Hundreds of locals rallied at the Wall Against Sprawl protest held at Emerald Beach.
Hundreds of locals rallied at the Wall Against Sprawl protest held at Emerald Beach. Bruce Thomas

Hundreds rally to stop sprawl

IF proof was needed that development of coastal greenbelts was a hot-button local issue, Saturday was it.

The Wall Against Sprawl protest rally against the proposed development of three important Northern Beaches coastal sites drew more than 500 people to Emerald Beach on Saturday.

The three sites are South Moonee Forest, Hearnes Lake and North Emerald Beach.

These areas are considered to be of such high environmental value they should not be lost to housing, so likely to be flooded they are unsuitable for residential development or both.

Former deputy mayor Rod McKelvey, who spoke at the protest meeting, said they collected 400 signatures on a petition which he will deliver today to Coffs Harbour Mayor Keith Rhoades.

The petition supports Coffs Harbour City Council in its planned legal appeal to the Land and Environment Court against the concept approval for 200 houses in the Sandy Shores development at Hearnes Lake.

There is a time limit on the appeal, which must be lodged by March 20.

At last Thursday’s council meeting, in answer to a question from Cr Mark Graham on the lodgement of a Class 4 appeal in the Land and Environment Court, Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Steve McGrath said he was finalising some legal advice and was “very much aware” of the deadline.

He assured councillors that the decision would be made before that date.

The mayor and Deputy Mayor Denise Knight gave apologies for being unable to attend Saturday’s protest, but expressed their support.

A further protest meeting will be held at 11am tomorrow at Coffs Harbour City Council Chambers.

With the concept approval of 200 residential lots at Hearnes Lake and suggestions of imminent concept approval of numerous houses in the South Moonee Forest and at North Emerald Beach, community concern over the future of the Northern Beaches is growing.

The Save the Northern Beaches Alliance launched its website and campaign last Tuesday.

The website has been developed by Anthony Grupe of Abacus Web Designs to create a forum for community collaboration to save the Northern Beaches’ greenbelts.

Mr McKelvey said people at Saturday’s rally were informed residents who were happy with the council’s 2006 settlement and tourism strategy of one coastal city, Coffs Harbour, with two coastal centres at Sawtell and Woolgoolga and a string of coastal villages separated by greenbelts and unhappy with State Government interference with the strategy.

Greens candidate for the state election Cr Rodney Degens, who did not attend Saturday’s rally, said while the Greens supported the council’s legal action, he was mindful of how extremely expensive the legal action could be and how unlikely it was to succeed.

He is urging voters to elect the Greens and himself as the Coffs Harbour candidate to shift the balance of the seat out of safe Nationals territory.

His fellow Greens councillor, Mark Graham, who spoke at Saturday’s rally, was more optimistic.

“The risks of the legal action are negligible compared to the cost to the ratepayers of picking up the pieces (if the developments proceed),” Cr Graham said.

“We have four very strong grounds for the appeal.”

Mr McKelvey said what residents want to see is the land in question brought through a number of environmental protection funding schemes.

These include the RTA compensatory habitats scheme, which buys land of environmental value to offset the native vegetation lost to construction work during the upgrading of the Pacific Highway and the Coastal Protection Fund.

“We are calling on NSW Planning Minister Tony Kelly to prohibit development at the South Moonee Forest and North Emerald Beach and to work with Coffs Harbour City Council and the community to purchase these important coastal icons under the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme,” said Ashley Love, co-founder of the Northern Beaches Alliance.

“We are also calling on the RTA to commit compensatory habitat funds to purchasing these natural assets,” said Mr Love.

“Council must act in the public interest and commit to appealing in the Land and Environment Court the concept approval of 200 houses at Hearnes Lake.”

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