No highway to heaven


WAYNE Clouten could have lived just about anywhere in the world.

The chief executive of a media company, Mr Clouten's choice of residence needed to meet only one key point: that he had to be near an airport.

From the hundreds of possibilities, he chose Woolgoolga and since May, 2003, with his wife and son, has worked to establish their two-hectare property as a little slice of heaven.

Now, he is faced with the possibility of heaven becoming a highway.

If the Roads and Traffic Authority's preferred route for the Pacific Highway is built, Mr Clouten's home, about one kilometre west of the present highway, will be bulldozed to make way for the Option E route around Woolgoolga.

The Option E route will also ruin the 300-tree mango orchard he has established, bringing winds, which agriculture experts say, will destroy its productivity.

"We're devastated," he said. "My son has been in tears about it.

"The RTA has said it could be a couple of years before anything happens but that just makes it worse because what do we do in the meantime?

"I am most angry about the whole consultation process, which has just been a sham.

"It would have been better for the RTA to have just told us 'we are going to put the highway here and you can't do anything about it' rather than take us through the process and then come up with a contrived result."

Adding to Mr Clouten's frustration is the fact that when he was buying the Woolgoolga property, all the necessary checks revealed no plans for a bypass on the Option E route.

Pleased to be returning to the area where he grew up, he went ahead with the purchase, his wife set up a home-based IT business, the mangoes were developed, and life was good until being informed of the new route in February this year.

Apart from the devastation of his own potential loss, Mr Clouten is convinced the RTA proposal will have only short-term benefit and do lasting damage to the communities in Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour, which will be forced to have residential development on both sides of the highway.

He also thinks the roadway will ruin one of the qualities that attracted him back to the Coffs Coast after many years away ? the fact it is one of only two areas where the Great Dividing Range touches the coast.

"It's a unique part of Australia's topography," he said.

"I'm always taken by the spectacular scenery when you fly over the Coffs Coast and it seems to me that the big picture plan should be trying to preserve that.

"Rule number one when planning the highway should be to not screw up this narrow coastal strip any more."

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