydn.

Indigenous heritage 

The Chief Judge also wanted to know where the second respondent to the case Ms Simone Barker was up to with regard to provision of evidence about Aboriginal matters and set a date for delivery of that evidence. After lengthy discussion the Chief Judge said on the basis of various unresolved issues to do with the First Nations challenge to the case, he would decide whether or not ‘leave would be granted’ and set out ‘thinking out loud’ what would and would not be conditions for the admission of new evidence.

At the end of the Monday session, the Chief Judge indicated that he would meet in his Chambers with the parties the next day to finalise further Orders.

Illegal drainage canal dug by developer at Iron Gates near Evans Head that still requires remediation following the 1997 LAnd and Environment Court Order. Photo supplied

A spokesperson for Evans Head Residents for sustainable development, who audited the case along with others, said today that it appeared that some parties to the case were not well prepared for Monday’s meeting with the Chief Judge and that he appeared irritated with the lack of progress and pushed for resolution given finalhearing proximity.

The sensitive site of the controversial planned Iron Gates development, which the state government has refused to consider without a masterplan. Photo Supplied

The spokesperson also said that ‘it was very disturbing that the joint reports prepared for the Court by the “experts” from both sides for matters such as bushfire and flood were not available for scrutiny before the 3 June Hearing. The public or “lay” witnesses have one arm tied behind their back. The extensive knowledge of the site and the professional skills and knowledge that locals hold to assist the court in its deliberations appear to count for little, made worse by the withholding of critical information from the public. Why the secrecy? We, and future generations are going to wear the consequences. You would hope that the Court would make all information available for good decision-making in the public interest’.

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  1. I find it inconceivable that this development is still being considered. The proponents should have to live through a catastrophic flood event in their home. The river is the jewel of the town and its future prosperity. No one has even mentioned the koala population which will be devastated. The developer has demonstrated contempt for the law and the environment. End of story.

  2. Amazing stuff from the Community Relations Division of the Attorney General Dept NSW. Quite a lot of mumbo jumbo saying its up to the applicant to work out what or how HE wants to enforce Court Orders for remediation. Over 25 years have passed so I guess its fair to say the Court didn’t place a time limit for remediation or suggest that the court has the power to enforce the Orders and has several options at its disposal. Quite amazing. Worth remembering – – a case study.


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