Friday, June 21, 2024

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HomeIssue 15Minister's planning decision flies in the face of Alice locals

Minister's planning decision flies in the face of Alice locals

Planning Minister Gerry McCarthy has rejected the submissions from the Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA), which represents about 70 members, and from an undisclosed number of individual objectors, by giving permission to a land owner in Petrick Road to develop blocks substantially smaller than is permitted in the town plan.
ASRAA chair Rod Cramer says he has not been contacted by Mr McCarthy, nor by Karl Hampton, the Minister for Central Australia over the issue.
The minimum block size in the area is two hectares but Mr McCarthy gave permission for three lots of 1.79 ha, 1.8 ha and 1.56 ha, respectively.
The town council commented only on the application’s technical aspects of roads, stormwater and other services, says Greg Buxton, Director Technical Services.
He says while the council was at liberty to comment on other issues it did not, because the NT Government authorities were unlikely to “pay attention” as the council has no role in questions of zoning.
This is a long way from what the new Labor Government, through its Minister Peter Toyne, proclaimed in August 2001: “Labor [will] open up the town planning process, shrink the powers of the Minister to override the Development Authority, make it fully representative, give it a much greater autonomy from the Minister, and link it much more closely to local government.”
Block sizes are a long running issue for rural area residents, which fought – unsuccessfully – a similar exceptional permit granted by the CLP Minister Max Ortmann to the former owner of the land, the Hornsby vineyard.
The residents and the association also fought other applications – always on the grounds that the two hectare limit should not be violated: They did not want their lifestyle, for which they had made significant financial sacrifices, to be tampered with.
At the time of the Ortmann decision assurances were given that allowing smaller blocks would not set a precedent for any future developments, yet Mr McCarthy referred to that development to justify his own ruling.
Says Mr Cramer: “This is the most pathetic of reasons, like a five-year-old saying someone else did it first. He’s arguing to repeat a previous mistake.
“Why does the Minister give as a reason for his decision that the land is ‘the last remnant parcel of the original Chateau Hornsby Winery’?
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Mr Cramer says ASRAA is concerned applications like this may be the thin end of the wedge, and for that reason the association has for more than a decade been objecting to smaller lots “as a matter of principle”.
He wrote in his objection that the proposed blocks were “certainly not ‘slightly smaller’ than the minimum required.
“I am well acquainted with the bizarre circumstances which lead to the half size lots in the ‘nearby Ilparpa’ subdivision, but cannot understand what this at all has to do with this application.
“I cannot understand how the ‘former use as a winery … caused degradation’.
“I certainly cannot understand how the applicant would have any insight into what the “new owners” may or may not want to do.
“I cannot understand how this application ‘fulfills the intent of the [planning] scheme’ in any shape or form.
“It would be a gross miss-application of the Planning Act if this application were approved.”
The Alice News hoped to raise the issue with Mr Hampton but he continues to decline an interview.
NOTE: There are 1512 lots in Alice Springs in zone SD (single dwelling) over 1,000sqm. These are proposed to qualify for a second dwelling.
[Declaration of interest: The author of this report is a rural resident, a long time member of the ASRAA and an objector to the application.]
PHOTO: Approximate outline of the block to be subdivided. Google Earth.


  1. It always hurts to grow. Apparently for towns, too.
    It can hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the recent debates over, and allocation of, development permits in Alice Springs to hear that this development is being objected to.
    But consider that if a different application currently before DCA gets the nod, the old drive-in cinema will soon be home to 72 lots.
    And consider that property owners on the old Eastside, and elsewhere as far as I am aware, may soon be allowed to split their holding in two if their block is big enough.
    And consider that Kilgariff is going ahead.
    Alice Springs is creating the space to grow, and part of that space is south of the Gap.
    If you already own five acres or more and want to keep it, well and good, but the property next to yours might not always be another five acre lot.

  2. Instead of again “shooting from the lip” Hal Duell would do everyone a favour if he did some research. (I can only presume he is building on his previous published accusation that rural landholders are “stingy”!) At least 38 years of planning documents (actually NT Gov Policies) since 1975 would be a good start. As one of them says, they are created to “provide a level of certainty for landholders and developers”. These are the documents that help (even if only vicariously) form the basis of people’s decisions to purchase property in the area they choose, north or south of the Heavitree Range.
    The fact that ALL NT Governments have chosen not to carry out their policies (that they commissioned, we paid for and they adopted), and subsequently one particular section of the community becomes “collateral damage” – whether it is a few households with an Exceptional Development Permit in their midst, or a whole community that has a hastily cobbled together subdivision foisted on them by taking the path of least resistance purely for political expediency – should be of concern to everyone. If they do it to “them”, they could easily do it to you.
    How would Hal react if a relaxation of height limits (maybe via an EDP) resulted in a substantial multi story housing complex blocking the view from his elevated deck? Not only rural landholders have every right to feel cheated by decisions of this nature, especially after the number of mistruths that have come from the NT Governments over the years, especially since June 2008. There is no justification for this pain.
    Hal has previously publicly stated his feelings against infill, expressing the fear that the park adjacent his home might be built over. Apart from demonstrating his ignorance of planning concepts, it now clearly places him in the hypocrite box.
    We should all be able to gain some comfort that the NT Planning Scheme actually contains a definition of “amenity”. Unfortunately it appears that all too often the only aspect of amenity many of our planning Ministers have considered is that defined by the $ signs in the applicants’ eyes. Again, we should all be concerned.
    So Hal, you’ve “had enough rope”.

  3. @Rod
    Before getting personal and exposing yourself to the question are rural ratepayers well served if their president can’t gain an interview with NT development ministers, perhaps a larger picture wants looking at.
    In April’s DCA meeting, 72 units are up for approval on the old drive-in and 3 x 3 multiple dwellings on Mt Johns development. Add the development at the old winery mentioned in this article, and recent announcements suggesting large town blocks might be subdivided, and a pattern emerges.
    Perhaps head works cost too much for new suburbs to keep going up. I forget how much Kilgariff has cost to date, but it has run into several million before the first house has been built.
    No one likes to feel crowded. For example, I’m sure some of owners of large blocks in the Old Eastside hope their neighbours don’t subdivide. I’m also sure anyone living next door to a park is wary of the new 12th Council’s intentions given the fairly loud park sell-off sounds that came from the last one.
    So does all this add to the reasons for Alice Springs to question if we want and / or need Darwin to be in the driver’s seat when the direction of our future development is chosen?
    Or perhaps it’s more simple. Do the rural ratepayers want to elect a new president who isn’t so cranky?

  4. Hal, I support your thoughts and comments. Have they converted the Drivein site to units rather than small freehold allotments which was the original proposal? As our town grows things will change. We no longer tie our horses up when we go the the shop. Mission brown is not used on any new dwelling and our block sizes are getting smaller. We even have 3D colour TV, who would have thought. Next someone will walk on the moon!

  5. As I said, prior research has benefits, but as an alternative, you can always try to “shoot the messenger”. Study the documents (and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”), and try putting yourself in the shoes of those people they made undertakings to, whichever part of town they reside in.
    I as ASRAA Chair have had no trouble in meeting with every planning Minister (and most of them several times) since I was elected to the position (and annually re-elected unopposed), some 15 years ago. The comment that the current Minister didn’t contact me, while true, was not a point I made. Julia Gillard hasn’t contacted me either, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any of them to do so.
    I’ll accept the cranky label as a compliment, even though you clearly don’t know me well enough to comment, as I suspect ASRAA members will be looking for higher levels of cranky qualifications, as they have every reason to be cranky, as do many other sectors of the community.
    And John, one change we are all waiting for are Governments that don’t deceive the community, which may require a lesser level of gullibility, and higher level of engagement from the populace, to be achieved.

  6. Both Hal and John need to look past Rod’s supposed “crankiness” and think about the points he raises regarding the Planning Minister’s apparent over-use of Exceptional Development Permits (EDPs) to over-ride what little planning has been drafted up for this town.
    True, change is inevitable, John, but moving towards a less sustainable way of living is not a good change for the town in the longer term. As for talk of “growth” – perhaps you both haven’t noticed that the town’s population has plateaued over the last eight years or so, and that the latest figures actually show a slight decline? Get real, guys.
    Proper planning involves lots of thought up front, engaging the community in drafting a workable Plan and then for that Plan to guide the developers, not the other way around. Time will tell whether the Old Drive-in site and the AZRI suburban development will be successful or not, for the fact remains that they both go against national and international planning trends in a post peak-oil world.

  7. @John Barnes
    I am thinking they almost have to be units simply because I don’t see the space for 72 freehold lots on the site.
    But further to the approval of all the applications currently in the wind, and what does Darwin know that they’re not telling? It was only yesterday that we had no excess building sites, and now we seem to have plenty. And this in the face of closing businesses and stories of people leaving town.
    So is there a boom coming our way, as in mining, and is the thinking that if we don’t want to be a fly in/fly out community, opportunities to buy into Alice and build homes will be needed?
    Someone thinks we are destined to grow, and I have to welcome that. I only wonder what they are planning to dig up, if that’s the story.
    And for the record, I doubt if the 12th Alice Springs Town Council runs its four year term without selling at least one or two or a few parks. As long as they are the truly unproductive ones, as in no children playing in them every day, and otherwise of nil community value, does it matter? Council is strapped for cash, our rates are high enough as it is and it would be hard to mount a good argument for keeping some of those vacant lots.

  8. Hal I hope the Alice Springs Town Council does sell off a couple of the parks but reinvests the money into improving the remaining parks. If you look at the Spearwood Rd / Mallam Cres / Kilgarrif Cres area you have parks in Reiff Ct, Laver Ct and at the end of the Laver Ct laneway on Spearwood Rd. Surely the local community would be best served by the park on the main road, Spearwood Rd being sold off for housing and the two remaining parks, Reiff Ct and Laver Ct, being upgraded and better maintained. You also have substantial school ovals in the immediate proximity. As a Sadadeen resident I would rather see that occur than have all three parks poorly maintained.
    National housing trends are to smaller allotments as people no longer want the quarter acres block. Courtyard developments are becoming the norm, perhaps it is time for our planners to update the parameters under which the town is scheduled to expand, then when they make decisions in the best interest of the expansion of the town it won’t come a disappointment to some in the community.

  9. I am a rural resident and hold two properties. One is 2 hectares and the other is over 2 hectares.
    Let’s look at more facts.
    First. Robyn Lambley conducted what is the only independent survey of rural residents views on development: half for and half against.
    Second. Up to half of the blocks in some rural areas are far less than a hectare, and in the winery there are at least three, perhaps four that are only 0.25 of a hectare.
    Third. There is a world of difference between seeking sub-division to meet parity with other block sizes and improve contemporary rural lifestyle on manageable sized holdings – and wholescale development.
    Fourth. Anti-rural-subdivision advocates lack transparency each time they fail to disclose the size of their own holding when making public assertions on issue such as these.

  10. I’m tempted to ask Margo Macgregor “and your point is?
    Yes, lets look at facts. Yes, Robyn Lambley MLA did conducted a survey of SOME rural residents – only those who live in her Electorate of Araluen, ie essentially west of the Stuart Highway – for her own information. The total number of responses she received was substantially less than the number of Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA) members (which is disappointing for both of us).
    Yes, there are any number of blocks in the rural area that are less than their zoning is or was. That doesn’t make it right or acceptable, but they are there. To argue that in some way it justifies more of the same is what small children do. But it raises the question why do we have zonings at all, indeed, why have planning, or planning legislation? The answers are fairly obvious, and I previously mentioned one, which is actually in a document that is part of NT Government policy
    The significant question is, why and how can the Minister interfere with that Policy, even if having gone through “due process”.
    An exaggerated analogy – we have a law that says we must drive on the left hand side of the road. That gives us all a degree of certainty. But what if a Transport Minister gave permission for a few drivers to drive on the right hand side of the road? The resulting degree of uncertainty for us all would have some dire consequences. While the consequences of such inconsistency in planning are considerably less dire, they are just as undesirable. (Look at the similarities of the analogy, not the differences.)
    I don’t believe the concept of “meeting parity with other block sizes” is in any way supported in the Planning Act or Scheme in the context it is raised by Margot Macgregor, but it is very much the principal of Rural Zoning, which in the first instance are determined by size.
    The concept of “manageable sized holdings” is subjective in the extreme, and certainly not a fact. Our rural property is several hundred times larger than Margo Macgregor’s combined, and while management is demanding, you could not say it was not manageable. In the Wanngardi subdivision there are several dozen 8ha blocks, and you can observe varying levels of management, but generally they are managed. I’m not aware of anyone who has sold one citing “management” as a determining factor. But we all probably know someone who can’t / couldn’t manage a bedsit. One of the developers (Hermann Weber), of the less than satisfactory (in planning terms) Ilparpa Subdivision tried that same angle when they applied / succeeded in creating about 100 half size blocks in the early ’80’s. Many planning applications in other living zones try it on. They are very transparent.
    I fail to see how disclosing ones block size makes any difference to the “transparency” of some ones “public assertions”? Please explain?
    ASRAA is certainly not “anti-rural-subdivision advocates”, but are very much against subdivision below the legal zoning size.
    We either have rural blocks that meet all the criteria (amenity) that swayed people to buy them in the first place, or we have what? If someone wants to live in a group of smaller blocks, go and buy one, don’t think you have some special right to stuff it up for every one else. Before someone suggests “but there aren’t any”, go and do your homework. When was the last land made available by the Government to be developed as rural blocks? The Government’s own policy documents suggest that 40 new Rural Zoned (ie 0.4 or 2ha in size) should be made available each year. And guess what piece of land they had earmarked for such release?

  11. Margo MacGregor says: “There is a world of difference between seeking sub-division to meet parity with other block sizes and improve contemporary rural lifestyle on manageable sized holdings – and wholescale development.”
    Parity with other block sizes can be read to mean that everything should stay the same i.e the zoning rules must apply.
    For transparency: I live on exactly 2 hectares in a minumum 2 ha zone and in 1997 my wife and I won a prize for how it was managed: a $100 dollar voucher at the Watershed and a signboard.

  12. Another fact: some of the applications for sub-division under 2 hectares have come from Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA) members.
    My point is: the vitriolic debate here demonstrates a pressing need to bring a measured and informed consideration of the issues.
    My question is: when does ASRAA intend to ask the Minister to commission an independent survey of all rural residents on holdings of 2 hectares or larger in the interest of bringing contemporary evidence to the debate?
    And for the record, I am more than happy to contribute to bringing about that process, although I am not an ASRAA member.

  13. I wish we could have a level of debate about the seven day per week take-away alcohol regime, a floor price and the trend towards increasing restrictions such as is occurring at this story.
    Your debate may be “vitriolic” but at least, you’re prepared to argue the issues with substance, rather than puerile platitudes as is occurring with grog, which doesn’t even appear to be an issue for public debate in a town with twice the national consumption average.

  14. Ms MacGregor has an interesting concept of “fact” and “some”!
    To the best of my knowledge, only one Member (and they had only been a member a very short while), has ever applied to subdivide below the 2ha min. area in the RL Zone. Not “some”, or “applications” or “members”. Only one other short term Member may have had in a below minimum size application in a different Zoning, but as I recall, the application was made well before they joined.
    As for asking the Minister to commission an independent survey, as I recall there have been three, perhaps four reviews of the “Alice Springs Structure Plan” and its variants, which has resulted in the Current NT Planning Scheme, in the last 15 years or so, with public forums, public display periods, and public hearings, by an independent body, and any number earlier, ditto. I can remember being at one of those more recent events, and I was one of only three members of the public there, and the other two were Real Estate Agents, and one of them had only been in town a short while, and left town not long after.
    As I’ve said before, do the research, get your facts right.
    Ms MacGregor’s [arguments] remind me of the comment about marriage – a suitor falls in love with all the qualities of their “prospective other half”, gets married, and then spends the rest of their life trying to change them.


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