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Big Win for the Community at Hastings Point

Big Win for the Community at Hastings Point

How many Councillors does it take to save a village? The question was answered in the Tweed Shire Chambers this week.

Hastings Point is a tiny hamlet on the NSW north (Tweed) Coast which has suffered enormous development pressure recently. It sits at the head of a (formerly) pristine estuary which is under enormous threat from acid sulphate soil disturbance due to inappropriate development.

This tiny hamlet embodies the macro-systemic issues currently faced by NSW with the community unable to penetrate bureaucratic and legal processes which are being used against them with such devastating impact by the pro-development lobby.

The village was at the centre of the 'corruption of process' charges which led to the sacking of the previous Council, the subsequent Daly Inquiry, and the appointment of Administrators. 

The new Council appointed only weeks ago, was done so under a cloud when it was found that incorrect information provided to voters by electoral officials enabled the last seat on Council to go to a pro-development person rather than the Green candidate the community had wanted.

Hastings Point residents have fought for more than 10 years to have a locality plan with definitive planning controls to stop inappropriate development from being allowed to proceed. This has been introduced to Council on a number of occasions only to be stopped by the actions of particular individuals who, to this day have failed to declare any conflict of interest.

This week, the (Liberal) mayor chose to stay rather than attend the PM's conference in Canberra specifically to be available when 2 motions re Hastings Point were  voted on. The residents feared the worst as the new Mayor is married to a developer.

To the surprise of residents it was her vote joining with three other councillors who voted on the evidence provided, which enabled the 2 motions to pass. However the fight for this tiny village is far from over. 

1. The win for the HP community was fantastic, however the fight is still not over. What this was, was the culmination of 10 years of the community having to find ways to firstly understand, and secondly work with , the limitations of rights that community members have in relation to both legal and bureaucratic process in NSW. We have people in the community who should be granted PhD's based on their (now) knowledge of planning and environmental law, environmental science, estuarine contamination and acid sulphate contamination! This has all had to be put together in a systematic argument to address systemic problems.

The process of trying to educate councillors has been very interesting. some have been shocked to find the 'real situation' in the village as opposed to the 'spun situation' that has previously existed. The attempts to manipulate bureaucratic process by the former Director of Planning were blatantly obvious. The opinion based resistance of some councillors was also blatantly obvious. All but 1 councillor attended an education session at the HP Marine Museum on the impact of development on the sensitive estuarine system which (all but 2!) found eye-opening. The mayor and the other councillors who then availed themselves of first hand visual information were able to see that the mountain of recommendations in front of them was unassailable.
While the Council Planning Department had an unenviable job in providing recommendations to resolve this after so long, it appears that under the new Director of  Planning that closer attention is being paid to an evidentiary approach.

2. We still only have interim development controls and are now faced with a large part 3A development in Creek St (lot 156) which is currently in the Minister's office for determination. This particular development is on land which was effectively 'stolen' from the estuarine Crown Land years ago and is sensitive wetland. This will be another massive fight for the community which is buoyed by the wins this week, but clearly suffering development pressure fatigue. 

3. A key development on the corner of Young St and Coast Rd was stopped. This had been previously passed by Council, challenged in the Land and Environment Court where the community won the case, then the developers sent the original DA straight back to Council for re-determination. Had this DA proceeded, it was the intent of the developers consultants to use this as a precedent to 'waterfall' further developments which the community would not have had the funds to challenge legally.

Cr Skinner tried desperately to get this one through by raising amendments to exclude it (and a couple of others which are also in Council right now) from the provisions of the interim controls. No conflicts of interest were registered by any Councillor re HP despite the request being made.

4. Councillors were asked to explain publicly their decision to vote against the accumulated recommendations of Minister Sartor, NSW DG Planning, Independent Consultant Ruker and Tweed Council's Planning Dept recommendations. Neither Mr Skinner, nor Mr Polglase(who was Mayor in the previously sacked council) , nor Mr Youngblutt have provided any evidence-based explanation for their actions. This would appear to contravene the Council Code of Conduct.

5. HP is still facing a further huge development called 'The Point'  which the community challenged in the Land &Environment Court and lost. This is a development that mysteriously morphed after determination from an aged care facility into a resort (now a resort for the over 55's). The reason we lost was that the judge ruled that developments that were put in under what is called SEPP Senior Living are not subject to local controls. This is clearly unsustainable, as all any developer would need to do is to call their development an 'aged care facility',  and so is being challenged in the NSW Court of Appeal. Our lawyer John O'Reilly can clarify these details.

6. The HP community has been supported throughout this by the other members of the Sustainable Villages Alliance ( a further 22 ratepayer associations in the shire). The Alliance is in turn supported by the members of the RAID group (Residents Against Inappropriate Development) which includes a further 36 ratepayer networks along the NSW coastline.

For further information contact
Julie Boyd 02-66764217 (Sec HP Progress Association)
John O'Reilly 02- 66764390 (Lawyer assisting the community and HPPA)
Gary Thorpe 02- 66761557         (Pres HPPA)


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