The state government has heeded the call for it to buy back a six hectare parcel of the Mambo Wetlands controversially sold at auction in 2016 with a directive to begin negotiations with the owner.
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer wrote a letter to the Premier Gladys Berejiklian in December in which he asked that she provide financial support to the council in a buy-back.
Cr Palmer announced on Monday morning that he had received a positive response.
“Today I am pleased to say that Premier Gladys Berejiklian has written to inform me that the Minister for Planning, the Hon Anthony Roberts MP, has instructed the Department of Planning to investigate the feasibility of purchasing the site through the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme,” Cr Palmer said.
“News of the Minister for Planning stepping in to see if he can initiate a buy-back is positive for council, as land acquisitions are an onerous process. This will undoubtedly be made easier with the Minister’s assistance.
“While I recognise that this process is in its early stages and details are yet to be finalised, it’s still a breakthrough for the community to finally have the NSW Government on the same page.”
In the letter, Ms Berejiklian explained that Planning Minister Anthony Roberts had instructed his department to initiate a buy back.
The re-acquisition process has started and the Hunter property developer, Paul Unicomb, will be approached with an offer to negotiate. This comes as the council is part way through assessment of a second development application – the first withdrawn in December.
Cr Jaimie Abbott was pleased with the announcement after she brought the idea to council in December, just days after the first plans were withdrawn.
“I’m pretty proud with it being off the back of my motion, which was supported unanimously,” she said.
“I would like to see this incorporated into the larger council controlled reserve but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Monday’s announcement follows the collection of 10,000 signatures to debate a buyback, confirmed on the eve of World Wetlands Day, last Thursday. Though it is understood that the letter from Ms Berejiklian was dated January 30.
Liberal Duty MLC for Port Stephens Catherine Cusack was among those at the media conference outside Mambo Wetlands on Monday, alongside Cr Glen Dunkley and Cr John Nell.
Ms Cusack said the government would work in partnership with the council to protect the old school site in perpetuity.
“Can I really emphasise that I’m glad to see the Labor supporters here today because we’re really all on the same page,” she said.
Cr Palmer thanked Cr Abbott for making a Notice of Motion last year, which enabled the council to send a message to the NSW Government about the significance of the Mambo Wetlands.
“Port Stephens Council wants to work with the State Government to get the best possible outcome for the Mambo wetlands,” Cr Palmer said.
“I believe this will be to have council as the trustee when the land is reacquired, and to incorporate the land into the larger reserve.
“This letter from the Premier is a huge and positive step forward and we are now on the pathway to resolving this issue.”
Asked why he had chosen to reveal on Monday that he had received the letter, Cr Palmer said it was “timing”.
“It was just timing that we received that letter [dated] late January and that we're announcing it today,” he said.
“It ties in pretty well with World Wetlands Day, last week, and the focus on the land here but I think it was just the timing of the meeting happening in December and with the Christmas break, [the letter] coming through now.”