PHOTOS: Above – dongas stored illegally on the land of NT Link owned by Tony Smith in Ilparpa Road. Below – heavy vehicles and machinery on rural residential land in Petrick and Chateau Roads.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Tony Smith is the principal of NT Link which bought a large property zoned Rural in Ilparpa and began to use it for storing of up to 130 demountable buildings.
He is an Alice Springs businessman of many decades with other real estate elsewhere in town, but he did not know that he needed a permit to do that.
He claims, through consultants, that despite “exhaustive investigation” he could not find another suitable location for a transport terminal, which is what he is now applying for.
“NT Link has no other choice,” Mr Smith’s consultant from a South Australian firm, Simon Tonkin, claimed. “They’ve got no other place to go.”
Alice Springs may lose a major business with lots of employment: That was his dire prediction.
Chansey Paech, the Member for Namatjira, made short shrift of that: There is plenty of suitable land, for example at Brewer Estate and at the airport – one of the world’s biggest in terms of land area.
In fact it already has as a tenant a firm building, storing and – yes – transporting demountable buildings.
It was suggested that what Mr Smith wants to do with his newly acquired land, reportedly bought for about $650,000, has very little to do with transport and a lot with storage of a “good” – in this case transportable buildings, dongas in local parlance.
Industrial storing is a prohibited use of the block he bought.
All in all, this made for a spirited couple of hours in front of the Development Consent Authority (DCA) yesterday, as the latest chapter of the controversial industrialisation of the farm areas unfolded, in the presence of 50 angry rural residents.
They and others had lodged 90 objections, mostly claiming loss of amenity on their nearby rural residential land.
Mr Tonkin’s attempted to belittle that effort, saying it is a tiny fraction of the town’s population, and that the DCA, with its new chairperson, Suzanne Philip, ought to focus on the application from Mr Smith.
Again, Mr Paech hit back: the 90 submissions came from a quarter of the area’s population, not counting the submittors’ family members who no doubt agreed with them.
Mr Tonkin clearly takes the view that the public’s opinion about a land use application is not something the DCA needs to worry too much about. Maybe he has a point: On many controversial occasions the applicants persevered in the face of opponents who were in an overwhelming majority.
Yesterday there was not a single speaker in favour of Mr Smith’s application.
It is bizarre that there seems to be no definition of “transport terminal” although it is a “discretionary” classification for land zoned rural. This means a permit is required, which Mr Smith still doesn’t have. A DCA decision has been promised for mid next week by Ms Philip.
Having started using the land, requiring frequent movements of road trains more than 50 metres long, “is recognised as a failure by our client [who] did not appreciate the need” for permission, as Mr Tonkin put it.
Ms Philip, seeing little point in “circular definitions,” defined the question to be answered: “What is a transport terminal?
“This [storing dongas] isn’t in the course of transport, in my view. They come back and forth to this site.
“These are not vehicles. These are goods.”
“I have a solution,” offered Mr Tonkin, hopefully: His client could carry out service and maintenance of the vehicles on the site.
Ms Philip: “I don’t think that gets you over it. In that case every possible business you can think of that has vehicles is a transport terminal … is that what you are saying?
“The purpose of this is storage until they are used again, not transport.”
We’ll all know Ms Philip’s final resolution of this issue mid next week.
Meanwhile Mr Tonkin, whom Mr Smith instructed not to speak with the Alice Springs News Online, did his best to give the impression that lots of other rural land holders are doing the wrong thing as well.
In part he has a point, of course, largely because of the government’s chronic failure to act on breaches.
He says there are a number of land users of similar ilk … it’s very typical for these allotments to be used for these purposes … on the neighbouring clay pans, cars are doing donuts … there is overstocking on neighbouring properties.
When it comes to visual amenity, “a number of properties have not attended to landscape buffers … nor have they done any re-vegetation or dust suppression”.
Mr Tonkin is a bit rubbery when it come to his client’s intentions: Improvements are going to happen in the long-term … it will take two to five years before there is a “significant benefit”.
Several people addressed the DCA.
Mr Paech said people move to the area for the amenity, the lifestyle.
The project, if approved, would set a precedent. Land values would drop. Big applause.
Immediate neighbour Chelsea Rogers says there would be a “momentous impact on our rural lifestyle.
“I come home to noise,” she says.
Apart from the beeping and engine noise of trucks “for hours” the land is clearly being used for repair work on the dongas.
The shared driveway is “flat out dangerous” and there have been near accidents when the over-width road trains went over the double white lines on Ilparpa Road.
Shae Griffiths, who grew up on a neighbouring block as she wants her kids to, says tradies installing water systems and air conditioning are a frequent presence and so are noisy water trucks.
Rod Cramer, chairman of the Alice Springs Rural Areas Association, spoke about repairs likely to be needed on dongas “coming back from Tanami”, and about concerns of water bore contamination.
He said R-zonings should not be applied to areas of less than 40 hectares (the block under application is about 12 hectares).
He proposed a definition for transport terminal: It handles goods that don’t belong to you.
Manager Developments Dilip Nellikat, appearing for the Town Council, said council had “serious concerns” about the application: the use would be industrial (and hence not permitted in R zones); there is a policy of not allowing more than two demountables per block; Ilparpa Road may need slip lanes to accommodate the heavy vehicles.
Immediate neighbour to the north, Adaiana Bugg, in an emotional appeal to the DCA, said she had suffered from panic attacks and moved to the area to find peace.
In Ilparpa Valley, that peace has been shattered, at least for the moment.