Regrettably, we feel compelled to respond to a letter sent to Council and all councillors by the President of the Berry Chamber of Commerce. It is extremely critical of the Forum Committee and was sent on 25 March, apparently without the knowledge of Chamber members. We only became aware of the letter after it was eventually circulated on 16 April 2019.
- In June last year, the Chamber President and Treasurer attended a Forum Committee meeting to raise a number of ‘Chamber issues’. When the President complained about the investigation into tourist accommodation LEP loopholes, he was challenged by Committee members (who were also members of the Chamber) and he admitted he was not speaking on behalf of the Chamber, but as a private resident.
- On 1 April this year, the Chamber President and Treasurer again attended a Committee meeting to discuss ‘Chamber issues’. When the President stated the Chamber was concerned about the Forum Committee’s work on LEP loopholes, he was again challenged by Chamber members on the Committee who said they had not been consulted. In the spirit of cooperation, he was invited to raise his concerns at the 11 April Forum meeting, but he declined. He did not disclose that he had sent a letter to Council on 25 March from ’the Chamber’ criticising the Committee.
- At a ‘Chamber Chat’ held on 9 April, attended by fewer than 20 members, the Chamber President talked about tourist accommodation development issues and said he would raise concerns with Council. He did not disclose that he had already sent his letter on behalf of ‘The Chamber’ to Council more than two weeks earlier without the knowledge of Chamber members.
Assertions and Claims
In his covering email to Chamber members dated 16 April, the Chamber President makes three assertions –
- “The local CCB is lobbying Council and the State Government for wide reaching changes to the Development controls around Tourist & Visitor Accommodation”
- The changes will have a “negative effect on the future of Tourism in our area”
- “As we are all acutely aware Tourism is by far the No.1 source of employment in the Berry area and the entire region”.
In his letter to Council dated 25 March, the Chamber President makes several claims, including:
- “There has been no consultation process with the Berry community”
- “The CCB has no authority with respect to State Planning matters”
- “The proposal appears to represent the views of a very small minority and can in no way be characterised as representing the whole of the Berry Community”
None of the assertions and claims are supported by any evidence and the aim of the email and letter appears to be to discredit and portray the Forum Committee as anti-tourism, uncaring about any impacts on businesses and towns that rely on tourist income, and not representative of the views of the community.
The Forum Committee’s Response
- The LEP amendments proposed are not ‘wide reaching’. They are merely aimed at removing the anomalies and inconsistencies that create loopholes, which circumvent the intent of the planning legislation, and they bring Shoalhaven into line with all other coastal councils.
- The LEP amendments will have a negligible impact on tourism development and are based on the Department of Planning’s LEP Practice Note PN09-006 ‘Providing for Tourism’.
- Tourism is not the No. 1 source of employment in the Shoalhaven. The 2016 Census date shows the largest sources of employment in descending order are Health Care and Social Assistance, Govt./Public Administration & Support Services, Retail, Construction then Tourism.
As with planning legislation, the Forum Committee’s view on tourism is one of balancing the needs of businesses and employment with those of residents, and protecting the environment that attracts tourists to this region. We understand the role of tourism in helping sustain the local economy and preserving local heritage, and we support its growth in a structured, sustainable way in accordance with clear, consistent and well-understood rules.
The Shoalhaven is also a place of residence for thousands of families who pay rates and contribute in every way to the economy. Their aims, lifestyles and concerns must also be considered in determining sustainable growth levels for tourism.
We have provided responses below that expose the lack of substance in all of the claims in the Chamber President’s letter, and in line with the Forum’s policy of transparency both his email and attached letter, and this response have been posted on the Forum website –https://www.berryforum.org.au/news/
Invitation to Chamber Members
The Forum Committee wishes to offer all Chamber members and others who weren’t able to attend the Forum meeting on 11 April the opportunity to hear directly what is being proposed in the LEP amendments and to ask questions or raise issues of concern.
Please click on REPLY to this email, and raise any questions or issues you would like to be covered and if you would like a meeting to be held.
Berry Forum Committee
Response to Claims in the Letter Sent to Council
CLAIM 1 – “there has been no consultation process with the Berry community”
Our Response – Ongoing community consultation commenced 3 years ago, including discussions at Forum meetings, postings of all material on the website, newsletters to 1100 residents and Town Crier articles. At the April Forum meeting, 122 attendees voted overwhelmingly to reconfirm their support for the Committee’s position on tourist accommodation development, with no votes against. 51 residents unable to attend the meeting, asked for their support to be recorded.
CLAIM 2 – “the CCB is only tasked with promoting liaison between SCC and the local Berry community and has no authority with respect to State Planning matters”
Our Response – As confirmed by the Deputy Mayor, the Forum as the CCB for the Berry region is entitled to lobby the DoP for the benefit of the community where Council’s ability to respond is constrained by statewide legislation.
Council often forwards documents to the CCB to obtain its opinion, and councillors and Council planning staff have complimented the Committee on its initiative in researching and addressing tourist accommodation planning inconsistencies.
Gareth Ward, the Member for Kiama, often attends Forum meetings to discuss issues of concern across the area and offer assistance. When it became clear that Council was constrained by the statewide LEP, he offered to arrange meetings for the Forum with the Minister and the DoP.
CLAIM 3 – ‘no minutes of the meetings held with State Government representatives have been made available to the community for review and comment”.
Our Response – The same issues discussed at Forum meetings and with Minister Stokes in August 2016 (briefing paper on website) have been discussed at each meeting with various DoP reps.
CLAIM 4 – “the CCB has not held a public meeting to specifically discuss the issue and the proposal appears to represent the views of a very small minority and can in no way be characterised as representing the whole of the Berry Community”
Our Response – See response to Claim 1. The Chamber President attended all three Forum meetings in 2016 where the tourist accommodation development issues were discussed and members were advised that the briefing paper for Minister Stokes would be posted on the website.
CLAIM 5 – “the decision to present to the SCC was not made at a formal, public Berry Forum meeting, but was a decision made by the Executive Committee alone.”
Our Response – The Committee was advised on 27 February that Council would be discussing the tourist accommodation development issues on 5 March. The Committee met on 4 March and agreed the content of its deputation, which was in line with the Forum discussions.
CLAIM 6 – “The changes being proposed by Mr Coughlan have wide spread ramifications to any land zoned ‘RU’ or ‘E’ and to a very great many rate payers of the Shoalhaven.
These ramifications include decreased land values and the significant limitation of any kind of development. This is a particular issue for rural enterprises given the difficulties faced many families on the land. Families who often have to find other ways to sustain their businesses due to issues beyond their control (Milk Prices, Drought etc).”
Our Response –
The claim that “a very great many rate payers of the Shoalhaven” would be affected is highly subjective and lacks any evidential basis.
The only developments that would be significantly limited are those taking advantage of the loopholes to circumvent the intent of planning legislation.
No land values would be decreased. The profits and increase in property value sought by landowners who wish to construct significant numbers of tourist ‘cabins’ with floor areas in excess of 200sqm, come at the expense of the owners of neighbouring properties who suffer the associated distressing consequences and decrease in the value of their properties.
Farm stay, bed & breakfast accommodation and eco-tourist facilities are meant to supplement the income of primary producers on rural land, not replace it.
CLAIM 7 – “This also poses a significant limitation on tourism development in the whole of the Shoalhaven. Tourism is by far the No.1 source of employment in the Berry area and the entire region”
Our Response – The LEP amendments will have only a negligible impact on tourism development and are based on the Department of Planning’s LEP Practice Note PN09-006 ‘Providing for Tourism’.
Tourism is not the No. 1 source of employment in the Shoalhaven. The 2016 Census data shows the largest sources of employment in descending order are Health Care and Social Assistance, Govt./Public Administration & Support Services, Retail, Construction then Tourism.
Recent growth in employment in the 10yr and 5yr periods to 2016 came from –
Health Care and Social Assistance 46% and 12%
Govt/Public Admin & Support Svcs 32% and 14%
Construction 27% and 26%
Tourism 27% and 10%