In our previous email dated 2 May, we highlighted the protracted delays being experienced in the assessment of DA20/2172 Mananga Homestead and how this represented a stark example of what Councillors had agreed in January was wrong with the assessment process in terms of dysfunctional outcomes resulting from delays in the determination process.
It is now clear that over the past three weeks there has been a cynical abuse of the process, culminating in the submission of a whole new set of information.
This action was contrary to both the previous directive issued by Council and the applicants’ own previous commitment that only collated previous material would be submitted.
The specific timeline of Council instructions and the applicants’ response is as follows:
- 19 March, Cowman Stoddard to Council – “a Conservation Management Plan is scheduled for completion by 31st March 2021. We note your previous advice that you expect to complete your assessment in order that the application can be on the agenda for the Development and Environment Committee on 4 May 2021. We have prioritised the completion of the CMP to assist you in meeting this timeline.”
- 30 March, Cowman Stoddard to Council – “Please note that the CMP is expected tomorrow.”
- 12 April, Applicant to Council – “the CMP is in final draft and being reviewed. We expect to lodge it with you by Wednesday (14 April).
- 13 April, Council response to Applicant – “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 the submission of the CMP, Council will finalise the assessment. No further information will be accepted in the assessment.”
- 13 April, Applicant to Council – “In response to your email, we have asked (Cowman Stoddard) to collate all previous material and the CMP into one document. The CMP does not introduce any new material.”
Information Provided to Council by Applicant on 5 May
On Wednesday last week the applicants submitted the CMP (200 pages), together with a whole new set of documents, including –
- an extensive Statement of Heritage Impact, replacing two previous versions
- a revised Statement of Environmental Effects,
- a new Environmental Noise Impact Assessment
- a third legal opinion, this time from Senior Counsel
- a Heritage landscape Management Plan
- a Landscape Masterplan
- Architectural plans
Council’s instruction on 13 April, that no further information would be accepted after the CMP was submitted, was based on the applicants’ commitment to lodge the CMP the next day (14 April).
To appear to ‘comply’ with Council’s directive, the applicants withheld the CMP for a further three weeks (it was already two weeks overdue). During that period, additional reports were prepared containing new information, and it was not until the Senior Counsel opinion was signed on 5 May that all of the new information was packaged together with some previous material and sent to Council.
Integrity of the Assessment Process
These actions represent a cynical abuse of process, following an already extensive period of delays and unsolicited submissions of additional information. Given the strong views expressed in January about addressing concerns with the DA assessment process, we now look to Council to protect the integrity of the process.
Council must stand by its directive, agreed to by the applicants, that only previously submitted information will be assessed in the determination.
The alternatives are either that a precedent is set for applicants to freely manipulate determination timelines, or that this particular DA be treated as a ‘special’ case with the applicants allowed to snub Council’s authority and dictate their own requirements.
It would be intolerable for Council to accept the abuse of process and force the assessing officer and the community to trawl through all the new documents to identify what has changed and what new information requires research, a detailed response and professional advice.
‘Confidential’ Briefing Notes
The manipulation of process also extends to the continuing concealment of the secret Briefing Notes document that was provided to councillors four months ago.
Council informed residents on Friday that its previous advice was incorrect and that the applicants had another four weeks to decide if they were going to appeal the decisions by both Council and the IPC that the document was public access and should be disclosed.
We understand that the secret document may contain false and potentially defamatory statements about individuals and community groups, intended to influence councillors’ votes.
If this is correct, we insist that Council inform the applicants that a determination will not be made whilst the manipulation of process to prevent public scrutiny of the contents of the document continues.
The Berry Forum Committee