Flooding on the Sunshine Coast.
Flooding on the Sunshine Coast.

Furore over Coast development bid in flood-prone land

THREE councillors walked out of a Sunshine Coast Council meeting over moves that could pave the way for the development of flood-prone land, protected under the council's planning scheme.

The strategic discussion forum meeting initiated a letter to the State Government asking it to consider including a flood prone parcel of cane land west of the motorway at Coolum in the new SEQ Urban Footprint.

The letter, signed by the council's CEO Michael Whittaker, also asked the government to consider other areas north of the Maroochy River, currently excluded from urban development, in the urban footprint, which will control development patterns as part of the new Draft SEQ Regional Plan.

Mayor Mark Jamieson, his Deputy Tim Dwyer, Cr Jason O'Pray, planning chief Warren Bunker and head of strategic planning Steve Patey were all absent on leave when the July 6 meeting was held. Mr Whittaker chaired the meeting.

Planning chair Cr Christian Dickson and councillors Peter Cox and Ted Hungerford walked out of the meeting, refusing to vote on the motion to send the letter.

Cr Dickson said the move to include the flood-prone land in the urban footprint was at odds with the council's sustainability and liveability strategy, which it was now promoting to the community.

He said the Planning Scheme and the strategy consolidated growth along a corridor that could be serviced by light rail.

"This (the letter) is out- side a major council policy," Cr Dickson said. "When you have got a policy you need to stick to your policy.

"The minute you say you want to put a big sub- division in cane land right away from that, people will lose confidence and won't believe you. I don't believe we foll- owed the process we have followed for other major planning decisions.

"My personal view is that we shouldn't be making maj- or decisions at the last min- ute without the appropriate level of discussion and advice from senior council officers.

"I have not supported the inclusion of any recent maj- or changes to additional land in the Urban Footprint.

"I support the current planning scheme. I support growth in areas that can deliver public transport and consolidation along the enterprise corridor.

"It is the first time in 11 years (in council) that I have chosen to walk out of a meeting because I did not agree with the process."

"I did not want to be part of what I believed was not the best process to deal with the matter."

The council's 2014 Planning Scheme, developed with community input across two council terms at a cost of $15m, designates the land west of the motorway as rural for cane growing or other agricultural uses.

It provides flood storage capacity for the Maroochy River and is subject to the council's natural hazards strategy, which controls development to protect floodplains and waterways to ensure "the flood storage and conveyance capacity of floodplains and waterways is maintained or enhanced; natural hydrological systems, landforms and drainage lines are protected; there is no worsening in flood conditions and that areas of community isolation are not created".

Cr Peter Cox said he had expected the meeting to provide a strategic understanding of submissions to the State Government draft SEQ Regional Plan.

"I didn't think councillors had a right to give input on individual submissions," he said. "When it got specific I thought I didn't want to get down to the weeds. I wanted it kept at a higher level."

Mr Whittaker wrote the next day to the Director General of the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, seeking an expansion of its review of flood modelling for Twin Waters West to include flood-prone rural land owned by Consolidated Properties west of the Sunshine Mwy at Coolum.

The letter, which said the CEO was acting at councillors' request, also asked the department to consider other areas of the Maroochy North Shore suitable for urban expansion.

Despite the absence of advice from senior planners as to the merits or otherwise of the proposals, Division Nine Councillor Steve Robin- son moved that the council write to the State Government, asking it to investigate the land's inclusion in the draft regional plan.

A straw poll of the eight councillors present split four all before Crs Dickson, Cox and Hungerford walked out, disturbed by the process.

The five left remaining, Crs Robinson, John Connolly, Greg Rogerson, Rick Baberowski and Jenny McKay, then determined the letter be sent. The council would not confirm to the Daily whether the two senior planners or the Mayor were aware of the meeting or what was to be discussed.

The land is part of a 500ha parcel, which Consolidated Properties announced on July 4 would be subject to a sand mining application because of the council and State Government's lack of support for urban development on flood-prone rural former cane land west of the Sunshine Mwy.

The company issued a press release on July 4 announcing its sand mining plans, which were being pursued because: "We understand there is no appetite for change to the planning provisions for the Coolum West land - that has recently become evident. It has left us with no alternative but to exercise our current rights under the KRA provisions".

Two days later submissions on behalf of Consolidated Properties, were presented to councillors supporting the site's inclusion for urban development.

Cr Cox said councillors normally didn't have access to individual submissions made to the State government's planning process.

He said he believed it had become an agenda item for the strategic discussion forum because the council had been accused by consultants of not properly considering considering their submissions.

"We normally don't have (access to) them," Cr Cox said.

Consolidated Properties managing director Don O'Rorke early this month said failure to bring the 80ha parcel under the urban footprint meant a further 420ha would not be returned to the community as open space.

He said that as a consequence he had been forced to activate the land's key resource area designation, which would result in a 20-year sand mining operation which would seek to supply fill to the new Sunshine Coast Airport.

In response to questions put by the Sunshine Coast Daily, the council replied via a spokesperson.

"An informal meeting of councillors and the council's executive leadership team (including the acting director of the Planning and Environment department) was held last Thursday (July 6) to discuss a number of matters," the spokesperson said in a written reply.

"This is part of a regular schedule of monthly discussion meetings, a practice that was established by the Abbot council and has been in place since January 2009.

"One of the matters discussed at this meeting related to the State Government's Draft SEQ Regional Plan 2016 and council's role in the public submissions process.

"This discussion took place following on from councillors having received representations from several parties that week in relation to the review of submissions made on the draft Regional Plan. The Mayor, Cr Tim Dwyer and Cr Jason O'Pray were not present at the meeting.

"Council planning staff briefed councillors at the meeting on the process that had been undertaken over a number of years to provide input to the draft Regional Plan, leading to the develop- ment of council's endorsed submission in March 2017.

"Following this meeting and with the agreement of a majority of councillors, council's chief executive officer wrote to the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning to identify an additional matter for the State to consider and to draw the department's attention to recent media coverage regarding one parcel of land which had been the subject of a privately-made submission to the draft Regional Plan.

"The CEO's letter made it clear this was a matter for the State to consider and to determine what constituted the best long-term outcome for the region.

"The letter to the Department did not request any specific changes to the draft Regional Plan that is currently being finalised by the State, or propose any changes to the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme."



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