The Hunter Central Coast Regional Planning Panel has conditionally approved MidCoast Council's development application (DA) for a centralised administration office at the former Masters site in Taree South.
At a hearing at council's Taree chambers on Monday, February 24, planning panel chair Alison Mccabe said the application would be approved under the condition a shuttle service would be used to transport residents from the Taree CBD to the site on ordinary meeting days.
A proposed cafe at the premises would also be restricted to 60 seats and 7am to 7pm opening hours. MidCoast Council general manager Adrian Panuccio welcomed the news.
"This decision means we are able to move forward on the project which will result in more efficient and effective services for our community," Mr Panuccio said.
Once the decision was announced, Ms Mccabe acknowledged the decision would disappoint some members of the community.
'No MidCoast Council move to Masters' spokesperson Katrina Pearson, who spoke at the meeting about the proposed cafe and future financial viability of the council, said the group was devastated by the decision.
She said the opening hours for the cafe far exceeds council's business hours.
"I can't see that being a profitable private enterprise for someone to take on a private contract," Ms Pearson said.
Ms Pearson was also critical of the need to fund the shuttle service.
"Again council is forgetting we pay for these services," Ms Pearson said. "Council's do not have money, governments do not have money- communities provide the money."
The gallery in the council chambers was at capacity, with some councillors in attendance to hear the decision. Several residents spoke against the application, with issues such as traffic and economic issues in mind.
Retired projects manager and Dyers Crossing resident John Butterworth claimed the development was in contrast to zoning requirements and questioned the planning process.
"It was seriously flawed from the start," he claimed.
As the site was a former retail warehouse, Mr Butterworth said the building doesn't fit the use of an administration space.
He also claimed the decision would increase costs and cause council to face a financial hit.
Debbie Cramp from Taree questioned the assessment report for the base figures used in a traffic study. The roundabout near the site, traffic during peak hours and lack of public transport directly to the site was also discussed.
Terry Stanton spoke about economic assessment and consequences.
"Consideration of economic impact has been woefully inadequate," Mr Stanton said.
"The assessment report fails to state that this is a low socio-economic area with unemployment way about national and State averages."
Harrington resident Nawal Maharaj gave an impromptu address to the panel about issues with public transport to the site and the bus timetable route for residents to travel to the office from areas such as Gloucester and Harrington.
This decision means we are able to move forward on the project which will result in more efficient and effective services for our community.Adrian Panuccio, MidCoast Council general manager
Council representatives were also given an opportunity to speak about planning reports and issues raised by the community.
It was stated all legal processes were followed, with the move designed to create a cohesive environment for staff. Contrary to some of the submissions, the panel was told the traffic study was conducted on October 16-17 last year while claims out-of-date statistics were used as fact were used as a reference only.
This drew the ire of some in the gallery.
Ms Mccabe said some of the submissions referred to issues outside of a planning scope. Therefore, the points weren't taken into consideration.
"Our role is to deal with it (development application) in a planning role," Ms Mccabe said.
"The impact on taxpayers for example is not able to be considered. We can't question those strategic and corporate decisions."
The panel said the development application was permitted because the site was correctly referred to and categorised as a public administration building which therefore makes it suitable for the zoning requirements.
Council has an expression of interest for the operation of the cafe. A tender for the construction works is open and will likely be decided at the April 24 ordinary council meeting.
Council has also started to market properties for sale or lease. The first properties will be vacant land on Chapmans Road, Tuncurry and both Forster offices.
An appeal unlikely but still an option
'No MidCoast Council move to Masters' spokesperson Katrina Pearson said an appeal against the Hunter Central Coast Regional Planning Panel approval of MidCoast Council's development application to relocate to the former Masters site appears unlikely.
However, it remains an option.
"I never say no but I cannot imagine our community funding an appeal," Ms Pearson said.
"I don't see our socio-economic base being able to afford an appeal process as much as it may be warranted."
The group believes there are substantial economic and social impacts from the project.
"It absolutely blows my mind the most important social and economic impact the council and their consultants could come up with was some of their staff will need to drive a distance to their workplace," Ms Pearson said.
Ms Pearson said a run in September's council election is 'under heavy consideration'. Before the planning panel hearing on Monday, the group held at protest at the former Masters site.
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