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Councillors reject staff’s advice on Palmer’s Island planning proposal

Geoff Helisma

Five of eight councillors have supported sending a controversial proposal – to rezone 1.1 hectares of agricultural land on Palmers Island as IN4 Working Waterfront, “to facilitate the development of a marine-based industry” – to the minister for determination.

The land is part of a 10.56 hectare block owned by Yamba Welding and Engineering Pty Ltd – the remaining 9.5 hectares would “be retained as a RU1 Primary Production zone”.

The proposal was first submitted to CVC in May 2016, supported by a majority of councillors and sent to the Department of Planning, which subsequently rejected the proposal in 2017.

The applicant then requested a review of the determination, which resulted in the Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) supporting the “issue of a Gateway Determination” in April 2018, the report to council stated.

Come May 2019 a revised report was “provided to CVC by [the] consultant for public exhibition”.

Most of the councillors appeared to be pre-prepared to refer the proposal to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces.

Councillor Debrah Novak failed to draw a seconder for her motion, to adopt the staff’s recommendation, which advised councillors that the proposal “is legally invalid in its present form and may not be considered any further due to conflicts with State Environmental Planning Policy No 55 – Remediation of Land as confirmed by two separate legal advices on this matter”.

Subsequently, councillors did not raise the issue as a debating point.

Staff also advised that CVC “is not the Local Plan Making Authority for this Planning Proposal and is therefore not legally bound to make a definitive recommendation to the state government on this proposal”.

Staff also stated that while CVC “recognises the support for the boat building industry, it recognises the potentially adverse site impacts and potentially unresolvable issues of amenity, which are likely to result from this proposal on this site”.

Councillor Andrew Baker was ready with a motion (seconded by Cr Arthur Lysaught) that detailed all of the community consultation outcomes (for and against), addressed the JRPP’s gateway review’s findings in April 2018 and acknowledged the various site studies such as contamination, flood impact and environment.

While councillors Peter Ellem, Debrah Novak and Greg Clancy were firmly opposed to the proposal, concurring with an “objection to the loss of primary agricultural land from Department of Primary Industries”, among other concerns, some debate also focussed on the wording of Cr Baker’s motion, which was amended from CVC “not[ing] its continuing support” of the proposal to, as Cr Kingsley put it, “facilitate[ing] the development of a marine-based industry”.

“In my opinion we should remain impartial,” Cr Kingsley said, “We are not the authority to determine [this].”

Councillor Ellem disagreed with the amended wording and likened using the word “facilitate” to a “tacked on … quasi neutral stance” that resulted in CVC “tacitly supporting” the proposal.

Speaking to his motion, Cr Baker emphasised that “nothing about” CVC’s decision “says it should fail or succeed” when it is next considered by the JRPP.

Councillors Baker, Lysaught, Williamson, Kingsley and Toms voted in favour of Cr Baker’s motion – Cr Jim Simmons declared a significant non pecuniary interest (one of the objectors is a client of GM accounting, where he is employed) and did not participate in the matter.