Big developers 'favoured'

A SYDNEY academic who has been trying for 13 years to establish an “eco-village” of more than a dozen cheap houses on land at the back of the Tweed Valley has accused Tweed Shire Council of ignoring a low-cost housing crisis in the region.

University of New South Wales mathematics lecturer Brian Jefferies, who inherited 52 hectares at Hopkins Creek from an uncle in 1996, said the council instead favoured big developers, including Peter van Lieshout, the millionaire husband of Tweed Mayor Joan van Lieshout.

Earlier this year Mr van Lieshout won approval for his own eco-village to house 1,000 people west of Mt Warning, after a three-year battle with the council and several Land and Environment Court hearings.

Two weeks ago Mr Jefferies was advised that senior council planning staff had rejected his development application, formally lodged in April 2007, without it being referred to the councillors.

Mr Jefferies is outraged that his plan can be rejected, partly because neighbouring farmers objected, while Mr van Lieshout received approval to turn former farmland into what he calls a “high-cost development of 130 three-storey units, 250 houses, a 100-bed backpacker and 100-bed motel and 50 assorted shops in a remote area with a pub”.

Mr Jefferies said he had been studying state legislation that allowed land-sharing communities since 1981 and had provided the council with more than 150 pages of details supporting his development application.

The plan proposed a village with “three clusters of low-cost, owner-built houses based on ecologically-sustainable design with an emphasis on recycled and natural building materials”.

It would provide the maximum of 14 dwellings allowed under the New South Wales legislation for such communities.

One of the long-term goals is the gradual removal of the Camphor Laurel trees and their replacement with native rainforest species.

Mr Jefferies said council officers seemed not to understand the legislation, the application or his responses to objections from nine “cattle-farming neighbours”, which he said were “in the genre of not in my backyard”.

“I think they put it in the too hard basket and they couldn't be bothered,” he said.

“You would think it should have gone to a full meeting of the council but they rejected it outright.

“There's something wrong with the due process.”

In rejecting the application the council said the development would be incompatible with surrounding agricultural uses, had the potential to create land use conflicts, would not support or enhance the agricultural production of the site and was not in the public interest.

Tweed Shire Council's Planning and Regulation director Vince Connell defended the consideration of the application by staff rather than councillors, saying that was the normal process for that level of development.

All development applications with a value of more than $10 million and sub-divisions with more than 50 lots were reported to councillors, but Mr Jefferies' application did not come into that category, he said.

Applications could also be referred to councillors at the request of senior officers and/or councillors because of a high level of submissions or particular concerns they might have, but that also did not happen, Mr Connell said.

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