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Cessnock Council must resist Labor Government's imposition of Planning Panel

Sylvia Hale MLC
By Peter Firminger

Date: 23-Aug-10
Author: Sylvia Hale MLC

Sylvia Hale MLC, Greens spokesperson on Planning and Local Government has called on Cessnock Council to challenge the State Government's imposition of a planning panel.

"Planning Minister Tony Kelly has written to the Council informing it that he has decided to appoint a Planning Panel which will be responsible for determining development applications and amending local environment plans," said Ms Hale.

"Cessnock Council should immediately challenge the legality of the Minister's decision. The reasons the Minister advances for removing the Councils' planning powers and handing them to a planning panel are spurious to say the least.

"Documents released to the parliament in June clearly indicate that there are no grounds to blame the current Council for any delay in amending Local Environment Plans.

"It is Minister Kelly and the Department of Planning who in June made a laughing stock of their planning competence by gazetting a map that contradicted the written description of area affected by the Kitchener LEP.

"Moreover, Minister Kelly's failure to revoke a Part 5.5 Direction issued to Cessnock Council until 18 June 2010 has effectively tied the Council's hands in dealing with Cessnock's Draft LEP.

"The direction required the Council not to prepare any planning document that was inconsistent with an agreement between the Minister for Planning and Hardie Holdings in December 2006.

"But the Land and Environment Court in August 2009 considered the agreement amounted to a 'land bribe'. Council has been between a rock and a hard place. If it complied with the Minister's direction, it would be acting illegally. But not complying has resulted in the Minister removing the Council's planning powers.

"The planning panel is comprised solely of Government appointees who are accountable to no one but the Government. Planning panel member Vince Berkhout was a member of a similar panel that took over Kuring-gai Council's planning powers and forced through a highly contentious and wildly unpopular LEP.

"The only beneficiary of the Minister's decision will be the Labor Party's generous donor Hardie Holdings whose Huntlee development has been widely condemned.

"Cessnock Council must use all its powers to contest the Minister's decision," said Ms Hale.

Contact: Colin Hesse on 02 9230 3030 or 0401 719 124

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