Residents challenge council

Dunoon residents are calling on Lismore City Council to refuse a subdivision proposed for their village, following controversial revelations about the developer, Hardie Holdings, in the national media this week.

Stories in The Sydney Morning Herald and a report on Four Corners revealed Hardie Holdings made regular donations to the NSW Labor Party and had put intense pressure on the government to approve a development in the Lower Hunter in 2006.

The SMH claimed, despite planners rating the development at Branxton last out of 91 potential developments, the project got the go-ahead in a scaled-down form. Four Corners claimed it was one of the largest single developments personally approved by NSW Planning Minister, Frank Sartor.

Dunoon residents now feel Council has a responsibility to stand up to the developer, with Dunoon Community Group spokesperson Paula McDougall saying it would send a clear message that Council would not be manipulated by big developers.

On Tuesday Ms McDougall sent a letter to councillors and staff expressing residents concerns.

What truly alarms us is the modus operandi revealed in the SMH articles of large political donations and assaulting the planning process, of pressuring and then isolating planners who are just trying to do the job expected of them by the public.

This raises the possibility that if the company can do this to a state government department, what pressure might it seek to exert on Lismore City Council to get its way in this village? Ms McDougall says in the letter. In this climate of great public unease about the revelations of the subversion of proper process by developers, we suggest Council now has the opportunity to demonstrate to the public that it will not be tainted by Hardie Holdings; that it can stand up to this company, with its donations and bully-boy tactics, by refusing its inappropriate and unpopular proposal for Dunoon.

In the letter Paula reveals similarities between this subdivision and the development in the Lower Hunter.

Some of the tactics described are familiar to us as this is how this company has behaved since it first lodged a DA in late 2006 for a large subdivision in Dunoon, ie. going for the maximum lot yield (nearly 60 lots compared to the recently developed 16 lots on an adjacent site of similar size); seeking to cross zoning boundaries to accommodate these lots, and to alienate prime agricultural land of regional significance (in this case, for a sewerage plant within 200m of the village); and producing a welter of consultants reports arguing its case, the letter said.

Lismore City Labor Party councillor Jenny Dowell was adamant Hardie Holdings had never made a donation to her campaign and said, to her knowledge, the company has not lobbied any Lismore councillors.

I have not ever even accepted a cup of coffee from a thermos at a site visit from a developer, anytime or anywhere, Cr Dowell said. The revelations are very distressing and I can understand the residents concerns.

Cr Dowell said she has long been aware of Hardies tactics and had already begun investigating whether the development application (DA) process was above board.

About six weeks ago I made an appointment with Council staff and went through about three quarters of the files on the Dunoon development and about one third of all the email interchanges between anyone to do with that development and Council. After going through those emails, well over 100 pages, and files that stood at least a hand-span high, I saw absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing or inappropriate communication. Nothing I saw raised any eyebrows.

Cr Dowell said she felt the proposed 57-lot subdivision was inappropriate for Dunoon. She echoed the feelings of some residents, saying she had concerns about its proximity to the sports grounds and sports club, and felt the on-site sewerage system could threaten wildlife living downstream from the development.

She said she felt the solution was to reject this but said she would have to wait for a staff report (being presented to councillors at a workshop on April 29) before making a final decision.

I think the development will stand or fall on its merits or lack of merit, Cr Dowell said. Every Council decision must be made with transparency and integrity. I do think it would be wrong to refuse it on the grounds of these revelations. It must be refused on planning grounds if its refused at all.

She said the saga gave councillors a bad name.

I think this whole mess the allegations about Hardie Holdings and their dealings with the Labor Party and councils smears us all, just like the Wollongong saga and before that the Tweed Heads debacle, Cr Dowell said. It smears good people who do the right thing, councillors and staff, along with those who dont.

It is believed the DA will go before Council at its May meeting.

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