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Councillor says Maclean at risk from negative vibes

CLAIMS like "Maclean isn't dying, it is being killed", could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Mayor Richie Williamson.

The Mayor was commenting on an open letter from the Greater Maclean Community Action Group, claiming Clarence Valley Council's decisions were responsible for lack of development in the town.

Cr Williamson said he was fearful people interested in moving to, or setting up business in, Maclean would search the internet first to see what they could learn about the area.

"There is a real danger that what they will find will be negative vibes from some within the Maclean Community Action Group," he said.

"It could well be enough to turn them to other centres, and if that happens, Maclean will not be in a position to make the most of all the economic activity that will be happening over the next few years.

"We have great opportunities before us that need to be explored and capitalised on for the long-term benefit of the Clarence."

GMCAG secretary Ian Saunders penned the letter this week in the wake of a council decision to recommend rezoning of a parcel of land involved in the Maclean supermarket development to the State Government's Gateway planning process.

It said the council has proceeded with the rezoning application "without having proper understanding of what the full implications are".

"For councillors to understand the 'negativity' from the residents we represent, a step back is needed to look at what has happened to Maclean," he wrote.

"It is no longer negativity they will see; it is now a considerable anger. Maclean isn't dying, it is being killed.

"Everyone sees the need for a 'supermarket-anchored shopping centre' (a direct quote from the now outdated retail strategy).

"That is nothing like what is being proposed. There is absolutely no provision for future growth or expansion. Hasn't this council ever heard of 'long term planning'?"

But Cr Williamson said there was a long list of exciting developments for Maclean over the next few years, but was concerned some of the value they would bring would be lost through constant negativity by some in the Greater Maclean Community Action Group.

"I truly believe the future is bright for Maclean and the Clarence Valley; you just need to look at what is happening in the area to realise Maclean has a brilliant economic opportunity with a mix of public and private infrastructure planned," he said.

"The action group might not agree with the site, but we have a multi-million dollar supermarket development under consideration, we're finalising a $1.4-million upgrade of McLachlan Park, there's a new bridge to be built at Harwood, hundreds of jobs in highway development and a new highway off-ramp and service centre at Maclean that will provide direct connection to the new highway, which is positive for ongoing jobs in the industrial estate.

"On top of that we've got the redevelopment of Wherrett Park, which will be another spend of close to $1 million, recently council has finalised improvements to the Maclean Showground seating and stairs, opened a new RV Friendly facility, sewerage upgrades and have plans for the progressive upgrading of access to the Maclean riverfront in the CBD."

Mr Saunders said the council's lack of vision was not limited to Maclean.

"We have observed as a group this council's lack of expertise and commitment to even the most basic concept of assets and risk management and the pretence of public consultation," he said.

"If public consultation and planning were anything more than box ticking, there just may have been some acknowledgement in the 10-year plan that Grafton is at high risk of becoming a rural backwater when the new Harwood Bridge and Pacific Highway are completed.

"The State Corrective Services seem to have already realised that and no reasonable person actually believes there will be a second bridge over the Clarence at Grafton."

Mr Saunders' letter was also scathing of council that it did not have a representative at a public meeting on the Monday before the last council meeting.

"The public meeting on Monday last was not sponsored by council. It should have been," he said.

"It explained very professionally exactly what was proposed in the DA for the supermarket and how it would impact on the town.

"It was the result of lot of effort by the Maclean Action Group and it drew the wholehearted support of the 3000-strong Maclean Bowling Club."

"There has been absolutely no response from council to the issues presented. Public consultation is a box to be ticked and the responses are simply ignored."

Cr Williamson said the action group needed to be aware there were statutory planning processes council must follow.

"Council is not the proponent for the development and must consider any applications from a neutral position," he said.

"It is an assessment authority and it is inappropriate to make any comment or lead any discussion during the assessment process."
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The full open letter from Ian Saunders of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group:

Ian Saunders, Greater Maclean Community Action Group.
Ian Saunders, Greater Maclean Community Action Group.

Dear Councilors,

We understand many Councilors perceive the activities of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group as negative and reactionary. Unfortunately that perception has arisen following public delivery of an objective and responsible planning assessment made of the proposed supermarket in Maclean's car park. Council only last Tuesday has voted to proceed with the rezoning of this application without having any proper understanding of what the full implications are.

For Councillors to understand the "negativity" from the residents we represent,  a step back is needed to look at what has happened to Maclean.  It is no longer negativity they will see; it is now a considerable anger.  Maclean isn't dying, it is being killed.

Everyone sees the need for a "supermarket anchored shopping centre" (a direct quote from the now outdated Retail Strategy).  That is nothing like what is being proposed.  There is absolutely no provision for future growth or expansion.  Hasn't this Council ever heard of "long term planning"?

We have observed as a group this Councils lack of expertise and commitment to even the most basic concept of "Assets and Risk Management" and the pretence of public consultation.  Implicit in the process of Consultation is the recognition of the opinions expressed, acquiescence or rational informed debate to the contrary, and above all, feedback.  Council doesn't even pretend to do that.  If public consultation and "planning" were anything more than "box ticking", there just may have been some acknowledgement in the 10 year plan that Grafton is at high risk of becoming a rural backwater when the new Harwood Bridge and Pacific Highway are completed.  The State Corrective Services seem to have already realised that and no reasonable person actually believes there will be a second bridge over the Clarence at Grafton.

As for Maclean, in 10 years this Council has delivered very little positive value to the town.  But the negatives are numerous and significant.  There has not been so much as a new rubbish bin put in this town over all that time.  The main street is breaking up and will soon look like a patchwork quilt, if indeed it is patched at all.  The only new footpath constructed by Council in 10 years is 13 metres from the CBD car park. It was constructed by throwing dry mix asphalt over grass, and is now almost completely overgrown. We now stand to lose most of what little green space we have in central Maclean and the destruction of the heritage in McLachlan Park seems imminent. We did, however, get a new toilet block which wasn't needed when there was already a perfectly good one just needing overhaul, at a fraction of the cost of the new one. I won't go further with the list but suffice to say it is very long.
 

The public meeting on Monday last was not sponsored by Council.  It should have been!  It explained very professionally exactly what was proposed in the DA for the supermarket and how it would impact on the town. It was the result of lot of effort by the Maclean Action Group and it drew the wholehearted support of the 3,000-strong Maclean Bowling Club.  There has been absolutely no response from Council to the issues presented. Public consultation is a box to be ticked and the responses are simply ignored. The supermarket debacle is only one of the many examples.

There were comments that audio visual presentation was difficult to hear and see.  Let me say that the Bowling Club is not a theatre and neither is the RSL.  Maclean has no theatre or anywhere else that is remotely suitable for public meetings or presentation using standard audio visuals.  There is a Civic Hall that is more than 100 years old, has a leaking roof and severe water damage to the ceiling and roof structure.  It is in that state because successive Councils have not carried out even basic routine maintenance.  I know of people who have left this town because they have to drive to Yamba to find anywhere they can have a family picnic and watch their children play.

Major trees (75-100 years old) have been removed and not replaced eg. the Taloumbi St Jacaranda and Fig trees.  The only four Camphor Laurels to be removed because of their genus are in one of only two small parks left in the town, if indeed the nature strip along the river can be called a Park.  There are estimated to be over 2000 Camphor Laurels growing in the Valley on public land but only the four delivering shade and ambience in Maclean are programmed for destruction and no "program" for the progressive removal and or replacement of the species exists.  Why the four in a Park in Maclean and why do this when the residents are overwhelming against it? Why would a Council crying poor even consider spending scarce cash on something like this? It's illogical and irrational.

However, all of that aside, the single most appalling facet of this Council Administration has to be the erratic and inconsistent application of its own drafted Policies, procedures and regulations.  Is it any wonder that the major investors bypass this Valley? It is just not worth the trouble, as the IGA no doubt is now starting to realize.  And that is why we will have to send our children away to find decent employment, and why we will pay rates 30% higher than inner city suburbs in Brisbane, and most other places in the State.

Do not for one moment interpret the absence of a Lower Clarence Candidate in the recent Council bi-election as an indication of complacency or acquiescence. It wasn't!  The years of disregard for the views and aspirations of the people of the Lower Clarence and the quest for responsible and professional planning may well materialize into something far more tangible in the lead-up to the next Council general election.

Ian Saunders, Hon Secretary GMCAG

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CVC Mayor Richie Williamson's full response:

Clarence Valley Mayor Cr Richie Williamson.
Clarence Valley Mayor Cr Richie Williamson.

Clarence Valley Mayor, Richie Williamson, said the council would take the views of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group on board, just as it also considered a wide range of views from other community groups and individuals.

"Public input is vital in the decision make process of council," he said.

"The action group would be aware its view is not the only view in the community and we are bound to take them all into account as part of our considerations."

Cr Williamson said there was a long list of exciting developments for Maclean over the next few years, but was concerned some of the value they would bring would be lost through constant negativity by some in the Greater Maclean Community Action Group.

"I truly believe the future is bright for Maclean and the Clarence Valley; you just need to look at what is happening in the area to realise Maclean has a brilliant economic opportunity with a mix of public and private infrastructure planned," he said.

"The action group might not agree with the site, but we have a multi-million dollar supermarket development under consideration, we're finalising a $1.4million upgrade of McLachlan Park, there's a new bridge to be built at Harwood, hundreds of jobs in highway development and a new highway off-ramp and service centre at Maclean that will provide direct connection to the new highway, which is positive for ongoing jobs in the industrial estate.

"On top of that we've got the redevelopment of Wherrett Park, which will be another spend of close to $1million, recently council has finalised improvements to the Maclean Showground seating and stairs, opened a new RV Friendly facility, sewerage upgrades and have plans for the progressive upgrading of access to the Maclean riverfront in the CBD."

Cr Williamson said he was fearful people interested in moving to, or setting up business in, Maclean would search the internet first to see what they could learn about the area.

"There is a real danger that what they will find will be negative vibes from some within the Maclean Community Action Group.

"It could well be enough to turn them to other centres, and if that happens Maclean will not be in a position to make the most of all the economic activity that will be happening over the next few years. We have great opportunities before us that needs to be explored and capitalised on for the long-term benefit of the Clarence."

Cr Williamson said the action group also needed to be aware there were statutory planning processes council must follow.

"Council is not the proponent for the development and must consider any applications from a neutral position," he said.

"It is an assessment authority and it is inappropriate to make any comment or lead any discussion during the assessment process."

Topics:  clarence valley council greater maclean community action group maclean richie williamson



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