TRRA Update, January 2023
The last (long!) meeting of Council for 2022 was on 13 December and dealt with several significant matters.
The new Communications and Engagement Strategy was adopted and should see continued improvement in the way Council informs and interacts with the community. A related resolution re-instated public notices of Development Applications (DAs) in the Examiner and the first of these appeared in the 12 January edition. A motion for the next Council meeting may see this extended to the News of the Area.
An initial report on homelessness in Port Stephens, an initiative by Councillor Anderson, was debated and options to address the issue will be further investigated, and a Stakeholder Advocacy Group set up.
A draft Plan of Management for the Birubi Point Aboriginal Place Tourism Transport Interchange was endorsed and will go on public exhibition in February.
Councillors expressed concern about the prolonged absence of Clr Dunkley for the latter part of 2022. We observe that Clr Anderson appears to be carrying a wholly disproportionate and unreasonable share of the workload in representing East Ward residents.
TRRA helped the Headland Heritage Group run an information stall at the entrance to Tomaree Lodge between Xmas and New Year. Feedback from hundreds of locals and visitors confirmed the strong support for a range of community uses for the Lodge buildings and site. Regrettably, the agreement to reopen the amenities just inside the Lodge gate was not able to be implemented in time for them to open for the peak holiday period, and traffic, parking and the lack of clear signage remain major issues. A report on the feedback was submitted to the State Government’s consultants alongside submissions from multiple community groups and individuals – we await the consultant’s report, and the Government’s next steps, with interest.
Nelson Bay apartments
Work is well under way on the foundations for the ‘Angelina Apartments’ at the corner of Yacaaba and Donald Streets. As the 9 storey building starts to emerge from the ground, it will be interesting to see community reaction – we predict a mixture of relief to see some investment happening and reservations about the size and scale. The DA for the even bigger apartment building proposed for Church St (the crane site) is expected back before Council soon, and we will see if the developer has been willing to meet the Council’s desire to see the project comply with the height limits. TRRA welcomes the commencement of work by the same developer on the 4 storey apartments next to the police station on Government Road. Their appeal against Council’s refusal of their other project, for the southern end of Yacaaba St, will resume in the Land and Environment Court later in 2023.
Major projects – mining, quarrying and housing
Further documents have been lodged for both the major Kings Hill housing proposal (the refusal of which is under appeal) and the Martins Creek hard rock Quarry. TRRA and other groups continue to raise environmental concerns about these projects, but it is very difficult to digest and analyse the thousands of pages of technical information that applicants are able to generate in support of their plans.
We also continue to track the growth of both sand and hard rock mining in Port Stephens which has major environmental and traffic impacts. It seems some of the already approved and proposed mine expansions may move ahead in 2023, and there is now reportedly interest in re-processing former sand mines for rare earth minerals. This may be a welcome new industry helping to power renewable energy, but like any extractive industry needs to be undertaken in an environmentally sensitive and responsible way.
The State government requires planning for future housing in Port Stephens to follow the broad strategies laid out in the new Hunter Regional Plan 2041, published in December – see https://pp.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/hunter-regional-plan-2041. It will also be influenced by a Hunter Regional Transport Plan which should be finalised soon – see https://www.future.transport.nsw.gov.au/future-transport-plans/draft-hunter-regional-transport-plan. An even more detailed strategy for the Greater Newcastle/Lower Hunter region is being developed as part of a new Six Cities vision for the metropolitan areas of NSW. For the first time, Tomaree as well as the rest of Port Stephens is seen as, in effect, part of Greater Newcastle, which may have both positive and adverse implications for the character of the area. A draft plan will go on exhibition in the first half of 2023. See https://greatercities.au/engagement/six-cities-region-discussion-paper
TRRA made detailed submissions on all three of these strategic planning documents, and these are available on our website.
Other Council Policies
In late November and December 2022, TRRA made substantial submissions on four important Council papers:
- Tree Vandalism Policy
- Tree Management Policy (disguised as Housekeeping amendments to the DCP)
- Environment Policy
- Climate Change Policy
We will find out when these are reported back to Council in 2023 if our views have been listened to. Our submissions are on our website.
Anna Bay Heliport heads to court
The proponents of a major helicopter operational base at Anna Bay have appealed against the refusal of their development application by Port Stephens Council. TRRA joined other community groups and dozens of individuals in opposing the project and were pleased with the comprehensive rejection of the DA on multiple grounds. We are disappointed that the matter has been appealed and have applied to be heard at a Land and Environment Court ‘conference’ on the matter on 13 March.
We argued that Council should not have even accepted the characterisation of the project as a ‘Helipad’ which requires it to be a private facility not open to the general public.
The scale of the project, with 4 landing/takeoff pads and up to 280 flights per week, clearly dents the credibility of that claim, and makes it a ‘Heliport’, which would not be allowed by the zoning of this land.
The project appears to clearly anticipate a major tourism operation with ‘joy flights’ to view the spectacular scenery of Port Stephens, not just the servicing of berth holders at the two marinas that the applicant claimed as the primary purpose.
The reasons Council gave for rejecting the project are all sound, and include the important issues of disturbance of neighbours, of the adjacent cemetery, and of local wildlife. Other concerns include air navigation within the controlled military area and a proposed very narrow flight path for arrivals and departures which we now fear may raise additional safety concerns, following the recent tragic fatal accident on the Gold Coast.
A high volume of helicopter flights over the area would also raise important issues about the character of our tourist experience and the potential for serious disturbance of the thousands of visitors and local alike who quietly enjoy our Marine and National Parks.
Surely, a major commercial venture such as this with its potential impact over the whole peninsula should not be allowed under the simpler rules designed for a low key ‘private helipad’.
TRRA will have more to say about this project as the Court appeal proceeds.