By Jonathan Cassell
A proposed coastal wetland development north of the existing community was comprehensively dismissed for failing to adequately plan for the future.
In March 2015, Greens councillor Sally Townley moved a council motion to reject the development outright on nine unacceptable reasons.
Council planning staff recommended this development be approved subject to conditions. However, the motion proved successful as a majority of councillors supported Cr Townley to the delight of a rowdy public gallery.
The developer, Pridel developments, then appealed this verdict going to the Land and Environment Court.
Finally on February 7, the court verdict justified community concerns regarding coastal inundation, flooding, emergency exit plans, community disconnection, development footprint, and threat to the adjacent Coffs Coast Regional Park managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The court has now delivered council their first Land and Environment Court win.
As a central campaigner for the Emerald Beach community Group, URGE, the win provides not only personal elation but also a lasting legacy for the region.
This case now sets a precedence for future coastal planning for councils and developers in NSW.
According to the court judgement, the developer application failed, amongst other things, to appropriately consider coastal inundation as a cause for concern risking the safety of its residents.
Sea level rise associated with climate change will impact our coastal region over this century and beyond with high confidence, the court heard.
Due to the high degree of uncertainty, the precautionary principle was argued for since it is likely that the development may become unsuitable.
The proposed development did not accord with the principles of NSW Coastal Policy in that it did not adequately consider the "ecologically sustainable development of the NSW coastline" which includes the principle of intergenerational equity.
In light of the verdict, how did council planners come to recommend this DA for approval? Furthermore, how many other developments are recommended that may also be a risk in the future?
For example, the exclusive gated community of North Sapphire “just metres from the beach” who started selling properties in 2012.
Are council planners understaffed and overwhelmed by complex DA’s leading to poor recommendations or do they simply want the easy way out?
However this court verdict is read, it seems pretty clear that coastal development is dangerous and council should now zone entirely the North Emerald property E2 Conservation. Council planners may also benefit from reading the 2003 NSW Coastal Policy.
In finishing, insufficient assessment of risk and $640 000 worth of court costs later - a rare Coastal Wetheath lives on!