Following the Town Hall meeting on 15 March, we now know there are imminent zoning changes coming into place in Hunters Hill on 26 April under the State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) legislated by the State Government.
These are E1 (Employment) zonings which will permit increased commercial development and expanded land uses and potentially open the way for significant changes in the areas that have been included, such as the Garibaldi heritage precinct, Woolwich Corner Village and Boronia Park.
The strength of community feeling about the lack of communication on these zoning reforms was clearly demonstrated at the Town Hall meeting and consequently the LEP/DCP Status Report was added as a ‘Late Agenda Item’ to Council’s meeting on Monday 27 March. Late-agenda-of-Ordinary-meeting-27-March-2023
The question was raised as to when Councillors were told of the new zoning proposals, and the explanation seemed to be that the General Manager in the role at the time, rather than formally briefing Council, added an item to the Councillor Weekly Bulletin on 1 April 2021, which was buried near the end of a very long bulletin and consequently missed by Councillors.
However it is no excuse for the GM and Mayor to say that it is the responsibility of the NSW Department of Planning to communicate zoning changes to the public. NSW Planning has confirmed that this would be impossible for them to do, so they rely on Councils to disseminate new planning information to their residents. This seems absolutely reasonable and achievable via websites, newsletters and other communications as a minimum.
Other neighbouring councils successfully involved their community particularly during the public exhibition period from 31 May 2022 to 12 July 2022, which has resulted in significant improvements for safeguarding their heritage from the excesses of the zoning expansion, so why not Hunters Hill?
NSW Department of Planning have also confirmed that they corresponded with Council on this subject many times, twice in 2021 and on 9 other occasions in 2022. Council itself communicated with the Planning Department on 5 occasions in 2022, the last one being in November 2022 prior to the December legislative changes. So, why didn’t Council hold a briefing or inform the community about these important reforms when they had many opportunities to do so?
The community feels seriously let down by these oversights and it has been suggested that residents are making a bigger issue of these planning changes than is warranted, because the current height restrictions are not changing under the zoning reforms.
However, our expert advice suggests the risk of the current LEP/DCP being undermined in the face of zoning changes to be implemented on 26 April, is very real indeed. Significant areas such as the Garibaldi precinct, Woolwich Corner Village and the residential area at 63-67 High Street Boronia Park, patently inappropriate for the new employment zoning, are vulnerable.
After several residents had expressed their concerns at Council’s meeting, Councillor Williams’ amended motion was successfully passed:
1. Receive and note the 4.17 agenda item report with the need to acknowledge that:
(a) the community meeting of 15th March clearly stated the importance of our tree canopy and garden settings
(b) the reference to the ‘Property Strategy and Community Infrastructure Plan’ clearly be identified as draft reports
2. Resolve to formally request the State Government to defer the implementation of the Governments Employment Zones Reforms to enable Council to adequately consult with its community
3. Planning processes be reviewed and reported back to the council to ensure that any future State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is reported formally to the council and allows for adequate community consultation
4. To make available to the public all non confidential documentation and correspondence relating to the communication to the department and other relevant bodies.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN NEXT?
The LEP/DCP must be strengthened to protect the character and heritage of our unique suburb. The community needs transparency and assurances that current and future DAs will not exploit loopholes that the new zoning may provide, while this is done.
The existing conservation areas need to be maintained and protections strengthened. Those referred to in the public meeting must not be removed from their current status. Changes to address the erosion of landscape and garden areas, extent of demolitions, increasingly excessive amounts of excavation, wall heights and setbacks, resulting in residential development that is at odds with the character of the conservation areas, must be made.
There should now be an opportunity to participate in shaping the zoning reforms and residents expect Council to do everything in its power to protect our heritage and environment. We urge you to write to the General Manager, Mayor and Councillors at:
to express your concerns and to seek assurances that any development applications for commercial uses in the new employment zones lodged prior to the finalisation of the new LEP and DCP, will be subject to rigorous scrutiny to ensure they do not breach current LEP standards.