“Haven’t seen any houses floating past the Raymond Terrace Junction Inn so what’s the problem?” These were (close to actual) words from the Mayor on 14th April 2015 in questioning why Councillors Nell, Dingle and Kafer were not keen to approve yet another DA to build on earth mounds on flood plains. One week later we saw, blasted across our TVs, just what can happen with flooding. By the time the Dungog houses that floated away reached Raymond Terrace, they would have been reduced to timber only!
These approvals started in August last year and TRRA correctly predicted then that this would start a “flood” of similar applications which could risk public safety (particularly SES rescuers), set undesirable precedents and set Council up for legal costs in the future. During the recent floods a previous Manager of the SES in an article in the Newcastle Herald referred to the strains these approvals, and the ones approved by Maitland Council, are putting on the SES and their limited resources.
Two Seaham DAs were the first approvals in the Port Stephens Council area. This was on 26th August last year and was called up by Cr Le Mottee. The Council officers strongly recommended refusal and have done so for all subsequent applications. To quote parts of Council business paper “….located entirely in Floodway Excessive Depth Floodplain Management Zone…… risks associated with velocity…….which pose a risk to …. the safety of persons….. “placing further demand on already limited SES resources by way of domestic property protection, rescue/medivac and evacuation.”
With the precedent set ……next on 14th October 2014 came the proposal for multiple housing and a 4 lot subdivision at the Corner of Swan and Port Stephens Street in Raymond Terrace. This was recommended for refusal by Council officers on many grounds. It was highlighted to Councillors that this land is classified as a floodway, it floods on average every 5 years and any change in the floodway could have an adverse effect on other properties. Indeed that was to be the case
“Although the riverside town is used to flooding, dozens of locals spent the morning at the end of Swan Street watching all manner of debris, including several dead cows, float pads (Newcastle Herald 22.4.15)”
The DA could risk the safety of occupants when the buildings are completed. With two of the usual voting bloc absent and Cr Le Mottee not present due to his pecuniary interest, it took the casting vote of the Mayor to approve the development in principle with Council officers to submit conditions of consent to the next meeting of Council! With all the regular voting bloc (except Cr Le Mottee) present it subsequently sailed through at the 28th October 2014 meeting.
Since then there have been approvals given at Hinton and along Port Stephens Drive (adjacent the bus depot) Cr Nell has highlighted that, other than safety risks to the SES volunteers, the placement of earth mounds for housing onto the flood plain just reduces the amount of agricultural land, which should be kept to feed the people. He supported the Port Stephens Drive DA as it was related to an existing non agricultural business. He has spoken out strongly against all the others.
The latest one approved at Eagleton – a dual proposal – passed 6 for, 3 against (Le Motte had a pecuniary interest) at the last Council meeting of 14th April 2015. The following week these mounds were put to the test with SES volunteers put at considerable personal risk to ensure supplies and safety for those people and livestock isolated by flood waters on these earth mounds for several days.
The Newcastle Herald climbed aboard a helicopter with Newcastle-based Heliservices on Wednesday to take an aerial tour of the flood ravaged Hunter.
The worst affected areas were the tiny towns around the Hunter and Paterson rivers, where roads have become rivers and houses stand on only a few metres of dry land
TRRA Inc and the ratepayers of Port Stephens can only hope that the recent experiences put to rest any further approval of these earth mounds. Nature has a way of “having the last say”!
Compiled by Margaret Wilkinson, TRRA Secretary and who has attended many of the Council meetings at which these proposals were discussed approved by the Mayor’s voting bloc