Commissioner rejects appeal on the Avina Caravan Park expansion

The 2016 story about the opposition to the proposal. Click here to read original story.

There has been a major development in the proposal to massively expand the Avina site, and I wanted to give you an update. 

In October 2016, barely a month into this term of Council, concerned residents approached me over the proposed expansion of the Avina Van Village bordering Oakville and Vineyard.

This caravan park has been a fixture within the local landscape for decades, and is permitted under the RU2 and RU4 zoning it sits in, where most other properties in the area are 5 acres or more — including productive farms.

We have long recognised the utility of a mix of accomodation styles in the Hawkesbury to our tourism strategy. Visitors to our area with a large boat in tow, or a horse float and need for temporary agistment, or maybe even pets that need some space to run about — they all benefit from the availability of this kind of accommodation.

Unfortunately, some developers see in caravan parks a convenient loophole to push through inappropriate development. The proposal Council received in 2016 was to massively expand the Vineyard site from twelve acres to forty-seven.  247 housing lots as small as 223sq.m were proposed. If this had come to Council as a housing development, it would fail at the first hurdle as completely inappropriate for such a rural lifestyle or agricultural zone.

Bizarrely, the proposal was able to be considered because the proposed structures were regarded as “removable dwellings” — like caravans. In reality they are houses, on concrete slabs, constructed on-site from prefabricated panels. It stretched credulity to think of them as portable in the same way as caravans. Nor would they have been constructed to conform to norms relating to energy efficiency, insulation, parking or open space required of any other housing proposal. There were also significant issues relating to public transport, road access and public amenity.

Under changes to planning law in NSW, the proposal was assessed by a JRPP — a Joint Regional Planning Panel. I disagree with planning panels because they remove decision making from democratically elected, and therefore publicly accountable, Councillors. Certainly people approaching me were expecting Councillors to play a role in representing their concerns.

At the planning panel meeting, apart from the mayor (who was on the panel proper), I was the only Councillor that turned up — on this occasion, to put my view as a private citizen and resident of the area. The JRPP rejected the proposal (unanimously), and I regarded this as a good result for the community.

The developer, Ingenia, immediately lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. Since, I have been approached by people in other areas, like Forster, where Ingenia may attempt a similar playbook: Buy a caravan park, lodge a proposal to massively change and intensify its land-use by proposing an intensive housing estate not subject to the usual controls, advertise it as a “seniors living”, propose structures that exploit the loophole of referring to houses as “removable” or “portable” when they are anything but, and then litigate when communities push back.

I am not opposed to some adaptive reuse of land, and I’m not opposed to increasing our area’s stock of over-55s living options. However, I do object to inappropriate developments in rural areas that exploit loopholes that really should be closed in our planning instruments.

After a long delay and a failed mediation with Council, the matter was heard in the Land and Environment Court on 29 – 30 October 2018 by Commissioner Susan O’Neill. The evidence heard included testimony from 7 residents affected by the proposal. Hawkesbury Council were the defendants, despite the fact that the decision had been made by a planning panel and despite the fact that Council’s own report to the planning panel was to approve the development — an unwieldy feature of the new laws — A Council can put a view, be overruled by a Panel, and then have to defend the Panel’s ruling in court.

The Commissioner considered these fundamental issues:

•   Whether the proposed development satisfies the objectives of the RU4 Primary Production Small Lots zone under the provisions of the LEP 2012;
•   Whether the scale and density of the proposed development is appropriate having regard to the character of adjoining rural properties and the rural locality;
•   Whether the proposed development should be granted consent having regard to Clause 10 SEPP No.21 – Caravan Parks, with particular regard to whether community facilities and services, including public transport, retail and schools are reasonably accessible to the occupants of the proposed development; and
•   Whether the proposed development provides for adequate physical separation from adjoining land.

Today (7th November), the Commissioner rejected Ingenia’s appeal. Click here to read the judgement. It stated

The orders of the Court are:

The appeal is dismissed.

Development Application No. 0685/16 for the staged alterations, additions and expansion of an existing caravan park to accommodate an additional 208 long term residential sites is refused.

(Link to judgement)Hawkesbury City Council won. The development is dead in the water.

This is a pleasing vindication. What do you think?

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