Image by Aleksandra Boguslawska

The curse of the zombie development

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L to R: Simon Cox, Marama Grace Monsall, Bindarray Jiibiny and Cherri Weinrabe

They are the development approvals that have sat idle for decades, so long the community has almost forgotten these patches of forest and habitat are privately owned. Developments springing to life as the demand for more housing and the lure of profit prompts an awakening.

 

They are called 'zombie developments' and the citizens of the Eurobodalla are now dealing with the very real consequences of approvals made in a different era, to different standards and different environmental conditions.

Tuross Head resident Simon Cox and the Coila Lake Protection Group have been fighting a zombie housing development on the shores of Coila Lake and is calling for an urgent review of the planning system to ensure old developments across NSW are reviewed to meet current social, cultural and environmental standards.

“I think all Australians would be stunned that a DA approved in 1984 can stand up in 2021 knowing what we know now,” Simon says.

The Tuross Head local owns his own business, is a keen fisherman and cares deeply about his community. Simon has given up much of his personal time to meticulously investigate the proposed Coila Lake development that threatens one of the last green spaces on the Tuross isthmus.

 

The development proposes over 75 houses in total. With 60 houses between Monash Avenue and Lake Coila, and around 20 between the golf club and the lake.

Simon recently delivered an engaging and considered presentation to Council. Unfortunately, Councillors were prevented by from asking any questions. 

Councillor Anthony Mayne says, “On Tuesday, following Simon Cox’s presentation, I had hoped to ask him some questions. And when attempting to call a point of order I was inappropriately shut down by the GM. 

“I had hoped to ask Mr Cox if his group had engaged with the NSW State Government to understand their views on zombie developments. I wanted to ask about his engagement with local Aboriginal groups. I wanted to understand more about the engagement he had with our Council so far,” Anthony says.

Following his presentation Simon says, “In all my working life, I’ve never been treated like that. The Mayor and the General Manager were openly hostile, clearly on a very short fuse, and keen to cut me off as soon as they possibly could. Professional is not a term I would use.”

Despite being blocked in the chamber on the day, The Mayne Team has contacted Simon and asked these questions anyway.

Simon says his group wrote letters to the state and federal environment ministers last year but received bland templated responses. 

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“More recently we had more success when we contacted the Heritage team directly. They pointed out that Council was required to do a cultural assessment to obtain an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit, which, they have not done,” Simon says.

“We have also contacted the NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes but have received no official response. We have had positive engagement with Independent MP Justin Field.” 

Locally, Simon says they have spoken to the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee Chair Trish Ellis and member Lee-Anne Parsons from Cobowra Local Aboriginal Land Council. 

“Trish is keen to be involved and help the community protect the significant environment and cultural heritage at Coila. Lee-Anne is keen to be kept informed and to review changes to the development before things progress further. 

“Owen Carriage, his brother Bindarary and elders from the Walbunga group are involved and have actions planned. They have been working closely with archaeologists and our group to understand what this means for their community, and our community and are fascinated by the evidence of their rich cultural history.”

Simon says the Coila Lake Protection Group’s experience with Council has been far from ideal. 

“Overall, our group have found Council to have been obstructive, dismissive of our requests for further information, and quite secretive to deal with.

Simon says the group are still waiting on requests for further information dating back to June 2020 and have been forced to undertake a GIPA process (FOI request) to force them to share the background documents relating to the development.

“They don’t seem to care about the community’s concerns about the environment and cultural heritage of the area and are very much focused on the bricks and mortar side of making this development happen quickly,” Simon says.

“But, as we said to Council at the beginning of this process, this group will not stop until they ensure an evidence-based, scientific approach to the development approval and modification process.

“When we are actively starved of what should be publicly available information, we need to use what resources are at our disposal. We have a very intelligent, rational, and fair-minded group that is persistent, tenacious and will never give up,” Simon warned.

We need a new, modern DA process based on collaboration with developers and local elders

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Simon says the groups aims are to protect the fragile ecosystem and endangered biodiversity adjacent to this large development. “What this development really needs is a new, modern DA process,” Simon says.

They wish to protect the rich cultural heritage of the area and find the opportunity to share this knowledge with the community in a readily accessible way and to get Council to reject the current modifications that turn Chauvel Crescent into a through road and reject the modifications that significantly increase the density of houses.

Simon says the group also wants to support a collaboration with the developers and local elders leading to a community funded indigenous learning centre on newly reserved public land on the Eastern side of the development. 

“We want to build something to tell some of the stories behind the cultural history of the land, to share knowledge of artefacts and the stories of this region's first peoples, and to provide an educational tourist attraction at the beginning of the Bingie dreaming track in a self-supported model for the local indigenous people.”

“Our dream is to have part, or all, of this land preserved in a way that protects the ecosystem and unique, endangered biodiversity of this area. This could be achieved by establishing biodiversity credits for a ‘protect ecosystem’ co-op between the community and the developers.

“These challenges exist all over the state, and we want to generate political interest and political will to kill-off these zombie development loopholes in NSW for good.  It is time for them to go.”

When elected, the The MAYNE Team will:

  

  1. lobby relevant stakeholders to change the legislation that applies to development applications to take account of the points made above by Simon

  2. review and update the protocols that are used by the Eurobodalla Council to interpret the legislation to ensure that the legislation is interpreted in line with community expectations

  3. conduct a review of all major developments undertaken in the last 5 years to identify lessons that should be learned

  4. establish a register of Councillor's interests 

 

31 August 2021