Most people don’t engage with land use and development planning until it is too late – when someone starts clearing or building.
Successive Port Stephens mayors and most councillors have reinforced a view that planning is just a bureaucratic nuisance that gets in the way of much needed development. Environment and community groups who have argued for better planning and a long-term vision have been derided and labelled as tree-hugging “nimbys”.
Councillors have often overridden professional planning advice on everything from residential development on flood-prone land to sensible zoning that promotes higher density development close to community facilities and public transport.
Even where initial planning has resulted in sound zoning and development standards, councillors have watered them down with subsequent decisions.
Near the airport, more fast food outlets and pubs have been approved using what we believe is a loophole that's allowed inappropriate development in rural zones.
We fear that such developments on Nelson Bay Road make for a terrible introduction to visitors to the ‘Blue Water Wonderland’.
Around Anna Bay, multiple approvals for residential parks on rural land will see hundreds of manufactured homes erected on cramped sites with limited facilities far from local services.
It’s our view that the derelict resort on GanGan Road stands testament to the folly of building on a wind-blown site, again on supposedly rural land.
Arguably worse than these decisions is what appears to be a ‘development at any price’ attitude toward strategic planning and development assessment.
In Nelson Bay, council has pre-empted the current strategy review, accepting high rise buildings.
The advice of independent experts on quality design has been ignored, and no strategic benefit secured in exchange for the extra height. Our fear is that council is only paying lip service to koala protection while enthusiastically promoting developments which clear critical habitat.
Communities throughout Port Stephens are starting to demand better planned and implemented developments that respect the environment, make efficient use of infrastructure and services, and maintain the economy of local centres.
Nigel Waters is on the planning assessment sub-committee of the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association.