Cane industry placed at risk


TWEED canefarmers fear for the future of the local industry following a council decision allowing a major developer to bulldoze a prominent Murwillumbah hill to fill in cane land for houses.

Canefarmers and mill workers claim similar decisions could spell the end of the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative, while residents warn the loss of Stainlay's Hill will remove a natural windbreak that protects homes from storms.

Despite the concerns, Tweed Shire Council administrators Max Boyd and Garry Payne on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to housing giant Metricon for a new subdivision for 103 new homes.

Administrator Lucy Turnbull was absent.

Residents had been fighting the estate, off Barnby Street, close to the heart of town, for almost two years, arguing it would worsen traffic congestion and, during construction, would send heavy trucks through central streets.

Mr Boyd defended the decision, saying the council was already facing an appeal by Metricon in the NSW Land and Environment Court and was "trying to find some middle ground".

But he made several last-minute amendments to the decision, realigning an extension of Joshua Street to save about 2.5 hectares out of 14 previously set aside for agricultural protection.

He also agreed to provide an easement through council land so farmers won't have to take harvesting equipment onto streets.

Residents were not as lucky.

Mr Boyd said the council had already lost a court case with another Murwillumbah developer over bulldozing of hillsides.

Staff said old rules which applied to the development application had been found to be "not enforceable".

Yesterday Tweed Canegrowers president Graham Martin said the cane industry was happy the amount of farmland to be lost had been reduced and an easement provided for equipment.

But he warned every hectare counted.

"The future of the whole three-mill co-operative is at risk. We have to maintain throughput," Mr Martin said.

"They are not making any more cane land. Once it is under bitumen and houses you can never get it back."

Murwillumbah Residents Association spokesperson Diana Eriksen said 13 metres would be cut off the top of Stainlay's Hill ? "42 feet in the old imperial measure", plus mature trees "30 feet high".

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