West Yamba where to now?
Last week the Clarence Valley Council adopted the West Yamba draft local environmental plan, putting in motion the possibility for the creation of up to 1100 additional residential lots in the area.
The battle, however, is still raging for others who strongly oppose any development in West Yamba.
They say the council made its decision without properly understanding the details of neither the plan nor its environmental implications.
Rex Tory’s family has been in the Clarence Valley since 1885.
In the 1960s the Torys were the largest private landowners in West Yamba and today share 16 hectares in the area.
Mr Tory has been trying to push council into changing regulations to allow him to convert two hectare blocks into 0.4 hectare blocks, and last Tuesday’s council decision meant this may finally become a reality.
He’s hoping there will be no more hold ups for an area that has had the potential for development for the past 15 years.
Mr Tory sees the adoption of the plan by council as a great opportunity for the Valley, supporting jobs and opening up affordable building lots in Yamba.
He also says the draft LEP strikes a good balance between environmental considerations and development.
“I’ve lost three quarters of my land to environmental protection,” Mr Tory said, adding that environmental reports had cost him and other families ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’.
But not everyone shares Mr Tory’s enthusiasm for council’s decision.
Environmental educator Helen Tyas Tunggal became involved in the West Yamba debate in 2006 and tried to keep others informed about what she believed could escalate into an inappropriate development.
“As a nationally recognised environmental education consultant, I have major concerns that the councillors making West Yamba zoning decisions on behalf of ratepayers do not understand well enough the implications and are not as accurately informed as they need to be,” she said
On the morning of the council meeting to consider the LEP, Ms Tyas Tunggal sent all councillors a letter asking them to answer questions relating to zoning at West Yamba and outlining what she saw as the consequences of developing land that was subject to significant natural hazards.
She did not receive any answers to her questions.
“I acknowledge that there are some long term West Yamba land owners who have protected the environmental values of their land and want to make modest developments in sustainable ways,” she said.
“There are also people who have bought up land there purely to develop it and have been pushing council hard so that they can reap their profits before moving on.
“We do not know what they are planning because none of that detail ‘is required at this stage’.”
Ms Tyas Tunggal also has concerns about councillors being presented with ‘misleading’ land figures that said 449.3 ha of the total 690 ha site would be zoned for environmental protection.
She said that included in the 449.3 ha was 343ha of national parks and Birrigan Gargle Land Council land, whose future was still unresolved and was an issue that would need to be addressed in consultation with land owners and the community at some stage.
A common argument throughout the west Yamba debate has been that Yamba needs to open up more land for residential development to allow for expansion, in addition to shopping centres, aged care and medical facilities.
However, some environmental groups argue that, at some point, limits to growth must be discussed and Yamba’s physical restraints taken into account.
In the Draft Mid North Coast Regional Strategy, (NSW Department of Planning’s 25 year land use strategy) Yamba is identified as a ‘town’ on similar scale to Dorrigo, South West Rocks and Nambucca Heads.
In its definition, a town is a larger settlement with limited service catchment relative to larger towns, small to medium scale concentration of retail, health and other services and lower density residential, reliant on major regional centres and major towns for high order services, retail and employment.
In comparison, the draft strategy identifies Maclean, Bellingen and Macksville as a ‘major town’ and Grafton and Coffs as ‘major regional centres’.
Mark Graham is an independent ecologist whose involvement in this area has included preparing a report for the by the Clarence Corridors Project and submitting a paper to the then Minister for Planning Frank Sartor for the Mid North Coast Regional Alliance for Sustainable Planning (RASP) who have repeatedly raised concerns about development at West Yamba.
He describes council’s move to open up West Yamba for development at West Yamba as ‘disturbing’, citing West Yamba as one of the areas most vulnerable and high risk in terms of flooding and inundation, equating West Yamba with New Orleans.
“I fear for the wellbeing of any one who will be living there,” he said.
Mr Graham said water displacement caused by land fill and development would result in lower water quality in Lake Wooloweyah, impacting on the commercial fishing industry.
The Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Plan, adopted along with the West Yamba Draft LEP, states that ‘approximately 1.3 million cubic metres of fill may be required for development to proceed in the area. ‘This equates to approximately one truck movement every six minutes (includes return trip) for eight hours a day, five days a week for 9.5 years.’
Concerns have also been raised about where fill might come from, about weeds that it may contain and mosquitoes breeding in pools of water that collect at the bottom of filled areas.
Mr Graham said he had no confidence in the State Government to stop floodplain development, citing a similar development at the Great Lakes in Port Macquarie.
“It’s just not a sensible place to develop,” Mr Graham said.
He said the ultimate arbiter would be litigation and that there would be a clear trail of accountability in the decision to develop West Yamba. The future of West Yamba now lies in the hands of the State Government’s Minister for Planning, Kristina Keneally.