Recent Council approval of ‘Flood Mound Developments’

Recent Council approval Of ‘Flood Mound Developments’

 Against the recommendations of Council Staff

In an otherwise appalling Council meeting on 28th March 2017, attended by 4 TRRA members and a huge gallery, we witnessed a welcome turnaround on voting on DAs for earth mounds on flood plains.  Three DAs were recommended for refusal by Council officers and these were supported unanimously. This bucked the previous voting by “the bloc of 7” in approving these types of DAs since August 2014.

It seems that Cr Jordan was first to “have a change of heart” as he spoke strongly at the March 2017 meeting in support of refusal. He has maintained that position ever since, along with Crs Dingle, Nell and Kafer who voted against them.

Surprise, surprise, “back again” on the agenda items, for the huge agenda for 29 July 2017 meeting (and expected last one for this Council) were two of the three DAs for building on flood plains which were refused on 28th March! 

Once again the DAs were recommended for refusal by Council officers highlighting, amongst many other concerns, the velocity of the river, and the risk to SES volunteers in rescuing people. The use of good agricultural land for residential purposes was another concern regularly highlighted by Cr Nell.

The 29th July meeting was moved to 1st August because of a lack of a quorum for the 900 page agenda.

The two DAs were refused on 1st August, 2017 with Crs Jordan and Dover supporting Crs Dingle, Kafer and Nell. Two members of “the bloc” were absent.

But……. it didn’t end there! The Mayor and Cr Doohan immediately lodged rescission motions. An extraordinary meeting of Council then had to be called for 8th August to re-consider these 2 refusals.

This time Cr Dover voted with the Mayor, Cr Doohan and Tucker and, with Cr Kafer absent, gained the approval of these DAs with 33 conditions.

We were left to wonder “what happened” between 1st and 8th August to change Cr Dover’s vote which put these undesirable DAs across the line.

In response to a question about Earth Mounds on Flood Plains at the TRRA ‘Meet the Candidates’ Forum on Tuesday 15th August Cr Nell reminded Councillors that they can become individually financially liable for the decisions they make, and these approvals were not ones he ever supported. Cr Dingle had also opposed these DAs, and new candidates standing for Council, Ryan Palmer, Des Maslen, David Simms and Jamie Abbott all said that they would not have supported the approval.

Cr Dover was out on a limb. Cr Tucker, who is also standing for Mayor, did not attend the Forum. It would have been interesting to hear his reasons.

Only time will tell whether these approvals will put peoples’ lives at risk. The undesirable precedents set could be costly. Council (ratepayers!) could be up for legal costs in the future should others apply and be refused.

Prepared 20 August 2017 for TRRA by Margaret Wilkinson from research from minutes of Council meetings of 28th March, 1st August and 8th August 2017. 

Note the link to her previous article on this issue in 2015. The first recommended refusal by Council officers for the same reason as all the others, was overturned and approved on 26 August 2014 by “the bloc”.

 

3 thoughts on “Recent Council approval of ‘Flood Mound Developments’”

  1. Thanks Margaret for your detailed report on the situation, this is the stuff of Banana republic governance. Let’s thank big G that we will have a change of leadership and it’s becoming clear to me who the new mayor should be.

  2. Residential use of the Hunter floodplain .

    The following observations are underpinned by my experiences as a valuer in the Hunter and Hawkesbury valleys and by research undertaken when I was senior lecturer in property studies at UWS Hawkesbury.

    Floodplains form when watercourses deposit material (sand and silt): these alluvial deposits are then moved about by water over time. The Hunter catchment is a large one (comprising the Goulburn River in the West, Pages River in the north and, rising in the Barrington Tops, the Patterson and Williams Rivers and valleys). The fertile Hunter floodplains extend for almost the length of the Hunter River from near Murrurundi to Newcastle.
    Because of the size of the catchment, floods in the Hunter have been catastrophic (the 1955 flood is the best known because of the death and destruction wrought). All those involved with proposals for residential development of floodplain should read the Hawke Report 1958, which deals with the 1955 event
    .
    Simply, floodplains are the “basin” where the water goes during heavy rain. Because of the very large catchment, a great deal of water can concentrate in lower parts of the valley, and floodwaters can bury old river channels and carve new ones. A glance at Google Earth shows many examples of redundant channels (which may be modified by future floods). Because this landscape is less “permanent” than the low clay hills of the lower Hunter Valley, floodplain is mainly suited to farming. After the 1955 floods, our civic leaders decided that new residential development should not take place on floodplain.
    Subsequent flood mitigation works have moderated risk of flooding, but they haven’t removed it. Deaths due to flooding and loss of property and infrastructure have occurred up to 2015.

    Whilst some land use restrictions imposed in the 1960-1970s have been weakened, the realities remain. Floodplain remains unsuited to residential development. Even carefully constructed mounds can be swept away by flood: even where safe dry islands remain surrounded by water, civil authorities have argued against their occupation because of the potentially of increased need for rescue by flood boat or helicopter.

    Of course, risks vary across the floodplain. Understanding floodplains and water behaviour involves a range of skills (for example geomorphology and hydrology), and these specialist skills are not usually possessed by one person (though a single consulting firm may possess a range of experts). Land use planners will have a good idea of the studies required for individual applications: they also have the skills to interpret study results.

    Because of the complexities associated with issues of this ilk, I believe that our councillors (the lay- folk who act as our local councillors) should heed the advice of expert planners in dealing with applications for houses on floodplain. They need to do this in all complex development matters!
    I think that it is a very bad idea to put a house on a mound in an area that might become a raging torrent.

    I also think that our new councillors need to proceed on the basis that their own knowledge of such issues may be limited. In the words of Thomas Grey they need to “be with caution bold”. It may transpire individual limitations are greater than currently perceived! Let’s have no more political grandstanding! We want informed decisions.

    As a ratepayer I am fed up with all these petty (and irrelevant) politics!

    Michael Fibbens
    Raymond Terrace29/08/2017
    Refs.
    HAWKE. W. C., The Flood of February, 1955 in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Hunter Valley Conservation Trust

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