FOR the second time in two years, the Northern Midlands Council has passed a controversial amendment to the Planning Scheme to rezone land at Church Lane, Nile, from Community Purposes to Village.

This would allow a house to be built between the historic Nile Cemetery and the Nile River.

It was essentially the same proposal by the same developer — Noel McGee —  that the council approved in 2004. It was subsequently rejected by the Resource Planning and Development Commission on several grounds.

Both then and now, the proposal was opposed by many people who live in the small rural hamlet,  and by others living in the district and in the wider community.

The site is one of those magical places to which only an artist or poet can do justice. St Peter’s Church was built in the 1850s and is listed by the National Trust of Australia as a place of Cultural Significance.

There is a parish hall beside it, both small, attractive buildings which nestle into the landscape. Across a paddock lies the cemetery, which is still in use,  and beyond that the Nile river. There is an arc of trees around the cemetery, exotics to one side, with natives to the other. It is a tranquil place, where one hears only birds and the sound of water flowing in the river.

Why did the Council hear the matter again? And why did the Council waive the developer’s application fee?

The proposed house would be built close to the southern end of the cemetery, on land the McGees, who live near Evandale, bought about three years ago. Used for grazing for decades, the land is subject to flash floods. Because of this, the Council added a clause to the amendment, requiring the developer to raise the house site above known flood height, and to build a “landscape mound” on the site to deflect the edge of flood water.

Why did the Council hear the matter again? And why did the Council waive the developer’s application fee?

The McGees did not appear before the RPDC when the application to rezone the land was rejected first time round. They were not there because they had not sought to appear and therefore, were not notified by the RPDC, which, however, advertises all hearings. The McGees felt the Council should have told them about the RPDC hearing and claim not to have known of the hearing date. But why did their agent — professional local surveyors —  fail to observe the RPDC’s advertisement?

  The Council then applied to the RPDC to have the application heard again, on the grounds that the McGees had been denied natural justice. This was refused. The Council then allowed the McGees to resubmit their proposal.

Objections again flooded in to the Council, from Nile residents, the Parish Council of St Andrew’s (Evandale) and St Peter’s (Nile), local landowners, the Tasmanian Heritage Council, and people living elsewhere who grew up in the district or had family connections with it. I was among the latter and went to the Council meeting in Longford on January 22nd because the application was on the agenda.

Eight of the nine councillors were at the meeting.  Five voted in favour of the amendment and the additional clause. Those who voted for it were: Mayor Kim Polley, Deputy Mayor Don McShane, Councillors Jeff Carins, Matthew Brooks and Tim Polley (son of Kim and Michael, Labor member for Lyons and Speaker in the House of Assembly).

  Councillors Tru Dowling, David Downie and Ian Goninon voted against it. Councillor Russell Anderson was absent.

Before the vote, the Deputy Mayor, Cr McShane, branded argument against the proposal as “emotional,” effectively dismissing people’s feelings as irrelevant. He said he considered the objections to be “frivolous” and dismissed the Heritage Council’s objections as “very weak,” brief, and “as innocuous” as he had ever read.

Cr Carins said he failed to grasp the heritage issues, that cemeteries and houses were “shoulder to shoulder” in other towns and he could see no reason why not at Nile.

It’s worth noting the RPDC’s views when rejecting the application to rezone the land, beyond building a house in a flood plain.

To rezone the land would not “assist consolidation of the settlement at Nile and there are other part of the current Village zone available and more suitable for residential use and development.”  And ” the cultural heritage represented by the St Peter’s Anglican Church, its cemetery and grounds, is deserving of protection from development that is considered likely to be visually and possibly acoustically intrusive into the quiet rural setting of the cemetery.”

But back to the meeting. The Council officer handling the issue,Duncan Payton, was given the floor. Mr Payton said that the objections were based merely on “resistance to change.”  He didn’t believe the level of change would affect anyone and “once it happens, people will adjust”. As for the issue of a house being built on a flood plain, he said the landscape mound would be “a little safety measure if you will.”

Mr Payton recommended the proposal be approved but said that if it was, he had no doubt long and heated argument would follow.  Indeed, when those who submitted objections to Council receive letters this week that it has been approved, they will have 14 days to lodge an appeal with the RPDC. Many have indicated they will do so.

The day after the Council meeting,  on January 23rd, Mr McGee built a levee along the length of the upstream half of the riverbank of his his border with the Nile River.  Council employees were doing road work with heavy machinery near Nile and they brought soil from the side of the road onto Mr McGee’s block and built the levee.

Residents of the Nile were concerned that herbicides commonly used along country roads could be in the soil and would seep into the water supply

No permission was sought or given by the Council, the Department of Primary Industries and Water, or the Department of Tourism, Arts and Environment.

The Nile township sources its water further upstream, but the Nile River flows into the South Esk River which is the main water source for the villages of Perth, Evandale and Longford downstream. 

Residents of the Nile were concerned that herbicides commonly used along country roads could be in the soil and would seep into the water supply. They were also concerned about the effect of diverting flood waters, which could flood buildings in the village not otherwise in the flood path. And farmers on the other side of the river were concerned about the potential for greater flooding on their land.

People began ringing the Council and Government agencies,  and twoCouncil officers came to inspect the site.

  The next day, January 24th, I visited Nile and spoke to Mr McGee, who had brought a second caravan onto his block. I asked him about the levee. He said there wasn’t one. I said I could see it. “That levee bank, as you call it, is a landscaping area,” he said.I asked him if he had permission.  “That’s my business,” he said.

I sought an interview with Mayor Polley,  for the following morning, but she decided to handball the interview to the Council’s general manager, Gerald Monson.

  Mr Monson said it was common practice for landowners to be offered soil after roadworks or similar works,  so it was not unusual for Mr McGee to have asked the Council workers to dump the soil on his property. In the circumstances,  he said it was unfortunate that Mr McGee had built the levee. However,  the Council’s outside workforce was blameless because they were unlikely to have known that permission must be granted to build a levee along a river bank in Tasmania.

“But Mr McGee should have known it was inappropriate to do any work on the site before the 14 day period for appeals was over,” he said.

Mr Monson said Mr McGee would receive a letter from Council informing him that he had to stockpile the soil on his property, away from the river, and at his expense. Mr Monson also said that Council had advised the Department Tourism, Arts and Environment that a levee had been built without permission.

Back in Hobart on January 25th —  Thursday afternoon — I rang the Government Communications Office to find out what action would be taken. I was asked to email a summary, which I did, also giving the names of the two departmental officers who knew what had happened to help speed the process. 

It was 4.20pm.

  Forty minutes later I was advised it was too late to get any information before the Australia Day long weekend.

Elsewhere in local government:
Interests of Meander Valley Council
The empty chair: Hobart City Council
Please reply Mr Whiteley

 

 

Margaretta Pos

Objections again flooded in to the Council, from Nile residents, the Parish Council of St Andrew’s (Evandale) and St Peter’s (Nile), local landowners, the Tasmanian Heritage Council, and people living elsewhere who grew up in the district or had family connections with it. I was among the latter and went to the Council meeting in Longford on January 22nd because the application was on the agenda.

Eight of the nine councillors were at the meeting.  Five voted in favour of the amendment and the additional clause. Those who voted for it were: Mayor Kim Polley, Deputy Mayor Don McShane, Councillors Jeff Carins, Matthew Brooks and Tim Polley (son of Kim and Michael, Labor member for Lyons and Speaker in the House of Assembly).