Cabbage Tree Road Sandmine

Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 1

This story above was edited 01 August 2015 as further information was received.

Australian Dollar Notes Bundles Stack

There is a fair bit of detail in this article but TRRA think this is necessary to understand the implications of this story, and get all of it properly on the record.

• This information was researched from the 35 newspaper reports and all the Council documents in our extensive TRRA database on the subject, and we feel that it needs to be aired in full. References are included at the bottom of the article.

• We hope the ratepayers of Port Stephens will consider our major articles like this when evaluating the Councils performance prior to the next election in 2016.

This story has been evolving as we researched it and The Cabbage Tree Mine is on The Agenda for the Council Meeting 28 July 2015. We will keep updating this story, on this page, it still has a long way to go.

150221 CQP Mine

 

 

 

Cabbage Tree Sand Mine Part 2

 Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 2

More updates on this story as they become available. 

Is Port Stephens Council As Financially Viable As They Would Like Us To Believe?

Australian Dollar Notes Bundles StackTRRA had a conversation with Councillor Geoff Dingle recently about the general state of the finances at Port Stephens Council.

Council’s future strategy was outlined recently in its ‘Fit for the Future’ submission to the State Government in which it stated that it would not be increasing rates by 45% like Newcastle Council, and would stay under the State cap.

• It would rely on income from its investments in The Cabbage Tree Sand Mine, the Newcastle Airport and its Holiday Parks to fund its future needs and address its $29 mill Infrastructure and maintenance backlog that grew by another $3 mill last year alone.

• Projected returns from the Newcastle Airport in the past have been optimistic to say the least and TRRA has serious doubts about the viability of the recent investments in the Holiday Parks and their projected returns. TRRA is also aware of some serious legal challenges that Council may be facing in the near future which may have major financial consequences.

• There may be serious environmental challenges ahead for the Cabbage Tree mine and the Council’s budget. The WSRA Group (Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group) are concerned about the effect on the Tomago water supply, native wildlife, traffic and noise issues and the plan to mine the sand using a dry method of filtering/extraction which may pose a serious health risk. There are many questions to be asked about the tender of this mine which will be covered in a major investigative article HERE.

Geoff has authorized us to publish this Press Release covering these issues.

Has The High Court Killed ICAC?

 

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Opinion: Dick Appleby

Canneen 2As a person who has taken a keen interest in the ICAC proceedings throughout 2014 – 15, attended one of the public hearings in Sydney, taken the time to read a lot of the transcripts and exhibits and even made the odd submission, I am truly sickened and disgusted by the recent High Court Decision which it seems will have far reaching consequences for past and future Inquiries of the Commission.

 

The High Court of Australia in CanberraThe Commission, whilst not able to prosecute in its own right, and not bound by some of the constraints on the level of evidence required in conventional court cases, had the powers required and was extremely successful in rooting out corruption and exposing it to a stunned public.

 

icac-inquiry-into-mcgurks-death-after-nsw-dataIt has obviously been a victim of its own success. Watching rich businessmen and politicians looking very uncomfortable having to face direct questioning in public, not being able to hide as usual behind their very expensive briefs, (that ordinary people cannot afford), was very heartening. The Commission has been accused of acting like a Star Chamber , maybe it did to a degree, but it is now obvious that it was more effective than anything else that has been tried in the past.

 

BaumanIt was just too good, the first thing the Cunneen case did was put everything on hold until the NSW election was over, that was convenient! Now the High Court has taken a very narrow view on a technical legal interpretation of what the definition of corruption actually means. That has overturned the whole  premise that the Commission has been operating under since it was established by Nick Griener in 1988.

 

ObeadThis has created a lawyers picnic, allowing anybody named in past operations and some ongoing ones to challenge those decisions in court, (if they can afford it), and guess what, most of them can!! This could be remedied immediately by a few small changes in the legislation to reinstate this power to the Commission retrospectively by our politicians. Was it not doing what was intended or was there a small legal glitch in the legislation that nobody knew was there for 27 years? Over to you Mr Baird and Mr Foley……… but being a bit of a cynic I am not holding my breath!

From The Sydney Morning Herald:
Sydney Morning Herald 23 April 2015: ICAC Findings Overturned
From The AFR Weekend
AFR 23 April 2015: ICAC Drops Corruption Case
From Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Herald May 05 2015: Baird’s Plan To Bolster ICAC’s Past Findings

Newcastle Herald May 06 2015:Bipartisan Support For ICAC ‘Validation Bill’

Newcastle Herald 07 May: Kate Washington Thanks ICAC in Maiden Speech

ABC The Drum 8 May 2015: Good On Mike Baird For Cleaning Up The ICAC Mess

Newcastle Heard 09 May 2015: Ex MPs To Face Supreme Court

Lewis Cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Exercise Areas Adopted by PSC

Cleanup PupCouncil Press Release 12 December 2014: Community, Councillors and Council staff work together on dog exercise areas

Designated Dog Exercise Areas Maps etc. 

Port Stephens Council Companion Animal Management Program

Previous Posts On This Issue

 

Bobs Farm Sand Mine – Information

See the Video: SAND FIGHT produced by Channel Ten

Give it a little time to download (mp4 video 20MB)

If it won’t work on your player, try FLV FILE 15 MB Version

Update 09 December 2014

TRRA Inc. held one of these workshops in relation to the Soldiers Point Marina  and it was well attended and very successful. We recommend your attendance if you are interested in defending Your local environment.

150109 Community Workshop

 

Original Post 23 December 2014:

TRRA Inc. do not have a position on this proposal yet, we are still gathering information on it and we have collated what we have so far for our members and Committee to form a view. We have attached links to the newspaper coverage and wont repeat the details of the proposal and the public meeting which has been well covered in the articles, maps and documents below.

Local Reaction
Local Reaction

We will continue to post further information and Media as it comes to hand. We encourage our members and local Bobs Farm Residents to comment on this issue in the comment box below.

The extra traffic on Nelson Bay and Marsh Road on top of the other sand mining activities in the area and the mines proximity to Bobs Farm township and its school have certainly received plenty of attention in the media, but the process has a long way to go yet, and there will be ample opportunity to make submissions and voice opinions.

This project has been on the cards for a while and although Council Officers were aware of it back in February 2014 most Councillors read about it in the papers when the local P&C were contacted by the proponents for an ‘Information” session.  A public meeting was called on 25 November 2014. Several of our committee members attended the meeting and local residents have requested our assistance.

141125 Report to TRRA Inc.

Letter From Bobs Farm Resident To TRRA

Say No To Sand Mining in Bobs Farm is on Facebook.

The site had some history to it, as This Document shows, the original owners application to clear vegetation from 14 hectares for an olive farm in 2002 was refused. In 2010 the Council received a complaint and discovered that sometime between 2002 and 2004, 4.68 hectares was cleared without consent. Although Government Authorities were aware of this, it was not reported to Council and nothing was done about it. Note also that this document specifically recommends against entry or exit to the site from Marsh Road and gives clear reasons why.

To get a better Idea of what is proposed click on the links below.

Bobs Farm Sand Project (location Map)

Bobs Farm Project – Site Plan 1 (With Aerial)

Bobs Farm Sand Project – Site Plan

Ammos Resource Management: Exploration Licence (View PDF’s)

Tattersall Lander Pty Ltd: Consultants

NSW Planning And Environment – Major Projects – Bobs Farm Sand Mine

Media coverage:

Newcastle Herald 24 November 2014: PICS: Plans For Sand Mine Next To Primary School

Australian Mining 26 November 2014: New Sand Mine Proposed For Small NSW town

Newcastle Herald 28 November 2014: Fears Nelson Bay Road will become an ‘accidental highway’

Examiner 02 December 2014: No sand mine in our backyard says Bobs Farm residents

Newcastle Herald 02 December 2014: LETTER: Suspicion over mine justified

ABC News 04 December 2014: Bobs Farm locals worried about environmental impacts of sand mine

NBN News 27 Feb. 2015: Anger Over Port Stephens Sand Mine Proposals

Newcastle Herald 27 Feb.: Greens Dig In Against Port Stephens Sand Mine Plans

Newcastle Herald 07 October 2014: Sandmine Lease Advice Ignored

Welcome!

What Is The True State Of The Books At PSC? Part One

Financial-Statements Part One of a series of articles:

Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a Council meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils Annual Financial Statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then adopted,  moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. This action is of great concern to TRRA Inc. This just means less transparency and accountability by this Council to its ratepayers

TRRA Inc. – What we do and Why

Financial%20Management%20and%20PlanningTRRA Inc. membership consists of ratepayers on the Tomaree Peninsula who really care about protecting their lifestyle and environment. That is why they join and come to meetings. They in turn have elected a Committee of activists who were experts in their field, to ensure that their voices are heard by the elected Council Representatives and Council Staff who control that environment.  Everyone gets a chance to elect the Councillors and the Mayor once every four years, but some obviously do not care enough to inform themselves sufficiently before election day, and don’t worry about it afterwards until the next one. Probably none of them would bother to join TRRA.

Politics and vested interests, as we have clearly seen in the last Council election, often distort the process and we have to wear the result for another four years.  Many of our Councillors do not think that they need to be accountable to the electorate until the next election.  Some I have to spoken to say “I have been elected by the people, so I will do whatever I think is right for the rest of my term, that is what I was elected to do.”  They even go out of their way to make sure we don’t even find out what they did, by invoking “commercial in confidence etc.”  Others actually consult with groups like ours and talk directly to their constituents to find out what they want of if they have changed their views!

On our Committee we have had many people from diverse backgrounds,  Some have retired, some are still working.  It is a moving feast because people travel or move and are not always available, some people are more passionate about certain things than others. In the last few years we have had input from Business Consultants, Managers, Lawyers, Accountants, Union Officials and people with PHDs in Environmental Planning, Privacy Commissioners, retired Teachers and Public Servants with expertise in preparing and making complex submissions to Council and various Government Departments.

We have had a small team of qualified people analyse the PSC Financial Statements for 2013-14 as we do each year, and we have some serious concerns, but we are not prepared to release the result at this time. When you read the rest of this story you will understand why.

This Council has form……

Businessman and ComputerIn 2010 we had a major disagreement with Council Management about a proposed rate rise, and the way that they were administering their Council owned Holiday Parks. They were also operating some Parks on Crown Land and questionable Council run businesses associated with this activity.  Enquiries from TRRA and articles in the Newcastle Herald lead to the Crown commissioning Delloittes to audit their books .  There was an adverse finding, and although the Crown had no objection, TRRA Inc. then had a two and a half year battle with Council management through the GIPPA freedom of information process, involving the Office of The Information Commissioner and the Minister for Local Government to get access to the audit. By the time we did it was ancient history and Council had complied with the schedule forced on them by the Crown to disentangle the Council Funds from the Crown funds (everything was in one bucket and even the auditors had to guess who was entitled to what). Council were told in no uncertain terms that there must be transparency and accountability in future in the way that these business units were operated. The Deloitte Report cost $75,000.00 (it has 75 pages = $1,000.00 a page!) and our copy is a scanned one, so it is too big to post here. Suffice to say: the Trust Fund was frozen, and Council was given 2 years to sort it all out.

120312 Crown Respose To Deloitte Report

120517 Letter to OIC re Review

121127 IPC Report On GIPPA Request

Council lost every argument on this including the rate rise (disallowed by the Minister because they had lost more in one year  on one failed business venture than the rate rise would have raised, and done nothing to address that problem) They constantly obfuscated and appealed every decision until there was no where left to hide.  This is when the dreadful loss of 17 Million Dollars (and counting) at Samurai Holiday Resort became apparent, and they were exposed for very dodgy accounting in their business units. We think each Business Unit should be accountable separately, we have a right to know to know what is performing and what is not performing, and the reasons why, after all it is our money! It appears that the Holiday Parks lost about $856K in 2013. We don’t know what happened in 2014. We have serious misgivings about what is going on at Soldiers Point and what we still call Samurai.

Here We Go Again…………….!

iStock_000003584033Large_7Imagine our surprise when we discovered (belatedly, we can’t stay on top of everything that they do!) that Tim Hazel, Financial Section Manager, recommended to a meeting on 08 April 2014 that: “Council resolve to no longer include business units as part of Councils annual financial statements.” This resolution was moved and seconded by East Ward Councillors John Nell and John Morello. The motion was then moved and seconded by The Mayor Bruce Mackenzie and seconded by John Morello. The convoluted argument put in the report in support this resolution is contained in the Council Papers HEREIt tries to avoid any future accountability by saying that a requirement for  a “competitive Neutrality policy” in 1993 no longer applies and a gives a totally confusing definition of when a business is not a business, neither of which address transparent business practice and accountability to stakeholders (Us!) which is actually the point of producing a financial statement.

This is the bit that really blew us away given Councils recent history:

“The current process of reporting on the existing four (4) business units being Property Development, Holiday Parks, Civil Works and the Newcastle Airport is manual by nature, time consuming to prepare, confusing to the users of the financial statements, and when assessed on the whole adds no benefit to the users of Council’s financial statements.”

“By eliminating the Special Purpose Financial Statements for business units this will have a reduction in the time taken to complete the financial statements, a reduction in the time taken to audit the financial statements, and remove an area of great complexity from the interpretation of the result of the business units.”

“They are pretty dumb, what they don’t know, won’t hurt ’em!!!”

It is not just us you know, most of the Councillors don’t know what is going on either! The information is just not there in the books, but they signed off on it anyway………..

The key to all in this document is the Risk Assessment:

“There is a risk that the new auditors may disagree with the proposed treatment” – not likely, that was probably why they got rid of the last lot!

“There is a risk that members of the public may comment unfavourably regarding the removal of the business units” Well they sure as hell got that right!

These are our “unfavourable Comments”

141124 Comments to Councillors Nov 25 Meeting Agenda item 5

 141202 Submission to PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Minister re PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

 141121 Letter to Shadow Minister LG PSC Financial Statements 2013-2014

141211 Letter To Ombudsman PSC Financial statements 2013-2014

141121 letter to Examiner – PSC Not Reporting Business Units

Council Adopted the 2013 -2014 Audit Committee Report on 09 December 2014, with this:

141208 Mayoral Minute – Annual Financial Reports

‘”The TRRA contends that information contained within these reports was useful and served a specific purpose, particularly in relation to the Holiday Parks. It is suggested that contact will be made with the TRRA to provide a high level of financial analysis to assist them in their enquiries. The submission has been forwarded to Council’s external auditor as required by legislation.”

We are waiting, pencils sharpened, calculators and spread sheets at the ready…………..Stay tuned!

financialStatement1

 

Financial-StatementsIn Part Two of this series:

We report on the reaction of the Government and the Council to our submissions:

Write Off Unrecoverable Debit…..!

billsThis little Gem was on Page 131 of the Papers  for the 28 October 2014 Ordinary Council meeting. CLICK HERE.

We  are still scratching our heads about this one.  What happened is clear in the report but we have never heard of  lease where the landlord pays the power bill then chases the tenant to recover it.  Forgetting to send the accounts is unforgivable but who is the intellectual giant at Council that draws up the leases. Obviously the legal advice that the Tenant got was a lot better than the Councils, that might explain some of the the other legal pickles we are in at the moment.

The Eagleton Quarry near Raymond Terrace is a case in point, we are yet to hear what the withdrawal from the case in the Land and Environment Court has cost Ratepayers. The potential of the long running case over the Lagoons Estate drainage is still of great concern, it has been in court again recently as well.  More reports on these matters as information comes to hand.

Samurai Beach Resort – The last Naked Truth?

Samurai Beach Resort – The Last Naked Truth?

Samurai TNT 4

 

Samurai Beach Resort is no more. The last 5 page report about the resort to the October 28 2014 Council Meeting did not contain any reference to Samurai in all 5 pages. All memory of Samurai Beach Resort has been expunged, deleted, erased! Council Staff refers to it as 562 Gan Gan Road, One Mile Beach. Carmel Foster – Acting Group Manager Corporate Services now calls it ‘TreEscape Park!’

TRRA Inc. still remembers it as  the black hole that swallowed at least $17 Mill of ratepayers funds, that Council closed in April 2013 and now they are going to borrow another half a million dollars to open it up again!

The letter TRRA Inc. sent to Councillors before the Council Meeting is HERE

A copy of a letter from the avid Council watcher “Concerned Ratepayer” sent to us and Councillors is HERE

A response from Carmel Foster A/Group Manager Corporate Services is HERE  

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Despite our concerns the TreEscape proposal was supported by all but one Councillor (Dingle) at the meeting. The motion was that Council:

  1. Endorses the opening of the business as an affordable camping and accommodation enterprise.
  2. Approves utilizing funds from the Property Reserve until funds are received from the sale of cabins on the site for the construction of infrastructure and refurbishment of existing units.

TRRA Inc. have examined the material that Council have released on the proposal so far, and from what we can see for the short term they are just reopening the resort on the same basis that it was operating before closure in 2013.  The proposed sale of the demountable cabins next year is of great concern to us because the proceeds are to be ploughed back into the site infrastructure, including building a camp kitchen.  What is the exit strategy here?  If they could not sell it before with decent accommodation on it, imagine what they will get for it with a few tents and a camp kitchen.  The projected $450,000 sale price for the demountables is very optimistic.  Where is the evidence for a market in second hand cabins?.  The specialized craneage and transport costs to move the units may be more than the cost of new units, delivered in flat-pack form and bolted together onsite.

The original proposal to sell the cabins first, which would at least have determined their real value, has now been superceded by borrowing the $450,000 from the Property Trust Fund, without any guarantee of recouping that amount.  So they are going to throw another borrowed half million at a very flawed investment with little prospect of recovery.

TRRA Inc.  seriously doubt the viability of this proposal, If Council are going to borrow more money for this failed investmentratepayers will want detailed answers to the following questions:

  1. How much money has this investment cost the ratepayers of Port Stephens so far since this property was purchased in 2001, including loan, insurance, security, maintenance costs and depreciation. Before we commit any more resources, what does it owe the ratepayers already?
  2. What offers were received when the lease was put on the market twice, (The Mayor is quoted in the Examiner as refusing $2.6 Mill,) why were they refused and how much did these processes cost?.
  3. Let the community see the full business plan underpinning this further loan and investment. We want our accountant to evaluate it. (If any of the figures are legitimately deemed ‘Commercial in Confidence’ we will respect that). But the community needs to be convinced that this will work!
  4. How much will it cost to reopen the park now that it has been closed for 20 months? What condition is the Wedding Marquee in? What will it cost to clean and reopen the pool and the units, and bring the landscaping up to scratch?
  5. What are the terms of the renegotiated lease with the Crown? Why was this not done much earlier when it became obvious that the original lease was unsustainable?
  6. What is the end game here? Is there any exit strategy?

Successive Councils have abdicated their responsibilities and completely failed their constituents since it became obvious that this investment was an absolute dog back in about 2004.  TRRA Inc. is amazed, given this history, that the Property Services Dept. would come up with this recommendation to go after this very different market, and that the majority of our Councillors would just accept their proposal without question after closing the facility altogether last April.

TRRA Inc. remains to be convinced that there is any merit in this proposal and we demand some answers from Council to our considered questions as soon as possible.

TRRA Inc. will be submitting a GIPPA (Freedom of information) request to Council immediately.

Council Press Release 30 October 2014:

New affordable holiday destination at One Mile gets the green light

On Tuesday night, Councillors endorsed the opening of TreEscape Park, an affordable camping and accommodation destination at 562 Gan Gan Road, One Mile Beach.

They also approved the sale of 11 onsite cabins in the new year, the funds from which will be used for new infrastructure and the refurbishment of existing units.

TreEscape Park will provide low-cost accommodation and camping facilities that will allow holiday-makers to take full advantage of all the activities in and around Port Stephens.

TreEscape Park will provide opportunities for educational and activity-based camps for school groups, leveraging off the extensive native flora and fauna. It also aims to promote outdoor physical and creative activities such as bush-walking and jewellery-making, as well as social activities like cooking, sing-alongs and campfire storytelling – old-fashioned fun that is perhaps being left behind in the age of rapidly-advancing technology.

The Park also has a tennis court and fully landscaped swimming pool and spa, making it the perfect family summer holiday destination.

TreEscape Park will be operational by this Christmas 2014.

A Double Whammy For Nelson Bay CBD

Update 16 December 2014: Port Stephens Council delivers on a Christmas promise for car parks

Hot on the heels of the announcement that the Nelson Bay Coles Supermarket is to close on 09 November 2014 we now get the News that the Donald street multi story Car park will close on 05 November as well.

Examiner 30 November 2014: Difficult Times For Nelson Bay CBD

Council Media Release: HERE Potential Lease sites: 35-39 Donald St. 9-11 Government Road

Council Media Release: Car Park Closure Location Map

Donald St Car ParkThis will have a devastating effect on parking in Nelson Bay CBD once the fence goes up around the Woolworths Construction site, and all but the ground level parking is closed at Donald Street. TRRA will be attending a ‘Business Breakfast’ tomorrow morning to gauge the Business Association’s reaction to this news. It appears that this will be a long term situation unless Council can lease some alternative land and make it suitable for parking pretty soon.

The timing of these announcements is unfortunate, just before the busy Xmas tourist season. We would like to know how long Council has known about this situation?  TRRA has repeatedly asked for better signage and  a cleanup of this area in the last six months but there has been a flat no to spending any money on rectifying anything to do with this building. How long has Council been sitting on this issue? We have a letter, signed 31 March 2009 by Carmel Foster, PSC Commercial Property Manager, stating that:“The existing structure in the short term will require substantial maintenance at considerable cost to Council.”

TRRA Inc. has some history with the Council and the Donald Street East Car Park. We made extensive submissions to Council about a proposed Public Private Partnership with Coral Corp Pty. Ltd on the site in 2008. This process had actually started in August 2006. The whole thing came unstuck when the developer insisted on a lot of commercial retail and residential being incorporated into the development to make it viable. When calculations were done by TRRA to include the required off street CBD parking as well, the structure needed to be over 10 stories high which would not have been appropriate for this site. Then the GFC came along and the whole thing was put in the too hard basket.

TRRA Inc. also has major concerns about the frittering away of section 94 funds by this Council on small projects.  We had a building boom here in the Bay 5 to 7 years ago and substantial funds were contributed by developers at the time. These funds should have been earmarked for major community infrastructure, related to those DAs, and been used as a basis for applications to Government for grants to support that essential big ticket infrastructure, not spent on elaborate structures to accommodate commercial ventures such as the $8 mil spent on surf clubs. We support Surf clubs and their storage and facility needs but we are not sure even they envisaged what they ended up with.

Where are the section 94 funds now? a lot of it was wasted on commercial ventures and Councillors small pet projects, now it is all gone. The foreshore work at Nelson and Shoal Bay is an exception but that was peanuts in the overall scheme of things.

The only piece of good news is that one enterprising business has seen the opportunity presented and looks set to cash in, if the customers can find a park!

Examiner 29 October 2014: Pub To fill Grocer Gap At Nelson Bay

Parliamentary Inquiry To investigate Planning Decisions In The Hunter

 ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 17 September 2014: NSW Parliamentary Inquiry To Investigate Planning Decisions In Newcastle

NSW-Parliament

A Parliamentary Inquiry has been set up to investigate controversial planning decisions in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. The inquiry comes in the wake of an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into allegations Liberal MPs in the Hunter received illegal political donations from developers.

 

Call for Submissions: HEREThe full terms of reference for the inquiry: HERE.

TRRA Inc. has already had our concerns about PS Council  raised in Parliament HERE.

Follow up letters were sent by Hon Sophie Costis MLC: HERE

After the ICAC inquiry another letter was sent to Council and the Minister HERE. 

Port Stephens Council response HERE

Minister Toole’s response is HERE

TRRA will be accepting the Minster’s invitation and making an extensive submission to the inquiry requesting that all planning and other decisions made by Port Stephens Council involving Buildev Pty. Ltd. and those named in ICAC Operation Spicer be reviewed forthwith.

TRRA will be actively lobbying the members of this Legislative Council Inquiry to “inquire into and report on aspects of the planning process in Newcastle and the broader Hunter Region”  Watch this space!