Council fails the community on Nelson Bay High-rise
We are sad to report that Council has approved the 9-storey apartment building at 1 Yacaaba St, by a vote of 9 to 1, against the recommendation of its own planners, and ignoring the clear weight of opposition to high rise development in the town centre. We are particularly disappointed in our three East Ward Councillors – Dunkley, Nell and Abbott, who all voted for a last minute motion, with less than half an hour’s notice, from Mayor Palmer to approve the controversial proposal. Our thanks go to Cllr Arnott who alone opposed approval but was denied even the opportunity to move the published recommended motion to refuse.
Unfortunately there is no merits appeal option and while we think there are strong grounds to question the process that has led to the approval, a judicial review appeal is beyond our means. We can see three possible scenarios now. The development may go ahead and successfully sell to permanent residents, in which case there may at least be some benefit to compensate for the sacrifice of the town’s character. More likely is eventual completion but with sales mainly to investors, and a majority of units unoccupied for most of the year – the same sacrifice but with little long term benefit. A third scenario is for the site to remain undeveloped, like the one at Church Street approved in 2017. The threat of further tower blocks which would obscure views could well ruin the commercial prospects and sterilise the revitalisation prospects of the town.
TRRA believes that Council has now missed the opportunity to set a clear vision for the town that respects its unique geography and character. We remain strongly of the view that sensible new height limits, such as the modest increases agreed back in 2012, together with all the other aspects of the Nelson Bay Strategy which have broad support, could have attracted investment to revitalise the town. Instead, Council has voted to allow a more than doubling of the height limits across large areas of the town centre. Given the uncertainty this will create, landowners will now be trapped by a toxic mix of fear and greed, likely to result in a continued moratorium on new development.
There will be one last opportunity to challenge Council’s flawed vision, when the proposed new height limits adopted in September 2018 are put on exhibition as changes to the Local Environmental Plan later this year. But with 9 of our 10 elected representatives having made their position clear, a challenge is not likely to succeed. We should perhaps look instead to the September 2020 Council election at which Councillors will be held to account for their decisions.
TRRA’s Committee is considering what further action the community could take, including strong representations to the Minister for Planning on the flawed process followed by Council over the last few years and the implications of their approvals of major height variations for the character of the town. It is clear that there is a major backlash against overdevelopment throughout NSW, and even the pro-development State government is having second thoughts about its support for high rise development in many areas.