• Tony Bosworth

Libs accuse Indies of being pro-development for Kurrajong Kurmond - spat spills onto social media

Liberal and Labor councillors banded together this week in a vote to junk the Kurrajong Kurmond Investigation Area (KKIA) structure plan, with Liberal councillors accusing independent and Greens councillors of being pro-development.

But Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler told the council meeting – “You have just removed the best capacity this council has for controlling development in that area. This KK structure plan is not pro-development, what it is, is development control, and you have just voted to dump that.”

The arguments spilled out of the council chamber as leading Liberal Nathan Zamprogno took to social media this weekend to say the independent councillors who tried to stop the KKIA being dumped – and he named them - voted for rezoning of the Kurmond-Kurrajong area.

Zoning in the Kurmond Kurrajong area has not changed, but when what’s called a spot zoning application – essentially a standalone application - is received by council it was to be judged against the criteria in the KKIA to ensure it would fit into the area, if approved.

The KKIA gave a framework for Council to assess planning applications with a view to ensuring they were compatible not only with the KK area but also with State planning regulations and visions.

Kurmond Kurrajong Investigation Area - not a rezoning map...

Mayor Patrick Conolly – who voted to dump the KKIA structure plan - told the council meeting the KKIA was a product of the current council.

It was actually originally started in 2011, in a previous council, and more substance was placed around it in 2015, in the last council.

“It was 2017 when council decided it should embark on an investigationary [Fact Check - this is the word the Mayor used] and structure plan,” said the Mayor.

“The previous council had an investigation area, however the previous council had determined a set of criteria it had to assess applications.

“At that time, I said quite strongly that I don’t understand why the very people who are saying all this time they are opposed to further development in KK are going about a plan specifically for council to produce a planning proposal itself to go ahead and rezone for rural residential development in Kurmond Kurrajong

"To me that never made sense, and then even when it was done it was deferred and deferred and deferred,” said Cllr Conolly.

Councillor Wheeler said: “We have been through a very exhaustive, thorough and expensive process. At the time we began this process, councillors were largely very pleased with the results of the plan and it voiced that it represented a new era of council, an era of council-led planning which I took to the last election as a way forward for council that we stop being the victim of developments coming to us and that we set the standard for what we expect to happen in this LGA as elected representatives.”

“Now, the game changed for us when we lost our capacity to determine things like DAs (development applications) and it made the Kurrajong Kurmond structure plan far more valuable for us as a planning document.

“Several of us would like to see the KK plan rolled out across the LGA to give not only developers certainty but also our residents certainty as to what the LGA they live in will look like going forward.

"I think this is a really responsible step for council and I urge councillors to get this document back in circulation.”

But Labor councillor Barry Calvert put up an amendment to say Council should not adopt the KKIA and added that it should additionally say, “council does not encourage any further large scale development west of the river”.

Cllr Calvert said the structure plan had caused a lot of uncertainty.

“It had a lot of anticipation among many residents west of the river thinking council had decided development was a good thing, finish the plan and off we go. I don’t think council ever meant that. Just because we put this plan in place and we spent money on it doesn’t mean council is tied to it, has to pass it or support it.

“My recollection is it wasn’t warmly received by all councillors.

"What this plan does is it sanctions development in the KK area when most people are not in favour of such development. We need to listen to the people."

"They do not want any more development and this structure plan would enable such development to take place. What I’m saying is, here is the plan, this is what it looks like and I’m saying let’s not adopt it.”

Cllr Zamprogno who seconded Cllr Calvert’s amendment said: “When we inherited the idea of having sub-division of some form in the KK area I always had my misgivings. I was equally seized of the obligation to give applicants who had lodged valid planning development proposals the benefit of due process.

“I do not think we should be sub-dividing west of the river. Because it is not necessary for us to do this to satisfy the housing quotes or aspirations we have in our residential land strategy.

“I find that I am in an unusual situation as a Liberal in that I am trying to mitigate against excessive or inappropriate development. But there is another motion from our Greens’ councillor that would effectively permit sub-division in that area and against the broad feelings of the community.”

But Cllr Wheeler said while Cllr Calvert’s amendment sounded like it was “good intentioned…I think it’s naïve and it’s based on false premises and frankly it’s at odds with the behaviour of those pushing for it previously.

"It’s not that the KK investigation area plan caused uncertainty, and provided anticipation, that was already there.

"It was previous councils that did that with spot rezoning and those with interests in this sector who encouraged application though letterbox drops to land owners.

“Council was forced to deal with that anticipation and we have seen where this has gone wrong, Bells Line of Road is a good example of quite large development in areas which are not suited – biodiversity, slope views, traffic, climate change, etc.

“This [the KK structure plan] doesn’t encourage development, what it does is control development. And there’s a really big difference there.

“Dropping this plan favours individual developers and spot planning proposals. It allows those who send applications in, many of which are likely to fail, to develop a false understanding of what this council will tolerate.

“What you’re suggesting is weak. What it says is council does not encourage the lodgement. But that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t stop it and it doesn’t control what those outcomes look like – that’s not a clear message.

“You may be doing this because you think you will signal to the community that you are not pro-development but I have to say that actions over the past four years show very much that that is not the case, further I don’t think that achieves those ends for the community.”

Independent councillor Pete Reynolds said:

“This amendment just opens the door back to the horrors that we saw with planning proposals coming in and arguments dragging us into court.

"If this amendment is accepted there is nothing to stop the next council - when it comes along - to let a spot planning proposal, a large scale sub division to proceed.”

Mayor Conolly said some planning proposals in the KKIA had been in the council system for “many, many years and for me that is unacceptable. People should put a planning proposal in and get an answer yes or no and we shouldn’t be putting roadblocks to make that process take years and years.

“We asked for options and I’m very comfortable with the way forward. We don’t

go ahead with any more planning developments ourselves, we also make a policy statement that we are not encouraging any further planning proposals. We cannot say we won’t accept them but we are making a very strong policy statement. Process these last couple and make a very strong policy statement that we don’t want to see any more of this.”

After the majority vote by Liberal and Labour councillors – Conolly, Calvert, Kotlash, Tree, and Zamprogno - saw the end of the KKIA structure plan, and following Cllr Zamprogno’s foray onto social media, Cllr Reynolds also took to the online forum on the weekend to hit back at Cllr Zamprogno’s claims.

“The Liberals and Labor have combined to throw out all the strategic planning developed to protect Kurrajong and Kurmond from over development,” Cllr Reynolds said.

“This strategic planning would have required any planning proposal to meet stringent requirements protecting our rural and agricultural lands and also preventing any impacts to the beautiful views and vistas of Kurrajong and Kurmond.

“A minimum lot size of 2.5 acres subject to conditions (and one acre only in suitable locations close to town centres). No building block stuff.

“But we are now back to the days of open slather where developers can request ‘spot planning proposals’ to develop any land provided they make ‘suitable contributions’ to local infrastructure - just like Redbank.

“In the last few years developers close to the Liberal Party have spent $80m-plus on land west of the river. No developer spends that much money without getting a good return on investment.

“This and this only is the reason Liberals (and Labor) rejected the planning strategy. Remember this in September [local council elections are in September - Ed].

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett and Cllr Sarah Richards absented themselves from the council meeting so that there was no conflict of interest - the Deputy Mayor because she lives in Kurrajong, and Cllr Richards because of a pecuniary interest in the area.

Cllr Lyons-Buckett told the Post after the meeting, “What I would say is, if people are interested in what councillors have done in terms of supporting or not supporting different developments, then check out the planning register on Council’s website and you can see the vote for each planning proposal over the years, and for development applications which came before Council prior to the State Government removing planning powers from councils in the Greater Sydney area. It’s often of interest to people to see circumstances where people change their support one way or another especially from the last Council to this one, or with regard to the value of character and place-based planning. The State Government is very clear in its shift towards strategic planning and avoidance of spot rezoning into the future. “I am always happy to justify and explain why I have voted the way I have. The community should call on all councillors to do the same in the interest of transparency.”

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