Operators urged to abide by scheme

SOUTHERN Downs Mayor Ron Bellingham has urged local business operators to be aware of their responsibilities under the region’s planning schemes to avoid prosecution, in the wake of two court wins by the council in the past week.

Local family firms Wall’s Sand and Gravel in Warwick and Bestbrook Mountain Resort at Maryvale were both fined $12,000 for unauthorised activity, with significant costs of $30,000 awarded against Wall’s after their lengthy proceeding.

Wall’s was convicted of unapproved concrete batching and Bestbrook of selling used vehicles without a permit, with Cr Bellingham yesterday expressing sympathy for both operators.

But he was adamant the community had an expectation all commercial operators would comply with planning rules.

A new planning scheme to cover the region post-amalgamation is now being prepared by council officers, with the former Warwick and Stanthorpe town plans continuing in the meantime.

Cr Bellingham said “significant” effort had been made by council officers “and at the political level” through negotiation to avoid both of the recent cases going to court.

“I totally agree that wherever possible these things should not end up in court and prosecution really is the last resort,” he said.

“But at the end of the day the planning scheme is a community planning scheme we are bound to uphold.

“Some of these issues crop up more from a lack of knowledge on the part of operators and I feel quite sad and a great deal of concern for any firm which finishes up with a financial penalty.”

Cr Bellingham conceded he had not met personally with either Wall’s manager Bob Wall or Bestbrook owner Ray Vincent in an effort to avoid the court route.

He said most investigations of planning breaches arose from complaints from the public, but some were instigated by the council’s compliance officer who from time to time found problematic activity on residential and commercial premises.

“Generally speaking we manage to avoid going down the court path, but when we do it doesn’t please me,” Cr Bellingham said.

“But I need to draw the attention of the community to the need for compliance and some of the pitfalls in our planning schemes, which have now been in force for more than a decade.”

The mayor said, to his knowledge, no other matters were expected to head to court at this stage, with current court cases including an action by Canning Downs stud owner John Barnes to overturn demolition of the historic Plumbs Chambers on Fitzroy Street.

Council is also in the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland with both Bestbrook and Gordon Country at Goomburra over camping facilities.

State of play

Following amalgamation of the former Warwick and Stanthorpe shires in 2008, council officers have been working on a new town plan or ‘planning scheme’ to cover the whole region, not expected until the next term of council, which starts in 2012.

Until it is introduced, the town plans of the former shires remain in force for both areas.

The State Government has the final say on council planning schemes.

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