Council 'bungle' backfires

TWEED Shire Council faces another costly court case following claims it illegally gave the go-ahead to the first building in a controversial and unapproved subdivision at Hastings Point because of an internal communication bungle.

Tweed Mayor Joan van Lieshout yesterday vowed to investigate the suspected communications bungle in which the building services unit allegedly failed to tell the council's planning department what it was doing.

To make matters worse, the council planning department apparently did not warn the building services unit that a 57-lot subdivision involving the same land was before the NSW Department of Planning.

The Hastings Point Progress Association, which is filing the latest court action, claims the bungle allowed a developer to sneak initial approval through council's “back door”- the building services unit, which assesses single dwellings.

“This allowed them to effectively bypass council's planning department and the NSW Department of Planning to commence their subdivision,”' the association said in its latest online newsletter.

Cr van Lieshout yesterday said: “If the planning department was not aware of the approval, that doesn't speak very well”.

“I do know we have a lot of areas to pick up with communication. I personally would say there is a lack of communication in most councils,” Cr van Lieshout said.

“If this is the case, this is a perfect scenario of areas we have to work on for efficiency in council.”

The fresh case of legal action is the fourth against the council involving the same block of land.

Cr van Lieshout said when she worked as an employee of Brisbane City Council she was aware of a “lack of communication between departments” and that was one reason a new corporate strategy had been drawn up for Tweed Shire Council.

In addition she wanted all councillors provided with a copy of “the first page” of every development application so they could keep an overview of potentially contentious issues.

“At this stage there is no procedure to that effect,” she said. “It's very difficult if I don't know there's something there that we need to ask for information on.

“The need for councillors to have information is vital. We are well aware of what can come in the back door.”

The council's planning chief Vince Connell said the council had not been formally notified of the pending court action.

He said consent for a house was issued in early 2008 through council's building unit, as was the case with vast majority of dwelling applications” and “it satisfied all the necessary criteria”. However, staff have since become more aware of Hastings Point planning issues.

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