Why the Council is so keen for the proposal to go ahead remains a mystery.
At a meeting in January this year, the Council passed a controversial amendment ( The controversy at Nile ) to the Planning Scheme to rezone land at Church Lane, Nile, from Community Purposes to Village. The reason was to allow a house to be built by the developer – Noel McGee - between the historic Nile Cemetery and the Nile River. Both then and in 2004, the proposal was opposed by many people who live in The Nile, by others living in the district and in the wider community.
It was not a unanimous decision by Council, but the majority group, headed by Mayor Kim Polley and including her son, Councillor Tim Polley, were determined to push it through the teeth of community opposition. (Kim and Tim are, respectively, the wife and son of Labor MLA Michael Polley). In this, council officer Duncan Payton actively assisted them.
In April, the RPDC delegated its powers to Clarry Pryor and a hearing was held before him at the Council’s Longford chambers on May 23. Those opposed to the development were a lay group, but a number had undertaken a great deal of work on the nature of the amendment and on the potential for flooding of the site. The group – of which I was a member – were up against the Council’s officers and hired guns, prominent barristers Shaun McElwaine and Ken Stanton, and surveyor Brett Woolcott.
In his decision, the RPDC Delegate said relevant matters raised by the representations opposing the amendment comprised two main issues: 1) Impact on the adjoining church and cemetery and 2) Potential flooding of the site.
St Peter’s Church was built in the 1850s and is listed by the National Trust of Australia as a place of cultural significance. Across a paddock from the church and the small parish hall beside it, is the cemetery, which remains in use, and beyond that the Nile River. There is an arc of trees around the cemetery, exotics to one side, with natives on the other. This is Glover country, a tranquil place, where one hears only birds and the sound of water flowing in the river. (Until, that is, the McGees brought caravans to the site).
In his detailed, eleven-page decision dated 11 July 2007, the RPDC Delegate concluded that development on the site would by its very existence alter the character of the area.
The river, however, was pivotal as the land in question lies in a flood plain.
At the January Council meeting, it was agreed that Mr McGee would build the house on a ‘landscape mound’, which, Mr Payton said, would be “a little safety measure.” The proposed ‘landscape mound’ (more accurately described as levee bank), was to be built along the river’s edge to protect the proposed house from active floodwaters.
The Council had previously directed the McGees to provide a specific report by a qualified hydrologist. Woolcott and Graham Surveys produced a plan, relying on the same information supplied by Department of Primary Industries and Water hydrologist, Dr Shivaraj Gurung, as presented in 2004.
“In the Delegate’s view the evidence and submissions in relation to potential inundation from flooding of the river are of little assistance for the following reasons:
(1) The applicant failed to provide the site-specific hydrological report as directed by the Council.
(2) Preoccupation of the evidence with the owner’s specific development proposal rather than the total site which was the subject of the amendment, and other non-residential development which would be allowable by the amendment.
(3) The DPIWE hydrologist was not present to explain his report or to answer questions about it.
(4) The unavailability of any other hydrological expertise at the hearing.
Given the pivotal importance of potential flooding to the assessment of the proposal, the Delegate finds the failure to properly address the issue to be of itself fatal to the amendment.”
“In consideration of:
(1) The failure to address the full import of the amendment
(2) The failure to properly address the issue of flooding
(3) The defective construction and the ambiguity of the amendment
The Delegate concludes that the amendment should be refused.”
THE Resource Planning and Development Commission has rejected for a second time, a development proposal at Nile approved by the Northern Midlands Council. It was essentially the same proposal by the same developer that the Council approved in 2004 and was rejected by the RPDC.