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Clarence Valley News

New twist in council defamation case saga

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Mayor Peter Johnstone - Clarence Valley Council Defamation
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New twist in council defamation case saga

 

By Tim Howard

The saga of Clarence Valley Council’s defamation action against a community group has taken another twist, with reports council’s general manager Laura Black will pay legal invoices arising from the action.

Council mayor Peter Johnstone did not the deny the claim, but would not comment further because it was an ongoing legal matter. Ms Black was on leave and unavailable for comment.

The secretary of Yamba Community Action Network, the target of the council’s action, Lynne Cairns, said it had been informed from a resident that there was a rumour about this.

Mrs Cairns said the group only has legal letters written by Sparke Helmore Lawyers on behalf of the council.

“The governing body of Clarence Valley Council are the elected councillors and therefore the legal action was taken in their name,” she said,

General Manager Laura Black - Clarence Valley Council Defamation

General Manager Laura Black

Yamba CAN has denied being responsible for any defamation and questioned why council took this action.

Mrs Cairns said the group was aware some councillors claimed the council never intended to take Yamba CAN to court.

Yamba CAN has requested councillors pass a written resolution stating that they have no intention to take Yamba CAN to court regarding the letter sent by Yamba CAN on July 12 2023 which stated that councillors had received some inaccurate information with regard to the Treelands Drive Community Centre project.

Mrs Cairns said Yamba CAN had not received formal notification about this matter.

The Northern Rivers Times is making no implication the council has acted improperly in these matters.

It does not seem likely the council plans to withdraw.

Prior to the September 26 council meeting, Cr Bill Day made three attempts to lodge a notice of motion to obtain copies of all correspondence surrounding the Concerns notice and potential litigation against Yamba CAN, but each one was rebuffed.

Cr Day said the general manager had “blocked him at every turn”.

Mayor Peter Johnstone - Clarence Valley Council Defamation

Mayor Peter Johnstone

“I thought it was a fair and reasonable request,” he said. “But if you turn to the September 26 council business paper, there is no notice of motion in there.”

Cr Day said in his 12 years experience as a local government councillor, he had never been party to legal action against the community.

“It’s regrettable and could be seen as an attempt to dissuade members of the community from saying things some people don’t want to hear,” he said.

“It’s also distressing that councillors have been denied access to documents that allow them to fulfil their role on council,” he said.

Cr Day said he disagreed with the views of some councillors that the matter was not legal action.
“Yamba CAN has a concerns notice, which is a legal document that is the start of a defamation action,” he said.

“By any definition that constitutes legal action.”

The saga goes back to July when the group revealed at its first annual meeting it had received a concerns notice claiming Yamba CAN had defamed Ms Black.

Ms Black denied it was a legal letter and then Mayor Ian Tiley said he was not aware of any legal action council had undertaken.

Yamba CAN’s legal advisor told the group the concerns notice was valid and allowed the council 12 months to mount a defamation case.

Yamba CAN has consistently denied it has defamed Ms Black and would contest any claim it had.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Councillors and staff at odds over flood plain development

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Flooding in Shores Dr, Yamba flood plain development.
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Councillors and staff at odds over flood plain development

 

By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley Council has found itself offering conflicting information to a State Government planning body meeting this week to deal with a 284-dwelling development in West Yamba.

A combination of red tape and delays in providing information to the Northern Region Planning Panel has meant council staff have provided a recommendation to the panel to approve the development.

But at the May 28 ordinary council meeting councillors voted 5-2 to not approve the development because of serious non-compliance issues detailed in an attachment to the report in the council business paper.

At the council meeting council’s director environment and planning Adam Cameron revealed council staff were required to submit the staff recommendation to the planning panel before councillors could see it.

This had led to the councillors seeing a staff assessment made 18 months ago, which included a long list of non-compliances.

Mr Cameron said the staff had only submitted the most up to date assessment to the NRPP on the morning of the council meeting.

He said there was nothing to stop the council staff and councillors making differing submissions to the NRPP.

“An elected council may make a submission on a development application to be determined by the panel up to seven days before the panel meeting and may speak to the to the submission at the public determination meeting,” Mr Cameron said.

The unusual regulations around planning panel operation created this situation.

When a development of regional significance comes to a planning panel, effectively council staff work for the planning panel and its rules forbid sharing that work, even with the councillors who effectively are their employers.

Mr Cameron confirmed this to the meeting.

“The council resolution and the officer assessment report are two different things,” he said.

“The officer assessment report is undertaken independent of the elected body in accordance with the planning panel operating procedures.”

Cr Greg Clancy moved the council make a submission to the NRPP when it met on June 11 to not support the 284-lot sub-division.

The applicant for the development is Garrard Building Pty Ltd acting for the owner, Kahuna No.1 Pty Ltd.

Cr Clancy said the submission to not approve was a “no brainer” due to the number and seriousness of the non-compliance issues raised in the staff’s preliminary assessment.

“These are serious non-compliances and omissions,” Cr Clancy said.

“And I think the assessment briefing report which is available to us is what we have to take as our view of the planning issues in relation to this.

“We can’t see the report to the planning panel till after the planning panel.”

Cr Clancy then presented an extensive list of non-compliance issues, which were listed in Attachment A to the report to council.

The motion’s seconder, Cr Bill Day, said his concerns were the impacts on roads, parking and infrastructure and dramatic increases in population and numbers of motor vehicles using local roads.

Cr Karen Toms agreed the list looked damning, but said the staff report to the panel could well contain measure the developer had taken to fix them.

“I feel that without actually knowing what the assessment is from our professional staff, that we are not prepared to support a motion without actually seeing how they’ve addressed those issues,” she said.

“And we can’t do that yet because that’s how it works with the planning panel.”

Cr Steve Pickering spoke in support of not approving the development.

He has been a critic of the NRPP “taking over” from council in planning matters and has put up a notice of motion calling for the NRPP structure to change to allow councillors to comment on matters before it.

After the meeting Cr Pickering said the current structure disempowered councillors and made them feel like they weren’t in a position to make a decision on these sort of developments.

Outside of council other groups were also preparing submission against the development, which has attracted 330 submission from the public.

Yamba Community Action Network was one of the groups making a submission, with its secretary Lynne Cairns addressing the panel.

Ahead of the June 11 hearing she said one of YambaCAN’s key concerns was providing adequate evacuation for residents during floods.

“Evacuation plans rely on using Yamba Rd to get to the evacuation centre in Yamba Bolo and we know the road was cut for long periods during the February March 2022 flooding,” she said.

“And to get to Yamba Rd people would have to use Carrs Dr, Golding St and other roads that were also flooded for long periods.”

She said the amount of fill, up to three metres in some instances, meant homes built on these mounds became islands.

“People who get caught there or decide to stay will need to be supplied and it will mean extra work for SES and other emergency service carrying food or medical supplies or evacuating people.”

Greens MLC Sue Higginson will also make a submission to the panel and Dr Greg Clancy, will address the panel for the Clarence Environment Centre.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

YambaCAN invited to address parliamentary committee

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YambaCAN invited to address parliamentary committee

 

By Tim Howard

A community group (YambaCAN) at the centre of the opposition to housing development on the West Yamba flood plain has been invited to give evidence to a NSW Parliamentary Committee later this month.

The invitation to Yamba Community Action Network from Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment represents a change of mind from the committee.

Earlier this year the committee had visited the NSW South Coast and Sydney, conducting site visits and taking submissions from residents.

But it decided to cut its North Coast commitments to just two days of site visits to areas between Port Macquarie and the Tweed.

Four members of the committee toured West Yamba and Maclean on May 31, where YambaCAN presented seven folders of documents, photographs and thumb drives containing Powerpoint presentations, videos and other evidence gathered during flood events in the area.

YambaCAN chair Col Shephard said the change of heart from the committee was welcome.

“We welcome the invitation of now being given the opportunity of a hearing,” he said.

“Two representatives will be providing evidence at the hearing for the inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities.

“The two representatives are Lynne Cairns, Secretary of Yamba CAN Inc, and Helen Tyas Tunggal, member of Yamba CAN Inc.”

The Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment invited YambaCAN to give evidence at a hearing for the inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities in the Jubilee Room at NSW Parliament House, Sydney on Monday June 17 between 11am and 11.30am.

West Yamba residents were out in force for the committee site visit with at least 50 line streets waving banners and signs.

Mr Shephard said there needed to be a moratorium on development in the area while new evidence about the effects of climate change on areas like West Yamba were investigated.

He said residents who lived through the flooding in February and March 2022 had noted and collected data on flood heights and water flows which seemed to differ from the information planners relied on.

The committee’s terms of reference were established last year.

YambaCAN parliamentary committee

YambaCAN secretary Lynne Cairns, right and member Helen Tyas Tungal will present the group’s submission about the problems of flood plain development to the NSW Parliament’s Portfolio 7 Committee in Sydney later this month.

That Portfolio Committee 7 inquire into and report on how the planning system can best ensure that people and the natural and built environment are protected from climate change impacts and changing landscapes, and in particular:

  • developments proposed or approved:
    • in flood and fire prone areas or areas that have become more exposed to natural disasters as a result of climate change,
    • in areas that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, coastal erosion or drought conditions as a result of climate change, and
    • in areas that are threatened ecological communities or habitat for threatened species
  • the adequacy of planning powers and planning bodies, particularly for local councils, to review, amend or revoke development approvals, and consider the costs, that are identified as placing people or the environment at risk as a consequence of:
    • (i) the cumulative impacts of development,
    • (ii) climate change and natural disasters,
    • (iii) biodiversity loss, and
    • (iii) rapidly changing social, economic and environmental circumstances
  • short, medium and long term planning reforms that may be necessary to ensure that communities are able to mitigate and adapt to conditions caused by changing environmental and climatic conditions, as well as the community’s expectation and need for homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure
  • alternative regulatory options to increase residential dwelling capacity where anticipated growth areas are no longer deemed suitable, or where existing capacity has been diminished due to the effects of climate change
  • listening to, and learning from, Aboriginal voices and experiences to better inform planning outcomes1
  • any other related matters.

 

For more Yamba news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Ferry departs looking its best

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Ulmarra Ferry Decorations
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Ferry departs looking its best

 

By Tim Howard

The residents of Ulmarra did their best to ensure their beloved ferry sailed into history looking its absolute best for its last day of service on Monday.

The 74-year-old vessel, the latest to have crossed the Clarence River between Ulmarra and Southgate, made its last trip at 10.40pm on Monday, ending more than 130 years of history.

After making its last trip on Monday it’s scheduled to be towed to Harwood Marine where it will be decommissioned

Residents from Ulmarra and Southgate, who had fought the NSW Government since April to keep the ferry service, gathered on Sunday to dress up the vessel for its last two days of service.

Cr Steve Pickering, an Ulmarra businessman, has been one of the leading figures in the battle to save the ferry service.

He brought two notices of motion to Clarence Valley Council, calling for the council to urge the State Government to ensure the ferry service continued.

Residents also raised a petition which quickly attracted more than 6000 signatures which the Member for Clarence, Richie Williamson, presented to State Parliament.

Ulmarra Ferry Last Day

Ulmarra and Southgate residents have added some festive touches to the Ulmarra Ferry of its last day on Monday. The last crossing occurred at 10.40pm.

While Cr Pickering was disappointed the government ignored the clear wishes of the community most galling was decision to maintain a ferry service in Sydney, which compared less than favourably with the Ulmarra service.

“The same day the Clarence Valley community discovered that while the Ulmarra ferry service had been cancelled, the same government took ownership and operational control of the Lower Portland Ferry,” Cr Pickering said.

“The Lower Portland Ferry is in Sydney, transports fewer vehicles, costs more, and the equivalent trip by road is shorter than the trip between Ulmarra and Southgate via Grafton.

“To hear this information is devastating and unbelievable.”

Cr Pickering said to take a service from regional NSW and then use the cost savings to buy and operate a similar service in Sydney was not right.

“It’s not right for a government that is supposed to represent all citizens to so blatantly and obviously favour and support those who live in Sydney over our farmers, tradies, families, and tourists,” he said.

“Come on Jenny Aitchison MP, what is going on here? This decision was made before the decision to cancel the Ulmarra service was made.”

Cr Pickering said a Transport for NSW spokesperson had commented on local radio that the Portland service was different because the ferry in use was not near the end of its useful life and there was no sandbank issues.

“The thing about that is the government has known about those issues for a long time and done nothing to fix them,” he said.

“If they’d been serious about keeping the ferry service they would have had plans in place to replace it and deal with the silting problem.

“Instead they did nothing and just closed it down.”

Social media has also lit up with support for keeping the ferry service and many people taking time to have one last trip on the ferry and sharing the experience.

Ulmarra Ferry Decorations

The ferry leaves to cross the river during its last day of service on Monday. Transport for NSW decommissioned the ferry on Monday, ending more than 130 years of river crossings at Ulmarra.

Rumour the ferry was on the chopping block began to emerge early in the year and by aMarch Mr Williamson had raised a petition calling on the NSW Government to keep the ferry.

But before he could bring the petition to parliament the TfNSW director North Region Anna Zycki made the announcement the ferry was to close.

She said it had reached an age and condition where it was no longer fit to operate and ongoing river conditions also made the service untenable.

“The existing ferry has reached the end of its serviceable life,” she said.

“Because the existing ferry is now so old and requires so much repair, such a large restoration project would take about 18 months and cost an estimated $5 million, which is around a million dollars more than building a new car ferry.

“It’s effectively beyond repair, so this service would have been closed for that length of time anyway.”

Ms Zycki said silting on the southside of the river at Southgate was another problem for the service.

“The river is constantly changing course and there is nothing we can do to prevent the silt building up,” she said.

“We’ve dredged in the past, but it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks and the silt is back. It’s costly to do and has no lasting benefit.”

Ms Zycki said the number of cars carried on the ferry had plummeted since the opening of the second bridge at Grafton.

“When the new Balun Bindarray Bridge opened in Grafton in late 2019, patronage of the Ulmarra ferry immediately dropped by 46%” Ms Zycki said.

“It was anticipated that demand for the ferry would decline once the new bridge opened so it would largely replace the ferry service.

“The patronage hasn’t returned and the ferry – when river conditions allow it to operate – now carries on average about one vehicle per trip, costing taxpayers $22 for each vehicle journey.”

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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