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Clarence Valley Council is amid a process to reclassify the highlighted land/waterways from community to operational land. Image: Contributed

Devil in the detail

Geoff Helisma

Reclassifying five lots of Clarence Valley Council-managed land – from community to operational– would seem to be a straightforward process; however, some of the affected Yamba residents have been trying to gain answers for several years.

A report prepared by Clarence Valley Council (CVC) states that the five relevant lots are comprised of the entire Crystal Lake waterway and canals adjacent to Witonga Drive, Nabilla Court, Barrellan Avenue and Taine Court – the lots constitute drainage reserves under the Local Government Act.

A public hearing was held at the Maclean chambers on Wednesday April 21, to address the matter.

Land classified as ‘community’ is intended for public access and use and “reflects the importance of the land to the community because of its use or special features” – it cannot be sold, or leased or licensed for more than 21 years (without ministerial consent), according to the CVC report, and it must have a plan of management, as do parks, sport fields and bushland for example.

‘Operational’ land, on the other hand, “has no special restrictions other than those that may ordinarily apply to any parcel of land … [it] is unfettered”.

“Operational land would ordinarily comprise land that facilitates the carrying out by a council of its functions or land which may not be open to the general public, such as council offices, a works depot, sewer or water pump station or a council quarry,” the report states.

The report concludes: “As the reclassification of the lands … is not proposing to extinguish any public reserve status or change or extinguish any other interests in the lands it is CVC’s view that there is no need to obtain the Governor’s approval.”

In the section, ‘Relevant social and economic effects?’, it is stated that “an operational classification will facilitate the licensing of existing private waterway structures located in the drainage reserve lots”.

Three residents made deputations (one in person and two read out by a third party) at the public hearing – each of the deputations raised concerns regarding confusion about licensing of structures on the waterways.

The man who gave his deputation in person said: “I know, earlier on, it was said this [reclassification] wasn’t about licences, but licences, unfortunately, are a very big part of this matter.”

He said he thought an operational classification is “probably the best step” but, as you heard from previous submissions, there is concern within the community in relation to what the licences will entail – we have people concerned that the devil is going to be in the detail”.

“I want to make sure that we have an undertaking [from CVC] that there won’t be any changes to the licence agreements,” he said.

He also called for CVC to put in writing “what its intentions are for the future use of the canals, should they be assigned to operational”.

Another deputation (read out) stated: “I have attempted to get, in writing or verbally, why council wants to change this land’s classification.

“…To date, I have not received any satisfactory answer to my question.”

“…I have reached the only conclusion possible on the evidence I’ve seen. There is a commercial reason for the change. 

“…Hence the indecent rush to get all adjoining landholders to sign various contracts re liability, insurance, etc, [which] we’ve seen over the last couple of years.”

The third deputation read out stated, “These canal lots are unique, valuable and vital to the landowners adjacent to them and they provide residents and visitors with a diversity of recreational opportunities.”

It highlighted the perceived confusion “owners of property with a jetty, pontoon or boat ramp” are experiencing, regarding ensuring that “their public liability insurance is still valid if the licence or lease is signed”.

“Recently, CVC informed in writing that ‘it is up to each landowner to seek their own advice prior to signing the lease or licence’.”

Moves to reclassify the five lots began on November 9, 2018, when the “then department of planning and environment expressed concern over the lack of notification given to the [affected] holders of licences of structures” in relation to CVC’s rationalisation of its land holdings as part of its Fit for the Future commitments.

“Over the years, it appears many landowners, including us, have lost trust and confidence in Council in relation to the above issues and concerns,” the deputation concluded.

Several questions were taken on notice; the answers will be included in a subsequent report, which will be tabled at a future CVC meeting.