Monday 10 November 2008

The road that Roy built

High above the city fringe suburb of Earlville is a house higher than all the others. It's perched on a ridge, over-looking the city and the sea.

The house at 109-105 Mansfield Street, Earlville, belongs to Cairns' top businessman, CEC's boss Roy Lavis, and his wife Alma.
Roy wants the Cairns Regional Council to allow him to subdivide his land in to two lots.
The land is tropical rainforest and includes the hill slopes above Balaclava Road, Bauhina Avenue, up to Kurrajong Street, borders the Wet Tropics classified area of Lake Morris Road and encompasses the elevated catchment area of Chinaman Creek and others.
Lavis has lodged a 'material change of use' application, as this is a Category 2 hillslopes zone and conservation designation. Both designations prohibit development like sub-division.

He wants to build another house on a higher ridge, however should this application be knocked back by Council, which is likely, Roy will no doubt take this off to the Planning and Environment Court. The Larvis and CEC empire weird enormous power around the Council planning table, and the potential for this development to further erode the visual amenity of our hillslopes is very high.

A large community group has formed to oppose Roy's plans to sud-divide and build, as they say, will open up the floodgates for further building, way above the legal allowed hillslope line.

Ivan Whitehead and John Martin, both residents of Mansfield Street, are leading the charge and last week took a flight above the land to get a first had view of the Larvis land, comprising 30 ha of hillslopes above Earlville.

The main concerns being raised are:
- Destruction of wet tropic and complex rainforest
- Removal of cassowaries habitat
- Reduction of local bio-diversity
- Further threat to rare and endangered flora and fauna including rare frog habitats
- Water quality of catchment areas
- Nature of soil and substrate
- Likely run off of sewage treatment plant during monsoonal rains
- Impact of vista and view from town reducing the local and tourist appeal of Cairns
- Consistency with town planning and legislation of category 2 listed land
- Reduction of the quite enjoyment of lifestyle for surrounding neighbourhood.
This area is currently zoned 'conservation status' as it is the habitat of rare frogs, cassowaries and tree species of interest, however we know that this current Council have a habit, like the last one, to ignore such designations. material Change of Use applications have become teh norma under the previous Cairns City Council and has been the case at Hedley's Paradise Palms golf course recently.
Lavis wants to subdivide and create an road easement and also rezone this area as urban. He claims he only wants to build one house on the 23 ha of rainforest directly on the higher ridge above his current property that can be seen from Mulgrave Road.

This ridge is directly above catchment areas that feed into rare frog habitats abounding in a variety of species, this should be of concern for everybody in this time of climate change and declining frog numbers. Also, the sewage treatment plant proposed to be installed there is of major concern as when the torrential rain during the wet occur the run off will end up in Chinaman Creek not to mention the eroded soil and chemicals left over from the development.

However, the biggest concern is if the Cairns Regional Council approve this 'one dwelling' on 23 ha there will be nothing to stop further sub-divisions and development of this land, not to mention the precedence of this approval will have on other developers seeking approvals for further areas of our hills.

How can our Council even consider such zoning changes when there is legislation in place to stop the destruction of our slopes? The application should have been thrown out when he asked it to be considers. Full stop. Objectors have until the 27th of November to do their bit to save our ranges from greedy influential developers.
There is a lot more to reveal on this story, along with a series of damming photographs. If your name is Roy, I'd stay tuned and awake.


Keith Martin said...

I don’t have detailed knowledge of the site, nor have I seen the full DA, so my comments are general, but they might help explain some points of definition.

There are two parts to this DA. The first is a “reconfiguration of a lot”. That means it’s a subdivision of one lot into two. The reason that public notification is needed for this is because the area is within the Conservation Planning Area, and within that code, lot reconfigurations are “impact assessable”. The second part of the DA seeks to change the assessment level of the house from “Impact” to “Code” assessable, once again because houses within Conservation Coded areas are “impact assessable”.

It is not correct to say that the area is “currently zoned 'conservation status' as it is the habitat of rare frogs, cassowaries and tree species of interest”. Many people may be surprised to learn that the CairnsPlan Conservation Planning Area Code doesn’t provide for any level of environmental protection. Despite its name, it is not land reserved for conservation. This planning code is just like any other urban CairnsPlan code. Development can occur within it provided it can be shown (by Council) to meet the “Desired Environmental Outcomes” (or DEO in Council-speak) of that code.

Reconfiguring a lot or building a house in the Conservation Planning Code is Impact Assessable. That is why the proponent has to submit this DA. However, Council planners do not conduct the type of impact assessments on these applications that people might expect in, for example, a mining project. Factors such as those mentioned – biodiversity, water, local community amenity, etc are not assessed. The assessment is primarily based on whether the application can meet “Desired Environmental Outcomes”, and if it can, then the application is recommended for approval.

In reality, the only thing different about impact and code assessment is that impact assessment requires public notification. Council has however consistently placed little or no weight on the number and quality of public submissions in these cases. For example, in a residential development at Paradise Palms on Conservation Coded land earlier this year, the proponent was successful in having eight houses converted from Impact to Code assessable despite there being 105 public objections (see Council P&E meeting agenda 12 June 2008, Agenda item 12). Council decided in this case that houses are not an inconsistent land use in Conservation areas, and that lowering the level of assessment of houses in Conservation areas could meet the DEO for Conservation Code.

Having made that decision however, it is interesting to read Council’s apparently conflicting conclusion note from the above Agenda Item for the Paradise Palms DA:
“.. it should be noted that in other circumstances where land is contained in the Conservation Planning Area and does not already bear any physical alterations or improvements, then Council would not entertain any application to remove the impact assessment process.”
Clearly, Council must reject the current DA on the basis of that statement.

EPA will be a referral agency for this DA, since there are State and Commonwealth law issues of cassowary habitat, regional ecosystems and proximity to World Heritage. Ultimately though, Council is not bound by their advice.

If Council approves this DA it will likely provide protection measures such as vegetation covenants. These sound good, but are ineffective. As an example, the vegetation covenants for Conservation Planning Areas on Paradise Palms protect only trees greater than 120 mm diameter breast height. All other vegetation can be removed. Even the big trees can be removed if deemed a threat to property.

The proponent has stated in the Cairns Post (15/11/08) that the reason for this subdivision is to provide homes for his children. Note that Council cannot, or should not base a planning decision on this type of evidence. Should the application be successful, there is nothing stopping the proponent from further subdividing this land through the same public notification process.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Keith... that degree of insight is refreshing and strips away much of mystery with this type of reconfig. I was involved with a similar lot reconfig when Charlie O'Neil of Freshwater was successful in getting the nod from 'council for this process on a hillslope ,purportedly to provide a lot "for the kids", but underlying this was a fishing expedition to see if a subdivision of one of the lots would looked upon was.
It makes a mockery of the Cairns plan, that conservation zones aren't given greater protection and that more than wobbly DEO's are used to gauge these applications. It all comes back to the Qld state Govt overarching legislation, IPA 1997, which is largely a prodevelopment document. It hamstrings councils throughout Qld if they want to tighten development controls. Mark Buttrose has done a stacko' work in this area... his views would be of interest.