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Workforce camps on the agenda

Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will lodge a planning proposal with the NSW Government to address the likely need for workforce accommodation over the next five years. The proposal, which was unanimously supported at last week’s council meeting, aims to meet the anticipated demand as a result of the construction of the Pacific Highway upgrade ($3.5b), the new Grafton Bridge ($180m), the new Harwood Bridge ($1.0b), the correctional facility at Lavidia, east of Grafton ($100m), the new Sportsmans Creek Bridge at Lawrence and the proposed supermarket in Maclean ($13m). The council’s draft planning proposal also cites the Yamba sewerage upgrade, Grafton aged housing, CVC depot rationalisation, upgrades to Grafton airport and Grafton hospital, and works at Yamba harbour among a “range of significant infrastructure projects for the period commencing in 2015 until 2019/20”. Council staff have participated in “three recent DMUs [Development Management Unit meetings] totalling approximately 300 beds, plus three other informal enquiries totalling another 250 potential beds”. “Whilst there may be a degree of speculative nature to these enquiries, they do indicate a market demand or need for such accommodation to supplement the more conventional housing forms,” the report to council states. Consequently, staff advised councillors that “it is believed that the recent level of enquiry and current level of activity is sufficient enough to justify immediate review of the planning controls to enable them to be responsive enough to consider bone fide workforce accommodation proposals in appropriate locations”. The report to council reveals that anticipated advice from Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) was not yet forthcoming. During discussions between the council, RMS and other agencies in mid-2015, RMS “indicated that they are undertaking an analysis of anticipated workforce characteristics to better inform the housing needs assessments”. However that information “is still yet to be made public”. “This would have informed private investment decisions and the need, if any, for Council to amend its planning instrument [Clarence Valley Local Environmental Plan 2011 (LEP)],” the report to council states. “Given the lead time to amend the instrument and to construct such housing, and the likely peak construction activities in late 2016, 2017 and 2018, Council needs to initiate action now in advance of this workforce data.” Staff advised councillors that “in response to demand, a planning proposal has been prepared to recognise ‘workforce accommodation’ as part of the overall ‘residential accommodation’ definition and to facilitate the development of workforce accommodation proposals in the Council’s residential zones. “‘Workforce accommodation’ is a use not clearly addressed by the Local Environmental Plan and hence, following recent legal cases, is prohibited in most zones.” Staff have estimated that it will take six months to complete the process, once the planning gateway has approved the concept, “providing [the planning gateway] determination does not impose conditions that are onerous to satisfy”. Staff anticipate that the determination will be completed in may 2016 and that the planning proposal would be put on public exhibition during July and, once that process is completed, that the proposal would be forwarded to the department for approval by September 12. Workforce accommodation will be permitted, if approved, in residential zones (R1, R2 and R3) and the tourism zone (SP3) under the LEP.