Wednesday 2 September 2009

Cairns Mayor welcomes further False Cape suspension

The Mayor of the Cairns Regional Council has welcomed the decision by the Federal Environment Minister to suspend the False Cape development for a further 12 months.

"Yes, it is great news," Mayor Schier told CairnsBlog soon after hearing the news this afternoon.

"We're very pleased it's been put on hold, again because it's quite clear that they [Reef Cove Ltd] have not fulfilled their obligations to look after the site and put in the sediment control measures."

Over the last year, Cairns Regional ratepayers forked out $150,000 for temporary remediation work on the now-vacant site, after Minister Garrett first suspended development one year ago.

Council plans to send staff over to the beleaguered site next week for an evaluation.

"They will see what additional work will need to be done, and then we'll have to decide who does it and if we do the same work we did last year. It will be a Council decision," Mayor Val Schier said.

Councillor Paul Gregory, whose Division encompasses the False Cape site, says some responsibility should rest with the Federal Government, in helping for ongoing remediation work.

"This [decision] means that it puts the onus back onto Council," Paul Gregory says. "Those works last year were only ever meant for one wet season. It was to put in slit traps were they were desperately needed, along with some grass and vegetation to try and hold things together. It needs more work now."

"My thoughts are with the Minister's declaration, perhaps they could give us a hand and give us a help financially," Councillor Paul Gregory says. "It's in limbo, nobody can do anything. Ratepayers of Cairns are going to have to carry the can again until someone owns that property so that we can charge and claim back. I think it will be something in the $150,000 order again if we are going to have to go back and do those temporary works again."

When asked if the development would ever proceed again, Councillor Gregory said that something has to be done.

"The site can't be left like it is. It's either going to have to be remediated or finished, or the owners of those properties take care of it. This would be much like Bayview Heights, which was a red soil farm when I was a young fella. When it was developed with residential houses on it, those rivers ran red for the first wet season, but now it's vegetated, those issues are gone. When you go into private ownership, those issues will be taken care of," Paul Gregory said.

Councillor Gregory didn't want to look back if the False Cape site should have ever been approved in the first place.

"It goes back a long, long way," Paul Gregory said. "In 2000 the Council had a chance to kill it off but that would have cost the ratepayers a lot of money in compensation, however we made the decision to continue and it was accessed under the CairnsPlan and there was changes in the design and all that sort of thing. I wished it have never happened in the first place, however the history is there, it's been going on for 25 years."

"I think the Federal Government have some responsibility [regarding the cost of remediation works], not because that we [Council] gave the approvals, as we only gave some approvals as directed by certain court cases, but nothing will now happen for two years therefore they should give some money," Gregory said.

"You'd want to have the remediation nailed down before our first wet in two months," Paul Gregory said.

Local environmentalist and landscape photographer, Steven Nowakowski says that it was the former Byrne-led Council, that Paul Gregory was a member of, supported in 2003 /04 sub-dividing the property from 58 lots to 155.

"They also approved to put in a dual road on the site. So it was actually the Byrne-Council that has left this legacy. We have got to stop blaming Joh Bjelke-Petersen and what happened in the mid-80's," Steve Nowakowski says.

"Yes, the land was re-zoned as special facilities in the mid-80's, but it was the Cairns City Council under Kevin Byrne that reconfigured that site to how it is today," Nowakowski says. "That decision went against the advice of his own Council planners at the time."

The tripling of the lots, with the addition of four unit complexes and a Resort, was a Byrne-Council decision.

"I think today's decision is great step forward, it's the right decision, however I'd like to see a complete revocation of the Federal Government's approval. Ultimately what we'd like to see is the government buying back that site, because at the moment it's worth nothing," Steven Nowakowski said.

"For anyone to take on this site, they would have to spend millions and millions of dollars in remediation before they even start. Firstly, it is Council's responsibility because the Kevin Byrne Council never got the $650,000 bond, they never got that bank guarantee from the developer, so yes, it is Council's responsibility, but it's also the Federal Government's responsibility, because it impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, " Steven Nowakowski says.

When asked who should pay, Nowakowski is defiant. "Kevin Byrne should pay out of his back pocket. He's the one that voted for it."

The Save False Cape campaigners have been seeking a government buy back of the land from the receivers, and then involve the Yarabarrah community to revegetate the site, hand the land back to their community," Steve says.

It's understood that Yarrabah Mayor Percy Neal, would like the site returned back to them. Although Community Development Employment Projects funding has ceased in July, discussions with cairns Senator Jan McLucas has indicated that there could be some Federal funding for employment available for locals revegetating the False Cape site.

The land was purchased by the current developer, John Ewens in 2001 for just over $2 million, then sort substantial changes for his Reef Cove resort. The land is now a liability with so much work needed to be done to fix the site up.

With 155 house blocks on the site, Steve Nowakowski estimates that the sale would conservatively generate around $60 million. The developer has probably spent between 20 to $25 million, and Ewens has indicated that he's spent $2 million a month.

It would cost $5 million to get water pumped in from Gordonvale, and the same again to get sewage pumped back to the treatment centre at Gordonvale, and many more millions to get the roads ready for sub-division, ready for houses, units and the resort.

"We estimate that the developer would have to have spent up to $60 million to get it ready for sale, and then only recoup that from sales. There was never ever going to be any money made.

We hear all about these shelf companies that raise a lot of money, spend a portion of the money, and the rest goes missing into the developer’s pocket, then he declares bankrupt or goes into receivership.

Maybe the False Cape fiasco was always designed to fall over from day one?

"Everyone has lost. The community have lost. The environment has lost. Dougie, the excavator driver lost his life. The developer has supposedly lost. Our visual amenity has been lost. The ratepayers have lost $150,000. No one has won out of this," Steve Nowakowski says.

The Save False Cape group will now consider pushing for an enquiry, led by the State or Federal Government about why this has happened.

We should have an enquiry about why the Byrne Council didn't require that $650,000 bank guarantee, why the Mayor ignored his own planners.

According to Yarrabah Councillors, the former Mayor was flown down to the Gold Coast on a number of occasions, put up in a hotel, reputedly paid for by the developer.

"In this day in age, why have we got this far? We may be up for a perpetual $150,000 every year," Nowakowski says.

Cairns Regional Council Mayor Val Schier says it's her belief that the development won't ever proceed.

"They do have approval for 134 lots, however this Council will not give them approval to treat their sewage on site, nor will we give them approval for a second stage of development."

"The $150,000 that Council have spent rehabilitating the site, would have to be repaid, even if the land is sold, so Council will get its money back," Val Schier said.

False Cape’s approval was first suspended in September last year over concerns that the developer’s failure to maintain the site posed a threat to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The site was left un-managed after the developer closed it down due to financial difficulties.

“Under the national environment law, I can suspend approval for another 12 months if I am not satisfied that appropriate measures have been put in place to protect the nearby world heritage area,” Peter Garrett said.

“The company has failed to fix up the erosion and sediment problems at the site, so a suspension will remain on the development’s approval. This means that building cannot resume at the site until I am satisfied that proper measures will be taken to protect the world heritage area. If the site is sold to a new developer, the suspension will still apply and any new developer will need to satisfy me that the world heritage area can be protected," Garrett said today.

If a new development is proposed for that site, it will need to be considered as a fresh proposal under national environment law and undergo a public assessment.

According to the Minister's statement, the Reef Cove development is the only project to have its approval suspended under the national environment law—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

"Suspension is not as good as a revocation, but it is at least better than having the approval re-instated," Adam Millar, solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office, said today.

"It would be a good idea to explore the buy-back options," Millar said.

Many questions remain however.

Local environmentalist, Terry Spackman says that any new developer will have to satisfy that the world heritage area can be protected.

"Will a new owner have to put effective erosion and sediment controls in place as part of the sale conditions?" he asked. "It appears the present owner failed to do this and escaped prosecution."

"Will the law be enforced more rigorously in the future? A recent inspection of the Reef Cove site showed the temporary remediation work ordered by Cairns Council was just that. Large areas of unprotected soil, evidence of recent erosion, slippage on batters and full or near full sediment traps," Spackman said.

"Most of the conditions that led to the suspension remain. Reef Cove remains a threat to the World Heritage Area. Will work be carried out to remove the threat, and who will pay for it?"


Jude Johnston said...

The previous Council are at fault with regard to the $650k Bank guarantee. No one bothered to follow up that when the land was on sold that a new bank guarantee had been put in place. When the matter reared its ugly head over the remediation works needed, it was revealed that the "guarantee" was in fact a previous overseas owner's one, which would've ceased the moment the land was sold. With the "development at all costs and who cares about the consequences" attitude that prevailed under the ex Mayor Byrnes reign, details like this were overlooked.

Al said...

So Kevin Byrne (yes, we know you regularly log on to this site) another damning indictment of you and your pro-development (at any cost) administration. Do yourself a big favour, don't ever consider standing for mayoral office again, we will remember.

Lillian at Yorkeys said...

Apart from the usual Fat Kev aspect to this sad story, this is yet another indictment of the Evil Planning Department at Council, which was headed by no other than our current Acting CEO, Peter Tabulo. Apart from the Planning crew, who at Council were responsible for seeing that the $650,000 guarantee (not paid) was held by Council? The whole thing is a huge cock-up.
Who is ultimately responsible? Why on earth do we have these recurring themes of such ineptitude with those government bodies 'administering' our land, society & culture?
I believe today we have an epidemic of Death by Bureaucracy - there are thousands of them out there, all making ridiculous decisions, & then when these prove untenable, NO-ONE IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE. No-one (or very few) are dismissed, or fined, or put on leave without pay, or even sent to the Naughty Corner. Yet, ordinary citizens as myself are held accountable for every mistake or wrong move we make.
What has happened to us all? And worse, there seems no end to it.
Or, has this always been the way humankind tends to run all this stuff. Maybe we should all go back to studying Machiavelli, & just make the best of it?

Wendy Richardson said...

I agree with Lillian about the Death by Bureaucracy. Seems its been going on for a long time though.
Lewis Carroll no doubt had a model in mind when he wrote about Wonderland; crazy responses and out-of-control characters.

People wonder why I bother to stand for Parliament. Well I can either sit back and cop it or try to change it. I chose/choose the latter.

Maximinus the 3rd said...

Wendy your a nice person, but I am unsure whether the electorate treats you with respect. You have run twice in different electorate. Sadly you were rejected twice by different electorates.
Do you consider it wise to run again?
Perhaps the electorate does not warm to you.
Would like to hear/read your views.

Wendy Richardson said...

Glad you think I'm a nice person, Max. I like to think I have vision and tenacity too. Some people would call it 'guts'. And I think lots of people did warm to me, and the number is still rising. If anyone was rejected, surely it was the two other candidates who polled less of the primary votes than I did?
Having run twice for State (and actually once for Tablelands Council, where I missed out by only 18 votes)and having tried to save the old Yacht Club building, one might certainly think 'time to give it a miss' and I did consider that.
However, that does not seem to be the opinion of many voters in the Barron River electorate.
I have had a number of emails and phone calls, as well as comments when I'm out and about, asking me to 'please hang in there', and I will.
To be honest, I only have to get out amongst people and see what is happening, to be willing to fight for them.
Also, when I stood for Cairns in 2006, I polled as well as many of the better Liberal candidates across the state - 32% of people had given me their primary vote.
Then, after I moved to my farm on the Tablelands, with no political plan at all, a few locals who wanted a person with integrity and drive to represent them, asked me to stand for Council. I reckon 20 people in that Division knew me before I nominated, yet by the final count nearly 800 had voted for me. I even got 50% of the total vote in Millaa Millaa where two of the five candiates lived. Not too shabby a result, even if I do say so myself, given I was an independent and ran the whole campaign on my own.

A few months later I was approached again by a group of people I had worked with in 2006 to try to save the old Cairns Yacht Club building. Many people still don't understand the extensive history of that place, the conspiracies that had dogged it or the potential it held for heritage tourism. To me it had the spirit of early Cairns embedded in it and I was willing to lead others who felt the same way in a last ditched effort to have common sense prevail.
Despite a petition of 11,000 signatures in 8 weeks, the Cairns Port Authority and the Bligh government refused to explain their actions or halt the destruction, so eventually they had it dismantled and remnants sent to JCU.
At that time I became increasingly concerned with the dogmatic attitude of Bligh and her government.
Apart from a 'bloody minded' attitude to the heritage of Cairns, there was enforced fluoridation, forced amalgamations, lack of REAL consultation on the 2031 Regional Plan, inaction on breaches of the Integrated Planning Act by rogue developers, workers at the coal face leaving in droves due to mismanagement, bullying, stress and bureaucracy .... the list goes on, all evidence of a government that has forgotten they are our representatives, not our masters.

They were also well out of control re debt before any sign of the Global Finacial crisis and they had made it legal to lie to Parliament. Did you know that Max? Bligh passed legislation to be allowed to lie!
So, like I said previously, I could shut up and put up, or stand up and speak up! I chose to stand up again when asked to vie for Barron River.
And it seems 44% of people at the last election wanted me to represent them. Out of the three candidates, I got the highest number of the primary votes. Only a last minute deal between Labor and the Greens in Brisbane caused me to lose the election.
(In return for Labor giving Ronan Lee their 2nd preferences in just one seat, the Greens promised Labor their 2nd preferences in the 14 most-marginal seats across Queensland i.e. the ones Labor was most likely to lose. Barron River was one of them. It had nothing to do with policy and everything to do with power.)
Since the election, I have been encouraged by many people and have continued to work hard every day for the electorate.
At the next State election Max, voters won't be able to say to me 'Where were you for the last three years?" They will know I've been here listening, learning more and advocating for them.


Wendy Richardson said...

PS Maximinus 3rd (Max),
I imagine your interest in my views extends far beyond my rationale above for continuing to seek to represent the people of Cairns and Queensland in their quest for better government.

Stay tuned. I shall endeavour to give feedback on issues raised here and in other media.

Maximinus the 3rd. said...

Thank you Wendy for your extensive reply and your follow up.

I have no doubt that you could be a 'successful' politician once elected.

The electorate is quite cynical and sees right through phoney and glib politician/candidates.
Incumbency has its advantages, one of which is the recognition factor.

Furthermore, there is prospect that the electorate of Barron River will be represented by a Minister come election time.

As an aspiring politician, the election campaign for the next election starts the day you are elected/defeated.

To acquire the respect of electors you have to be out there, listening, presenting alternative views and solutions. Stall in shopping centres, public meetings, door knocking, attending Ratepayers meetings and many other community gatherings.

The issues in Barron River are numerous through years of neglect and inertia. To mention a couple that need intervention by yourself are the Smithfield Town Centre, the overall developmental threat to the Freshwater/Barron River Delta, a light rail network for the Marlin Coast, extension of the four lane Cpt. Cook Highway to Buchan Point, Smithfield Bypass and the expansion of the University precinct to include a Medical Faculty and the Cairns Regional Hospital.

The political courting of the Greens and Indigenous people is essential due to the optional preferential voting system.

I look forward to your contribution to the debate on the above mentioned and other issues.

Wendy Richardson said...

Max (hope you don't mind the familiarity of me using an abbreviation)
I am VERY happy to discuss all these issues, but it seems we are getting way off topic here.
I think I should get my own site going again. What say you Michael?