By BELINDA SCOTT
CRAIG Knowles couldn't have created more of a surprise for Woolgoolga development interests yesterday if he had sprung out from behind a door shouting 'boo'.
The Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources an-nounced he had refused development applications for two subdivisions involving 140 lots, both on the northern side of Hearns Lake Road.
The announcement was a complete surprise to the developer, BBK Development Corporation, whose principals first read the news in the Coffs Coast Advocate, and it was an equal surprise to Coffs Harbour City councillors and staff.
BBK Development Corporation director, Barry France, said the masterplans had been prepared in 2003, but they had been waiting for the development control plan (DCP) to be finalised in order to modify the masterplan.
"We had agreed with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources at their request to place the plans on hold until the DCP was complete. We are surprised the masterplans have been assessed prior to adoption of the DCP," Mr France said.
He said BBK would be developing the land in accordance with the council's final recommendations.
Coffs Harbour City Councillor Rod McKelvey said the Hearns Lake/Sandy Beach Development Control Plan (DCP) was likely to go to the council in August.
"Normally a master plan is put in place when a DCP is in place," Cr McKelvey said.
Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Mark Ferguson also admitted to surprise, saying council, although only a third party in the issue, had believed the applicants were quite co-operative and willing to address all issues and pretty innovative in their solutions and council saw existing septic tanks as the main threat to the lake.
Unacceptable stormwater and flood management, potential impact on the lake and fauna, and increased traffic volume were among the Minister's grounds for refusal.
Mr Knowles said he also took into account other issues, including the partial destruction of the habitat of a threatened species; the impacts on traffic volume and safety; the layout and design of some lots; and the need for environmental buffers from the nearby marine park and littoral rainforest.
Members of the Sandy Hearns Action Group (SHAG), which has lobbied hard for better environmental protection for Hearns Lake, were more pleased than surprised.
"The Minister has shown a great deal of understanding of the sensitive nature of the Hearns Lake ecosystem and for that we are grateful," said SHAG spokesman Jack Thompson.
Mr Thompson said SHAG was not opposed to all development, but the Minister's decision showed the new philosophy of sustainable coastal development in action.