Council denies lot application

AN application by Councillor Ross Bartley’s neighbour to reconfigure a lot at Swan Creek was earlier this week refused by the Southern Downs Regional Council Planning and Environment Committee.

Cr Bartley left the meeting due to a perceived interest and the remaining seven councillors struggled to come to a decision on the finer points of the refusal.

Director Ken Harris informed the councillors that his staff had received a letter from the applicant last week demanding that the application be dealt with as a “deemed approval”.

A deemed approval, which was brought in under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, means that if an “assessment manager” has not decided an application within the decision-making period, including any extension of the period, the applicant may give written notice stating the application should be deemed to have been approved.

However at Tuesday’s meeting, Mr Harris told councillors he had sought advice from solicitors in Brisbane and was “confident” the deemed approval could not be applied in this instance.

“In my mind, there is no issue there,” he said.

“I just wanted (councillors) to be aware of the issue.”

The application requested to realign the boundaries for three lots on land at Murphys Road, Swan Creek – which is currently used as rural land.

The proposed realignment of the boundaries would have then made two smaller lots of 3.5 and 3.6 hectares and another larger lot of 11.6ha.

Mr Harris said a number of issues cropped up, including the inappropriate use of good agricultural land.

“If you (councillors) haven’t had the opportunity to have a look at (the area in question), I’d highly recommend you do,” he said.

“It’s just out in the paddocks. I think that’s a bad planning outcome. This has been a really difficult application to deal with.”

The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) says the applicant’s proposal “clearly conflicts” with the policy intent for the area and that the proposed development would not facilitate the productive use of the land.

“This land is a valuable resource that should be protected from irreversible development and ... additional weight needs to be given to the agricultural factor,” DERM said.

“The department does not support the alienation of this land where the development is not necessary and there is no overriding need of the development in terms of public benefit.”

Mr Harris also said several gully systems met at the top of the blocks but he was unable to find any scientific evidence to prove that flooding might be an issue.

“At the end of the day, even if the block was flood free ... we still have some basic policy issues,” he said.

Mr Harris also advised councillors the “precautionary principle”, in accordance with the Integrated Planning Act 1997, had been applied to help councillors justify the refusal if needed.

“If you don’t have an answer to a particular issue, it doesn’t mean you should just approve something,” Mr Harris said in relation to the lack of scientific evidence on the flooding issue.

“That’s why it’s called the precautionary principle, you’re being cautious. Beyond that, put as much or as little weight as you want to on the issue of flooding.”

While councillors agreed that the application should be refused they got hung up on whether the flooding issue and, in particular, the precautionary principle be used to justify the refusal.

Cr Jo McNally first moved in line with the original recommendation to refuse the application, but with the above-mentioned reasons removed, which Deputy Mayor Peter Blundell seconded.

However when it was put to the meeting, with Crs Vic Pennisi and Ross Bartley absent, just Mayor Ron Bellingham voted for the motion along with Crs McNally and Blundell.

Crs Denise Ingram, Cameron Gow, Mally McMurtrie and Planning and Environment Committee chairman Neil Meiklejohn voted against the motion, meaning it was not passed.

Cr McMurtrie then moved in line with the original recommendation, with those reasons included, which Cr Ingram seconded.

When it was put to the committee for a second time, Cr Blundell changed his vote and the application was refused.

Gary Hayes and Partners Consulting Surveyors owner Gary Hayes, who is representing the applicant, said at this stage he did not want to comment on the refusal at committee level.

However he said he would look further at the matter and “may make other submissions before council makes a decision”.

The matter will come before council again at next week’s general meeting.

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