Peter McGlone, Tasmanian Conservation Trust 10 October 2018
Most people who live in Clarence and across greater Hobart would have heard of the controversy over Clarence City Council’s (CCC) support for a major tourism development on Council and Crown land at Kangaroo Bay (now approved) and its support for a proposed development on the top of the Rosny Hill Nature Recreation Reserve, an area managed by the Council. And there has been uproar recently over a Council by-law which gives Council powers to suppress protests, meetings and public speaking in public areas as well as prohibiting games on beaches without Council approval. But if you dig deeper there is a longer list of controversial developments on public land where the Clarence City Council has treated the community terribly. The Council is acting as a property developer and pushing a development agenda on Council and State government land while failing to consult the most important people, the rate-payers.
Not surprisingly, many candidates for Alderman and Mayor in the Council election are focusing on the need for better consultation, in particular regarding public land. Mayor candidate Richard James has said in the Mercury this Monday that he wants changes to the council policy so that ‘community input was sought first for any council land listed for future development’. This would be a good start.
The following case studies – dealing with Kangaroo Bay, Rosny Hill, Calverton Oval South Arm, Lauderdale Beach boat launching area and Crown land at Seven Mile Beach – were compiled with the help of local community people and paint a picture of a council that does the absolute minimum of consultation that is required by law and avoids consultation if it can. Clarence City Council times consultation to make it hard for the public to make input and uses information collected from the community selectively or misleadingly. It’s approach to consultation was old hat last century and it’s time for a change.
Thankfully, ideas being promoted by the Clarence Action Network give hope there may be change to how the Council operates.
In 2017 Hunter Developments obtained approval from CCC for a Hotel (a 5-storey building on the Kangaroo Bay foreshore extending into the bay) and a Hospitality Training School and Apartments (a 5-storey building with frontage on Cambridge Road).
Despite this development being on public land and being unprecedented in terms of scale, the council did the absolute minimum in terms of consultation. The public consultation process on the development application was advertised on 17 December 2016 with representations closing on 12 January 2017, making it as hard as possible for the community to get organised and make representations and near impossible to consult with planning consultants or lawyers.
As if this was not bad enough, the council changed the assessment rules right at the end of the consultation process. On 9 January 2017, Council sought and was granted an urgent amendment to the Clarence Interim Planning Scheme 2015, just three days before the advertised public comment period closed on 12 January 2017. The amendment removed grounds for objection based on the allowable area for accommodation associated with the development.
The development will be built on land that was part Crown land and part council land and the Council tried to keep the sale price of the land from the community. The sale price was agreed to in a closed meeting of Council and withheld from the people of Clarence and only made public after months of persistent calls from the community. The ‘public’ land was sold to Chambroad Petrochemicals (the parent company funding the project) for $2.4 million.
The original 2008 Kangaroo Bay Urban Design Concept Plan, that was the result of extensive community consultation, was totally ignored by Council. Critically the Concept Plan showed development along Cambridge Road being set back from the street and it recommended it should be of a ‘scale to enable views over and between building envelopes’. Hunter Development’s approved development is jammed right up against Cambridge Road and towers over residences, blocking views.
Hunter Developments have also been made preferred developer for another tract of public land in Kangaroo Bay, the Boulevard site, which will see an additional 90 units, commercial premises and some parking. Like the approved developments there will not be nearly enough parking. This will front Kangaroo Bay Drive and go through to Cambridge Road. No plans, consultation with neighbours or Development Application has yet been lodged by Prof Morris Nunn.
The next big development fight in Clarence is over a proposal by Hunter Developments for a large tourism development on top of Rosny Hill, a proposal that would dominate the 21 hectare bushland reserve. The developer has withdrawn its proposal just one day into the council election but has said it intends submitting another application.
In 2015, the Council decided to seek a preferred developer for this reserve, but did so without first asking the community what type of development they wanted or whether they wanted any development.
The preferred developer process was critically flawed. Hunter Developers was chosen as preferred developer despite there not being another acceptable expression of interest. The criteria issued by Council included the preference that the development be restricted to the two small development envelopes identified in the Rosny Hill Management Strategy. While this criteria was a ‘preference’, the concept submitted by Hunter Developments and accepted by Council was for a development more than five times the area of the development envelopes.
While the Council seemed to bend over backwards for the developer, it was dismissive of the community’s interests. Residents of the Rosny and Montagu Bay were incensed at the possibility of an oversized development in their local reserve so they got organised. Before the developer made a development application, the locals got more than 200 local residents to sign an application to Council to have the reserve rezoned to restrict development to the small areas identified in the management strategy.
While the community’s application was just to commence a process to determine the validity of rezoning, the Council refused to even debate it. The Mayor made dismissive comments to the media that he did not understand what the applicants wanted. Despite there not being a live application before council no councillor other than Richard James was willing to meet with the community members. Council insisted on the community paying the $17,000 fee for lodging a rezoning application, despite the Council being the management authority and the local community being largely responsible for on ground management of the reserve for twenty five years.
The developer went quite for the next three years. In June 2018, with a development application pending, the local community petitioned the council to hold a public meeting (as is their right under the Local Government Act) to let it air community concerns regarding the development. The council refused the petition claiming that, although the required number of signatures was obtained, they must all be either hardcopy or electronic. The Mayor dismissed the proposed meeting saying that the developer had already held a meeting (three years previous) and intended to hold another. He also directed that the community can wait for the development application and make a deputation (which is limited to just three minutes and made prior to the Council meeting).
The community persisted and got 1000 electronic signatures and attracted a 300 strong crowd of people to the Rosny Bowls Club. The motions passed by the meeting were ignored by the Council despite there being no valid development application.
Public opposition kept mounting with the recent revelation that the Council had adopted a By-law that seemed intended to stifle protests, rallies and public displays of signs. Perhaps these restrictions were inspired by the Kangaroo Bay protests and aimed at restricting opposition to Rosny Hill developments.
Calverton Oval Skate Park South Arm
Although it hasn’t been in the media, there has been an intense fight happening at South Arm over a proposal by the Clarence City Council for a skate park at Calverton Oval. The Council is the applicant, planning authority and manager of the oval and intends using rate-payers money to force a skate park onto a largely unwilling community.
The location of the skate park is within 15 metres of the nearest houses, giving skaters a clear view into backyards and living rooms. Skate parks also create very loud noises and are likened to shooting ranges. This has not put the Council off as they have sort to cram a skate park into a residential area - whereas most skate parks are well away from houses e.g. Rosny and Lauderdale.
This has upset most of the local residents. A group of residents has lodged an appeal, spending thousands of dollars of their own money each, taking on their own council. The result of that appeal is pending. To my knowledge no one in the area opposes a skate park, they just think this location is inappropriate.
Late in 2017 the Council responded to a request by a small group in the community who wanted a skate park, by developing a Draft Master Plan for Calverton Oval and releasing it for comment.
The consultation process was a complete joke, possibly done deliberately to generate an appearance of support for a skate park. The Draft Master Plan proposed to cram every type of custom made exercise equipment and park facilities that money could buy into the oval surrounds, including a skate park. The Draft Master Plan was developed entirely in-house by Council officers and no one in the community was asked what they wanted and any sense of over-all design was absent.
Then the consultation on the Draft Master Plan was limited to releasing a map of the oval with the proposed facilities marked on it and asked a single yes/no question, ‘Do you support the changes?’. There was no face-to-face meetings with local residents. No directed consultation with groups that used the oval (other than one that claims to represent the local community), the school or Coastcare. There was no attempt to determine the likely demand for the proposed skate park and other facilities. Out of 160 responses only 4 people wrote comments in addition to answering yes or no. Responses of people who lived next door were given equal weight as those from outside of South Arm. It is thought that many people responded after being asked to by a supporter of the proposed skate park. The responses only demonstrated who supported or opposed it and not whether they would use the facilities. Respondents weren’t asked if they had other ideas not mentioned. Respondents were not asked how a skate park or other facilities could be constructed and operated to make it more acceptable.
The consultation was so bad that a local resident organised their own survey and included the results with their representation on the proposed skate park. They door knocked 100 houses closest to the oval and asked questions about their current use of the Oval, likely demand for the skate park and support for other development and use. It found a very low level of use of existing Council sporting and exercise facilities but a high number of people visiting the oval.
Only 10% of residents said they lived with a skater and 8% said they would use the skate park. By contrast 58% of people wanted the oval retained but with better landscaping around it. Sixty nine percent of people wanted minimal change.
The survey was totally ignored by the Council. It was not mentioned in the report by Council staff on public representations (possibly because the council should have done this work) and was not supplied to the Planning Appeals Tribunal.
A strong majority of representations made to the Council were opposed to the skate park, with 61 in support and 70 opposed. Only 21 of those supporting the skate park identified themselves being from the South Arm or Opossum Area, where as 58 of those opposed identified themselves as living in South Arm and Opossum Bay area, most living in the adjacent streets. All those opposing the development identified themselves and where they lived but nearly half of those opposed did not say where they lived and many didn’t even name themselves.
The Alderman who put the motion to approve the skate park, Sharyn Von Bertouch, highlighted that many pro-skate park submissions were original and most of the opponents were form letters. She did not mention the much higher proportion of oponents verses supporters who identified as being from the local area. No councillor mentioned the survey of 100 residents even though all councillors got the report and heard the author give a deputation at a Council meeting.
Lauderdale Beach boat launching area
Then there is the sad saga of the Lauderdale Beach boat launching area. Last month the Council did an about turn and agreed to return a boat launching access area (closed in August 2018) and remove an unusable disability access way. But $200,000 has been wasted and we must not forget the terrible abuse of process by Council.
In August 2018 local residents awoke one morning to be surprised to find excavators on the Lauderdale Beach closing their boat launching area adjacent to the Lauderdale Canal. Those with long memories might have recalled that the Council had consulted them, four years prior, and those who read the council minutes would know that a decision to close the beach to boat launching was made in April 2014. Critically, the technical experts who advised Council back in 2013 (via a Tasmanian Coastal Adaptation Decision Pathways report) never supported closing the boat launching access as an option. This idea came from the Aldermen themselves. But when Council consulted the Lauderdale residents in March 2014 the survey form never raised the possibility of closing the boat launching access. But the survey results were used to justify closing the boat launching area.
Following months of community pressure the Council has decided to remove the disability access way because it is unusable by wheel chairs (after a storm washed away half a metre of the beach) and will return the boat launching access while also reshaping the dunes to protect from storms.
But this outcome could have been achieved without causing the community massive anxiety and wasting $200,000 of rate-payers money. Council simply had to follow the TCAP advice and talk honestly with the community of Lauderdale.
Seven Mile Beach Sports complex
Now we have another potential fight over the council’s plans for a large sports complex at Seven Mile Beach.
In 2014, Clarence City Council approved the development of a “Sport and Active Recreation Precinct” in Seven Mile Beach, on Crown land provided to Council by the State Government for development. The original proposal was for a single AFL Oval with club rooms, a playground, a Soccer ground, considerable retention of walking paths, retention of much of the flora, car parking for 164 cars, and eventually a Community Hall.
Some communication did occur with local residents, with consultants meeting with some locals onsite and a survey was distributed. The survey results showed support for the development but also very strong support for retaining walking trails.
At the end of this exercise there was little if any serious objection registered. Then, no more information other than occasional rumour.
Between 2014 and mid-2017, Council approved various changes to the plan without informing the community. In 2017 a radically different plan was prepared, with two AFL ovals, multiple Soccer grounds, larger meeting and club rooms, netball and basketball courts, far fewer walking paths than before, a pond, and eventually a Community Hall.
This proposal was again put to the ratepayers, and a presentation from the new Consultants, and a member of CCC Staff was convened on AFL Grand Final Day 2017.
Predictably there was very minimal attendance and little in the way of information other than “...this is what it will be like...”. Those who attended were totally unsatisfied and immediately formed a residents group that is pushing for a more sympathetic result, much more like the 2014 proposal.
The resident group has been seeking meetings recently and has found out there has been further changes made without informing the local community. None of the numerous changes made over the last twelve months have been shared with local and residents.
It its most recent meeting with the Mayor the community group discovered that the Federal Government had rejected council’s funding application. This gives the community time to build a case for the new council to consider a more acceptable project.
Clearly the CCC does not do public consultation well, particularly when projects are proposed on Council or Crown land and where Clarence City Council is the proponent.
In fact it seems actively to keep the community in the dark and avoids trying to involve them when they could very easily do so.
So what to do about the Clarence City Council? Well, the Clarence Action Network has some very good ideas and the CAN’s Platform Statement, if implemented would go a long way toward fixing the rot at the heart of CCC.
Clarence Action Network Platform Statement
For the full statement of their vision and information about council candidates go to their web site:
1. BEST PRACTICE CONSULTATION/ENGAGEMENT
The new Council will need to implement genuine community consultation/engagement, particularly in areas of livability of your community and planning and use of public land. The operations of the Council need to be transparent and in the interest of rate payers and the community. Any new direction will require Council to apply best practice consultation at all times.
2. PUBLIC SAY FOR PUBLIC LAND
The new Council will protect reserves and other public land by establishing a binding policy that requires genuine consultation/engagement with the community in the first instance. The Council need to take note of the community directions before any such land is nominated for development.
3. STRATEGY FOR PROTECTION, MANAGEMENT AND EXPANSION OF PUBLIC LAND
The new Council will establish a binding long-term strategy for the conservation, management and expansion of public land, infrastructure and amenities to serve the best interests of the Clarence community.