Dear Beagle Editor, Your readers might be interested in our latest media release that highlights some fairly important issues around major project planning and the way it is being handled in the Bega Valley area that will no doubt see similar anomalies and questionable processes mirrored in other rural and regional areas including the Eurobodalla. on the nose …
In his latest proclamation to the world, the NSW Minister for Planning & Housing, the Hon Paul Roberts, busily polished his own boots as he touted the latest changes to the state’s Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act), asserting to anyone who would listen that they “will focus on community participation, strategic planning & clear decision making”.
While the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) thinks that Mr Roberts is probably a nice bloke, when it comes to improving & strengthening the integrity & performance of the state’s planning systems in the regions, he’s really just “all hat & no paddock”.
One of the changes to the planning system that Mr Roberts recently announced was the introduction of Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) for all councils in Sydney & Wollongong. According to Roberts,
“It is essential the Government has a transparent & accountable process in place when assessing DAs of significant value, when there is a conflict of interest for the council or developer, or when they are of a sensitive nature” & “IHAPs would bring expertise, transparency & integrity to the assessment of DAs at the local level.”
Concerned that the Bega Valley was not going to benefit from the strengthening of planning processes, the BVSRRA thought that it should write & enlighten him in that regard, highlighting “its concerns about corruption & the need for better planning decisions to exist across all local government areas in NSW”.
In fact, in light of recent events, the BVSRRA believes that the need for stronger planning controls in regional areas may be even more urgent than is the case for metropolitan Sydney. A couple of examples to make the point …
Right now, as part of its public promotion of its planned Merimbula Sewage Treatment Plant Upgrade & Deep Water Ocean Outfall project, Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) is rightly highlighting the fact that the project will be the subject of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), taking account of the environmental, social & economic impacts of the project.
Meanwhile, just down the road, its major expansion of Merimbula Airport is not only being undertaken without the benefit of any of those safeguards, including consultation with the community, but it is actually being substantially funded by the NSW government.
Then we have the highly questionable behaviour of the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel (SJRPP) & BVSC in opening the way for Bunnings Limited to develop a warehouse in Tura Beach, notwithstanding repeated decisions by Mr Roberts’ own department over the past four years blocking that development.
Having repeatedly voiced its concerns in respect of this matter to Mr Roberts & his department, without eliciting a meaningful response, the BVSRRA recently brought the matter to the attention of the Independent Commission of Corruption (ICAC), in the hope that it may investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, responding to the BVSRRA’s inquiry regarding the new IHAP panels, Mr Roberts’ office politely but unhelpfully confirmed that his department will monitor the performance of the panels & will consider their introduction in all local government areas in NSW at some time in the future.
That the Minister for Planning & Housing & his department are content to ignore the need for strengthened planning processes in regional NSW, as well as evident abuses of current planning processes, was sufficient reason for the BVSRRA to advise Mr Roberts that it was disappointed with the response to its concerns & that it had completely lost confidence in the current planning system & related processes for which he is responsible.
The BVSRRA’s cynicism is all the more acute given the recent hollow comments made by the Minister about “the risk of conflicts of interest in local development assessment & decision-making processes”.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association