Powers discussion slowly resolved

THE wheels of democracy rolled slowly and around in circles during debate at Bellingen Shire Council this week regarding additional powers being granted to the director of planning.

Charlie Hannavy was requesting the support of councillors for a strategy he believed would minimise the number of Development Applications (DAs) that they would be required to determine.

“At present, I, as director, can determine DAs where three or less parties have lodged objections after working with all complainants to have their issues resolved,” Mr Hannavy said.

“I am seeking to extend that power to situations where there are five or less objections to a DA.”

Mr Hannavy said there were only three of four DAs submitted in any year where there were between three and five objections.

“Most are satisfactorily resolved by staff and few are brought before council, so I believe formally extending the number to five objections will significantly reduce turn-around times.”

Councillor Gordon Braithwaite was worried about the impact on rural ratepayers.

“Often it is only the neighbours in rural areas who object to a DA but they have a right to have their concerns heard by all of us,” Cr Braithwaite said.

Cr Kerry Child favoured the retention of the status quo.

“We have been elected to represent the people and if more than three people object to a DA, it is our responsibility as councillors to be involved in the process of determination,” Cr Child said.

Cr Ian Coe said the change might help Bellingen Council overcome an image problem.

“Council is perceived as slow and difficult to deal with by developers, and delays in processing DAs have a big affect on families and businesses,” Cr Coe said.

Cr Sean Tuohy thought councillors had the argument about face.

“Surely the trigger for an issue coming before us should relate to the number of objections that can’t be satisfactorily resolved by staff,” Cr Tuohy said.

The mayor Cr Mark Troy argued in support of the motion.

“Despite the best efforts of staff we still have longer-than-average approval times,” Cr Troy said.

The motion to increase the power of the director of planning was finally approved but not before 45 minutes of debate and Cr Bruce Cronin declaring; “This is the most ludicrous discussion we’ve ever had in these chambers.”

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