It’s clear that some Woombah residents are unhappy about the outcome of a dispute regarding the removal of trees at the Woombah Woods Caravan Park, however, an agreement hammered out under the guidance of the NSW Land and Environment Court will see 4,000 square metres of bushland retained.
In August last year, the Independent reported that the park’s owner, William Hu, had “agreed to cease removal of any more trees at the site until the matter of an existing development approval (DA) is clarified”, following complaints by nearby residents alleging illegal clearing.
Mr Hu said at the time that he was clearing land to construct new cabins and that he was acting on advice from consultants who had assured him the 1984 DA was still valid – meaning he did not require further approval to remove the trees.
Clarence Valley Council (CVC) then issued a notice “to cease any further works until at least [CVC] completes necessary investigations and provides further advice”.
Mr Hu subsequently appealed the stop work order in the land and environment court.
The council’s environment, planning & community director, Des Schroder, said CVC had been negotiating with M Hu since August 2019.
“As it stood, Mr Hu could have cleared everything within the DA area,” Mr Schroder said.
Mr Schroder said each side of the dispute engaged lawyers to arrive at the negotiated outcome, “to save around 4,000 square metres of bushland … and get a better ecological outcome”.
“The advice from the lawyers was that the 1984 DA is valid, no ifs or buts – if he clears within the boundary of DA, no contemporary legislation overrules it,” he said.
Mr Schroder said that, while the site did not contain “core koala habitat”, the retained 4,000m2 of bushland at the southwest end of the park and other “various revegetation” would help protect koala habitat.
A recent CVC email to the Woombah Residents Association, which has been involved in the issue, stated that the stop work order had been revoked and that “the negotiations [were] informed by the agreement between the Woombah Residents Association and Mr Hu, as well as concerns from the community”.
“The proposed clearing works are considered by Council to be lawful without further development approval,” the email stated.
“The area of clearing will be delineated prior to any tree removal works to guide tree removal contractors and to avoid damage to trees that need to be retained.
“Mr Hu will engage the services of an environmental consultant to conduct pre-dawn hollow checks, on the day clearing commences, and to monitor active tree removal works.
“Council staff will attend the site prior to and during clearing works to ensure mitigation measures are in place.”
The email also noted that no koalas have been active on the subject land in recent times.
“Compensatory planting is proposed in the south-west part of the subject land and will include locally-occurring koala feed tree species,” the email stated.
“Mr Hu plans to submit a development application/s in the near future to detail the future proposal for development on the subject land.
“Any proposed additional clearing in conjunction with this proposal/s will be separately assessed under current legislative requirements.
“The future development application/s will be subject to public notification.”
The resident’s association provided the Independent with the following statement: “The Woombah Residents Association neither supports or rejects the Development Application.
“We understand the developer has a valid Development Application, rather dated, that Council would have found difficult to reject.
“We were deeply concerned about the size of the development and the social and environmental impacts of such a development on our bushland setting for our 1,000 residents.
“This development will proceed in a community with no infrastructure.
“Residents walk on a busy Iluka Road and despite being the 7th largest community in the Clarence Valley, we have no community centre.
“It seems like the cart before the horse approach on such developments in our rural communities by CVC.”
Mr Hu said he was happy with the negotiated outcome, but acknowledged there was “no perfect solution” despite “making compromises” to try and meet “everybody’s needs”.
“We’ve kept trees we were entitled to clear, to make the community happy,” he said.
“We’ll put more trees in some spaces where there are no trees.
“We haven’t finalised the types of trees yet; we’re waiting for the council to consult on that.
“All of the work we are doing now, we are working with the council.”
Mr Hu said he has approval for 146 sites across the park, from approvals granted in 1984 and 2017.
“We’ve deleted sites on the western side and agreed in principal [with CVC] to put some sites back on the eastern side [instead],” he said.
“If the council works on this principal, then we have no reason to clear anymore trees in the west.”