In support of the numerous Berry community members who have submitted more than 260 objections, including from the residents of the Pulman Street Heritage Conservation Area and the Berry & District Historical Society, we request that finalisation of the assessment of DA20/2172 be commenced immediately and that no further ‘additional information’ be accepted.

At the Ordinary Meeting on 28 January, councillors discussed concerns raised about delays in the DA determination process, and the Reynolds Report recommendation to reduce determination timelines. Two areas of concern that were raised were –

  • “submissions are being accepted outside of nominated notification periods on a more regular basis and, at times, almost to the time of determination”,
  • “submissions raise a whole raft of issues, which result in multiple requests and further studies being required of applicants, adding to their cost and delay”

In the assessment of DA20/2172, neither of these concerns apply, as all of the residents’ submissions were received within the specified timeframes, and no additional requests were sent to the applicant as a result of matters raised in the submissions.

At the Ordinary Meeting, councillors agreed upon the need to support staff in achieving definitive timelines. We strongly endorse that objective and urge councillors to demonstrate their support in the case of this assessment.

On 13 April, the assessing officer for DA20/2172 emailed the applicants –

“I can now confirm that there will be no opportunity for the application to be reported to the May meeting. I further note that the continual trickle of information as the application progresses does not assist in the finalisation of the assessment and only serves to protract the assessment and the community debate on the application.” 

At lodgement, the applicants had provided a Heritage Management Document prepared by Edmiston Jones, and then on 4 February added a Statement of Heritage Impact prepared by Navin Officer. Then, on 19 March Cowman Stoddart informed Council that a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) would be provided by 31 March. This had not been requested by Council, and over the last seven weeks Council has received the following commitments on when it will be provided –

  • On 19 March “this is scheduled for completionby 31st March 2021.”
  • On 30 March, “Please note that the CMP is expected tomorrow”
  • On 12 April, “the CMP is in final draft and being reviewed. We expect to lodge it with you by Wednesday (14 April).”
  • On 13 April, “The CMP does not introduce any new material. We expect to lodge this with you next week.” 
  • On 21 April, “it won’t be ready for another week or so.”

The attached timeline shows the assessment could potentially have been finalised in mid-March but has been delayed by a series of additional unsolicited submissions from the applicant. With the assessment now stalled awaiting the CMP, which “does not introduce any new material” there appears to be only a limited chance that it will now be capable of being finalised for reporting to the June Development Committee meeting.

In addition, Council is aware that one of the unsolicited submissions from the applicant contained false and potentially defamatory allegations, claiming that –

  • “The previous owners of Mananga have confirmed that they operated the property as a wedding venue for 13 years from 1990 to 2003, with weddings held on a weekly basis for between 50 and 140 guests.
  • “There was the usual music, dancing and speeches all using sound amplification. No complaints were received from residents in the Pullman Street precinct or any other people from Berry.”
  • ‘It provides clear evidence that the use had no significant adverse effect on the local surrounds. Many of the residents who have lodged submissions against DA20/2172 were also residents when the property operated as a wedding venue and did not raise any concerns.‘

These claims were refuted by the previous owners and the residents of the Pulman Street HCA (refer submission D21/136803). Subsequently, the applicants asked that allegations be removed from public display but they have not complied with the previous owner’s request that the false allegations be fully retracted. This unsolicited provision of false information caused a delay in the assessment process of approximately 4 weeks and ongoing stress to the previous owner.

Given Council’s objective of reducing determinations timelines and the agreed need to support staff in achieving definitive timelines, we pose the following questions –

  • Why is the assessing officer and the community being forced to continue to wait at the applicants’ discretion before the assessment can be finalised?
  • Why are the applicants being provided with significant latitude, despite their repeated failures to honour commitments to Council, and their use of DA Tracking to publicly promote false allegations about members of the community?

We request that the assessment of DA20/2172 be commenced immediately and that no further ‘additional information’ be accepted.

On a separate but related matter we also pose the following questions –

  • When will the ‘Confidential’ Briefing Notes document sent to councillors by the applicants in support of their application four months ago be made public?
  • On what basis could Council accept an unsolicited ‘confidential’ document from an experienced developer in support of his DA and then deny public access to its contents?
  • Who authorised the five ‘reasons’ devised to ‘justify’ refusal of the official GIPA request for disclosure?
  • After the IPC ruled that none of the reasons were valid, why did Council take 16 working days to announce it would grant access, knowing that the applicant would be granted a further 20 working days to request an internal review of Council’s decision?

These actions inevitably impact upon the community’s confidence in Council’s transparency, impartiality and fairness. 

 

The Berry Forum Committee 

https://berryforum.org.au/