A report to the Local Planning Panel next week outlines Council’s next step in its continuing campaign to sell land at Austin Butler Reserve, Woy Woy, to Peninsula Plaza shopping centre.
This is despite long running community opposition, a petition by the Local Member, and an open letter to council this week calling on council-under-administration to withdraw the land from sale.
The letter writers have yet to receive a response from Administrator Rik Hart.
Council regulations allow the council to make incremental decisions: this step is to change the land from “community” to “operational”.
But that allows council-under-administration to then sell the land.
The report to the panel skips over the other impediments to the sale, such as looking at rezoning the land that was dedicated to Council as a public reserve on 8 January 1968, and is subject to a public trust
The dedication and public trust need to be extinquished.
The land is zoned RE1 Public Recreation and will need to be rezoned if the sale goes ahead and if the shopping centre actually wants to use the land for anything other than public reserve.
Because this initial step does not propose to rezone at this stage, Council can quite legitimately state that the proposal will not adversely affect critical habitat, threatened species, populations or ecological communities, or their habitats.
Nor does it need – at this stage – to look at social or economic impacts.
Again, that comes later when either Council or the proposed new owner looks at changing the zoning.
Nor does the report to the planning panel mention the open letter to council signed by 13 community groups who have said no to sale.
The land involved is about 400square metres of reserve with includes 44 mature paperbark and she oak trees that are the last substantial
area of natural shade in the Woy Woy town centre.
The community groups put out a joint statement earlier this week saying they do not accept the Administrator’s proposed deal: to sell the land to the plaza and allocate all proceeds from that sale via the 10-year Long Term Financial Plan to the greening of the local community.
Jennifer Wilder, spokesperson for Grow Urban Shade Trees (GUST), said, “GUST has written to Mr Hart and told him there is no deal in terms of the trade-off he suggested. We don’t think a much-needed urban greening program should be conditional on getting rid of this rare remnant of native woodland.”
Julian Bowker from the Peninsula Residents Association said the community had been telling the council since late 2020 that it did not want the land reclassified, rezoned or sold.
“Pedestrian safety has been put forward as a reason for needing the land but there is no publicly available information about the dangers of the current loading dock, pedestrian safety or traffic hazards,” he said.
“Council says it is now in a financially stable situation after previous land sales and other measures so why does it need to sell more public land? We know some of the previous land sales have resulted in developers reselling land within months for massive profits so there is very little trust in the process.”
Chair of the Community Environment Network, Gary Chestnut, said the land was dedicated to council for community recreation and there has been no resolution to discharge that dedication, as required by the Local Government Act (Section 30(1)).
“It is far from best practice for a council to pre-empt the outcome of a community consultation on a reclassification or a rezoning of public land. These actions have created multiple conflicts of interest for the council. It is truly a ‘dog’s breakfast’,” Mr Chestnut said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation Central Coast Community Group spokesperson, Mark Ellis, said the alliance of community groups had already held two events at Austin Butler to demonstrate their opposition to the council’s position.
“We’ve met Liesl Tesch, Member for Gosford, who has started her own petition to support our campaign,” he said.
“Mr Hart’s offer of a street greening program makes us think he has forgotten about the council’s Greener Places Strategy, adopted in 2022.
“Keeping Austin Butler and street greening the Woy Woy Peninsula should not be mutually exclusive. Council must implement measures to provide street trees and deep soil planting throughout the Peninsula in addition to protecting established trees, not instead of,” Mr Ellis said.
The Local Planning Panel will examine the proposal at its September 14 meeting but Council is merely asking the panel for its advice on the matter.
The administrator will make the decision on whether to proceed.
“The site is proposed to be leased an/or sold to the owners of the adjoining shopping centre to facilitate improved access and pedestrian safety,” the report states.
“If the sale/long term lease is to proceed a separate Planning Proposal will need to be prepared to consider the future land use.”
The panel will discuss the matter in private and the community has not been invited to address the panel to outline its opposition.
MP Tesch’s petition can be signed here: https://liesltesch.client.trfg.au/community/petitions/petitions/
Keep following the campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/soscommunitylandcc