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West Yamba rezoning motion defeated

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A motion to rezone land at West Yamba not already subject to development applications from residential to conservation and rural status has been defeated, with many Clarence Valley Councillors indicating they want to wait for the latest flood modelling to be released before deciding on the issue.

Deputy Mayor Greg Clancy put forward a motion at the April 18 Clarence Valley Council CVC meeting, which was seconded by Cr Jeff Smith, that council:

  1. note the legal advice tabled at the February Ordinary Council Meeting that compensation would not be payable in the event that the Department of Planning and Environment, on the recommendation of Council, was to approve a rezoning of lands in the West Yamba Urban Release Area (WYURA) from residential R1 to C2 or a mix of C2 and RU2 depending on the results of the planning study;
  2. prepare a planning proposal for submission to the Department of Planning and Environment requesting that the vacant land, which do not have development approval for subdivision, in the West Yamba Urban Release Area (WYURA) be rezoned from Residential (R1) to Conservation (C2) zoning or a mix of Conservation (C2) and Rural (RU2) based on the impacts of further development on the environment and the risk to human life and property from future flooding.

Prior to the CVC meeting, councillors heard deputations supporting the rezoning from Greens MLC and Environmental Lawyer Sue Higginson, Lynne Cairns from Yamba CAN, Engineer Peter Maslen and Yamba Local Craigh McNeill.

Cr Clancy said the 2022 floods in February and March had brought the issue to a head, and following the devastation suffered across the Northern Rivers, both the Prime Minister and former NSW Premier had spoken out about no allowing future developments on floodplains.

As both Mayor Ian Tiley and Cr Peter Johnstone are members of the Northern Regional Planning Panel, they declared a conflict of interest in the motion and left the council chambers for the vote.

CVC Director Environment and Planning Adam Cameron responded to Cr Karen Toms question about the average length of time planning proposals take, to which he replied 12 to 18 months for a straightforward planning proposal, or longer the more issues there are that need to be addressed.

“The more up to date and accurate information on which the planning proposal would be based would sit it in better stead with the Department of Planning…it is the Minister of Planning who will decide whether or not to approve the planning proposal,”

Director Cameron told Cr Debrah Novak. Speaking in support of the motion, Cr Jeff Smith said it was appropriate that council was in the same chamber where the WYURA experiment began in October 1995.

“As intelligent human beings, I feel we can do better than what we have been doing, we continue to build on floodplains and expect some sort of different result,” he said.

Cr Smith said he had received 38 emails against WYURA, several phone calls and people pulling him up in the street, but he hadn’t seen or heard of any support for WYURA.

“It’s a risk, we’ve got to be brave, but it’s an important turning point, I hope, for floodplain management in the future,” he said.

Like most councillors, Cr Bill Day applauded the passion and shared the goals behind Cr Clancy’s notice of motion, but he said new versions of the NSW Floodplain Development Manual and CVC’s Clarence River Flood model were imminent, which will include study of the 2022 floods and the impact of the highway upgrade, and as other councillors suggested, council should wait for these studies.

As there is no case law history on downzoning land in NSW, Cr Day said he would be amazed if council could avoid major legal challenges which could ‘bankrupt council’ if the proposal went ahead.

Cr Steve Pickering congratulated Cr Clancy on putting forward the motion, but said he had to base his decision on facts, and council should review updated NSW and Clarence Valley flood modelling before making a decision.

“The millions of dollars that may be payable in compensation, it’s a risk that is just too great for this council…as my colleague councillor Day stated, it could bankrupt this council,” he said.

Speaking against the motion Cr Karen Toms said, ‘why does this council have to go out and risk hundreds of thousands of dollars for a planning proposal to try and change some zoning, in one little, tiny area of the Clarence Valley.’

“I don’t understand how we expect Minister Scully to actually decide to back zone, it’s never happened anywhere else and why would this council go out and waste ratepayers’ money trying to be the first,” she said.

Speaking against the motion, Clarence Valley Floodplain committee chair Cr Debrah Novak said council staff and councillors don’t dispute what’s happening at West Yamba, but like fellow councillors she said council’s decision should be based on updated NSW Government and council floodplain studies which will be released in coming weeks.

“I am happy to lead with my chin…but hell I’m not going to do it without having something behind me, backing me, and that is an arsenal of information and evidence to do that,” she said.

“That’s why I’m not supporting Cr Clancy’s nom today, because I want to see it happen faster, and I want an arsenal behind me.” Cr Clancy’s motion was defeated 5 -2 with only Cr Smith supporting.

Cr Day then put forward a foreshadowed motion that council:

  1. make a submission to the NSW Premier, Hon Chris Minns and NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Hon Paul Scully, copying in the Member for Clarence, Richie Williamson MLA, seeking a commitment that the NSW government will support and indemnify Council in the event of litigation occurring, should Clarence Valley Council seek rezoning of the of the West Yamba Urban Release Area, based on the impacts of further development on the environment and the risk to human life and property from future flooding.
  2. share this submission with the NRJO (Northern Regional Joint Organisation of councils) and seek their support.

Cr Day’s foreshadowed motion was defeated 4-3, with Cr’s Day, Pickering and Smith supporting.

Cr Clancy has indicated he will bring the initial motion back before council in three months. 

Clarence Valley Independent 26 April 2023

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 26 April 2023.

Related story: But, protestors support West Yamba rezoning

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