Image for Rosny Hill: Symptom of a broken system

After an hour or so of Clarence City Council getting a resounding hammering, I almost began to feel sorry for Mayor Doug Chipman.

Almost but not quite because Rosny Hill is a shambles entirely of the Council’s own making. Inexplicably, the Council went from talking about a café on Rosny Hill to actively facilitating a huge hotel complex, something it appears not a single local resident wants.

The meeting last night at Rosny Park bowls club came about after furious residents petitioned Council to have a public meeting, which they tried their very best to get out of and, once forced to accept that they had to hold it, framed it as a Council listening exercise.

Despite the rain and cold outside, the club was at capacity, with all chairs full, people standing around the sides of the room and even the ‘upper deck’ bar area full too. I reckon there are two main reasons for the strong turnout. First, kudos to the Friends of Rosny Hill Network in organising the meeting and spreading the word, extensively leafletting the local area.

Second, the high turnout is testament to the strength of feeling locally that the Council is failing to listen to or properly consult with local rate-payers. And not just on Rosny Hill but on a range of local developments.

The meeting, MC’ed by former Mercury editor, Garry Bailey, heard from several speakers before public questions. 

Mayor Chipman talked first about the process to ‘develop’ Rosny Hill starting in 2009, the public consultation he said that had been involved and, now that the formal planning process was underway, there was nothing Council could do anyway. This is despite the fact Council initiated the process with an EOI and, once it was formally underway, simply seems to have stepped back, shrugged and said, sorry, there’s nothing we can do.

Next was convenor of Rosny Hill Friends Network, the urbane and erudite Peter Edwards. (I have to say, the network is fortunate to have such a polished front man.) Peter described a litany of failures, including of transparency, of proper consultation and of effectively selling off a nature reserve to private developers making this, he said, a test case.

Third, eminent UTAS Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick spoke of the uniqueness of the nature reserve itself and how the value of the reserve to local people isn’t countenanced by a large hotel complex. He was followed by Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s Peter McGlone, who talked of the uniqueness of the area’s natural heritage, including Tasmania’s only nature-reserve population of leafy sun orchids, and how this would effectively be destroyed by the development.

Next came a redoubtable local resident, Rowena MacKean, who has apparently just been awarded a Phd despite approaching her 100th decade. Her cut-glass tones, reminiscent of a bygone era, seemed to make everyone sit up straighter and, although she began politely, she ended up banging the lectern and imploring the Council to listen.

Then came public questions. Hands rose and then a queue formed behind the microphone. It reminded me of one of those world-war two films, where battalions of spitfires lined up in droves. And Mayor Chipman was Dresden. Residents were understandably angry, incensed, cynical and burnt.

Question after question grappled with the idea that now the formal planning process was underway, there was nothing Council could do to stop it. McGlone repeatedly stood up with examples of what the Council could do, rather than what it claimed it couldn’t, including advising the State Government, which owns the Crown Land that constitutes Rosny Hill, not to give Crown Land consent to the developer. On suggesting the Council do this “by 9am tomorrow morning,” it got perhaps the loudest and longest applause of the evening.

Given the meeting was a formal Council-organised affair, there were a series of motions put up and overwhelmingly endorsed by attendees. These were 1) Council not grant land owner consent to the developer and advises State Government not to either, 2) that Council initiates another tender process for a smaller and community-endorsed development on Rosny Hill, 3) that Council sets up a new department designed to communicated better with residents and 4) that Council revoke ‘preferred developer’ status for Hunter Developments. Unfortunately, these motions weren’t binding but the Mayor agreed to table them at the next Council meeting (on Monday 30 July).

Rosny Hill represents a broken system of planning not just in Clarence but in the rest of Tasmania and the mainland too. A council and a developer typically work up a proposal in secret. A Development Application is lodged, which triggers a formal process, which can’t realistically be stopped. Once the public finds out, they’re on the back foot, typically have to fight cashed-up developers and genuine consultation doesn’t get a look in. There are countless more ‘Rosny Hills’ happening across the state and in the pipeline.

This must end.

To improve this system in favour of residents, who pay the rates and, more importantly, whose home these places are, is why I’m standing as a Greens candidate for Clarence Council. Instead of regarding residents as an inconvenience and cosying up with developers, I say this: Respect the residents.

We can have in Clarence Australia’s best local government planning regime. We can be a case study of empowered and informed residents. Instead of having developers’ cash-grabs foisted upon them, we must put residents back in charge.

I will initiative a plan for the wants and needs of residents that turns the current model on its head and lets residents say what they want to see developed and what they don’t. I want to see an end to Development Applications published over Christmas and holidays. I want the pipeline of secret private commercial developments made public before things get locked into the formal planning process. I want Council to hold information sessions about development proposals early. I want Council to innovate new ways of engaging residents, by taking the initiative and, instead of waiting for submissions, to actively seek out people’s views.

With these and other reforms, we can have a people-powered planning regime in Clarence that other local councils and residents will look to for inspiration. This would also massively empowered residents, who are rightly sick of it. And one thing’s certain: We cannot go on with things as they are. 

*Tom Allen is Greens candidate for Clarence City Council