PHOTOS (from top): The new Kilgariff suburb: Almost all of stage 1A sold or under offer • Old bowling club: no progress with cluster dwellings • Next stage of Kilgariff.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
If you take a walk through the thicket of land planning, land use and government administration you’ll get to some places that will make you say “what the hell!” Others will please you, and a few will give you a laugh.
A good place to start is the Development Consent Authority (DCA) which met in Alice Springs yesterday.
It dealt with the application from the owner of a “rural block” on Ross Highway which he has, over the years, transformed into a road freight terminal – a prohibited use.
He now wants the DCA not only to give it a retrospective seal of approval, but to permit turning it into an even bigger industrial operation.
His neighbours, who bought land there for the peace and quiet, say what they think about this in readers’ comments (Tracy and Kazz) about a similar conflict in Petrick Road.
Answering questions from the Alice Springs News Online, DCA Chairman Denis Burke, a former Chief Minister, said: “There are significant issues of non-compliance right across the NT.
“We are trying to deal with them, generally, by trying to get a cooperative response which sometimes takes a lot more time. It’s easy to say, just apply the big stick. That’s not the approach we set out to do.”
Clearly this ‘softly, softly’ performance by our regulatory bodies isn’t working. Ross Copland and his family have been putting up with a noisy illegal operation next-door for three years. Enough said.
Next case: The proposal for an incinerator.
Businessman Darren Burton appeared before the DCA to seek approval to build the premises which will house the incinerator.
He’s already spent $100,000 and more than a year on subdividing land in the Brewer industrial estate, 25 kms south of Alice Springs.
Now, as Mr Burton understands it, this is the position his project is in: The Environment Protection Authority NT (EPA) cannot certify the plant unless it can inspect it during its operation, testing all its safety and other mechanisms.
For the plant to be put into operation it needs to be installed in a building.
To build that building requires approval which is usually based on a DCA recommendation to the Minister.
But Mr Burke told Mr Burton the DCA would not recommend the granting of building approval unless the plant is certified by the EPA. Checkmate.
All this gives a new meaning to the reduction of red tape pledged by the Giles Government.
(We have contacted the EPA. When it gets back to us we will ask if approval based on engineering plans can be sufficient for certification. Mr Burton doesn’t think so. See UPDATE 5:10pm at bottom of report)
Giving the public a say in the development of its town is clearly one statutory objective of the DCA, and so one would assume that its membership would reflect the hugely varied mix of the town’s population.
One would be wrong.
All the DCA members are middle-aged white males with private enterprise business backgrounds and most are known for their conservative politics.
The one exception is Chansey Paech who is young, of Aboriginal descent, president of the local Labor Party branch and working for an NGO.
But as the “alternate” member Councillor Paech gets a guernsey only if a member is absent. Yesterday he stood in for Impaja CEO Alistair Feehan who last was in the public eye as the promoter of a prostitution business in Alice Springs, along with a madam from Melbourne and a partner from Thailand. The business failed to get off the ground.
The other DCA members are Brendan Heenan, David Koch and Steve Brown.
But not all news on the land scene is bad.
Although the government curtailed the First Home Owners Grant to new buildings from December 31, applications in Alice Springs have more than doubled in the first six weeks of 2015, compared to the corresponding period last year. The respective figures were 44 and 20, respectively. Territory-wide the numbers were 126 and 77.
And Kilgariff, the new suburb, Chief Minister Adam Giles’s pet project, is doing well: 31 out of the 33 blocks in Stage 1A are either sold or under offer, and three blocks in Stage 1B are under offer, says Andrew Kirkman, General Manager Land Development Corporation.
However, there is no sign of life yet on the old bowling club land in South Terrace, nor the drive-in site on the South Stuart Highway, both of which are earmarked for cluster housing. And there still is no firm news about Melanka.
At least the rubble on the drive-in block that has greeted travellers from the south for years, has now been screened from view.
Meanwhile Mr Burke was candid with the News about the illegal use of the two hectare rural block in Petrick Road:
BURKE: Under the Planning Act home based contracting is allowed on rural blocks.
NEWS: The issue in Petrick Road has been ongoing for three years.
BURKE: The simple answer is, it’s not black and white.
NEWS: What are the problems that have extended the problems over three years?
BURKE: We are trying to encourage the land owner to attend to some of the amenity issues, primarily. They are the areas where he has already volunteered to assist, which includes him getting a new, separate access. That involves negotiations with the council as well as us, planting and landscaping. We were trying to be cooperative with him, now we’ll be reminding him again of the undertakings he’s already given us.
NEWS: The other issues are the amount of land he’s using, allegedly well in excess of the 200 square meters he’s allowed; he doesn’t live on the place, items used in the contracting are visible from the outside, and there are several more motor vehicles than permitted.
BURKE: I can’t respond to these allegations, I have to work with the information we’ve got. We are aware it’s an issue that’s been going on for a long time.
NEWS: How many people from your department are actually checking out these allegations?
BURKE: We’ve instructed at today’s meeting the Development Assessment Services to go out again and do another assessment of the property.
“Planting and landscaping” to screen from view the activity and machinery of the home based contracting? Could that mean the operation being shut down while the trees are growing – several years at least? Watch this space.
EPA chair Bill Freeland says the information about the proposed incinerator provided by Mr Burton to date “is insufficient to allow the EPA to make a decision on whether further environmental impact assessment is required.
“Mr Burton has been provided technical assistance and has been referred to the NT EPA’s guideline [that] provides clear direction as to what information is required and whether it would meet the required standard of air emissions.
“There is also a need for information on the nature, sources and volumes of the wastes that are proposed for incineration. Information is also needed on the wastes expected to be generated from the incineration process.
“The EPA will move quickly once the required information is provided.
“The EPA does not require Mr Burton to construct a building in which to house the incinerator prior to completion of the environmental assessments. The environmental assessment is critical and should be given priority.”