THE Planning Assessment Commission has granted approval for the $360 million Shaolin tourism complex at Comberton Grange but with strict conditions.
PAC has approved the concept plan but has excluded the golf course and residential precincts of the proposal and has advised that the hotel precinct should also be moved.
In their report PAC commission chair Donna Campbell and members Richard Thorp and David Johnson said the golf course was deleted due to the potential risk it poses to water quality in the longer term and the residential precincts, featuring 300 dwellings, were not considered integral to the tourist development.
They said it could lead to, in time, the creation of an urban settlement contrary to the recommendation of the South Coast Sensitive Urban Lands review.
Approval wasn’t given for the removal of 34.5 hectares of habitat corridor as defined under the Jervis Bay Corridor REP, with the commission saying with the deletion of the golf course and relocation of the hotel precinct there is no need to remove the vegetation in the corridor.
It also limited the scale of the village centre and linking it to the tourist development.
While the golf course and residential dwellings were not supported by the commission, it did consider the development of the Shaolin Temple and associated health and educational facilities will bring cultural and economic benefits to the area.
PAC also recommended that Shoalhaven City Council remain at arm’s length from future development applications associated with the project, saying future applications should be independently assessed to ensure transparency and allay concerns in the community regarding potential conflict of interest regarding council’s interest in the project.
The commission noted that future DAs will be determined by the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel.
Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash has launched a scathing attack on PAC’s decision, saying council actually had to explain the proposal to the committee.
“I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed,” she said.
“I’m disappointed at the attitude of the Planning Assessment Commission panel, who throughout the whole approval process, there was not one stage in which they fully grasped what the whole project was about.
“The three people on the committee really didn’t understand what a Shaolin Temple was. We actually had to explain it to them.”
She said she didn’t know how the concept plan approval with major modifications, would affect the proposal.
“Taking the golf course and the residential housing out of the project, I don’t know what that will do with the proposal,” she said.
“It may be a game stopper, I don’t know.”
Cr Gash said she hopes the temple will go ahead and council was investigating if there might be room for modifications.
“This was a significant innovative, expression for the whole of the city, certainly the region and NSW,” she said.
“We have the premier overseas in China promoting tourism.
“The state government approved Mr Packer’s Barangaroo proposal in six months, this has been dragging on for eight or nine years.
“Council signed off on this, so did the State Planning Department and the State Planning Minister, how much higher up the tree do we have to go?
“If there were concerns they should have told us at the beginning.”
Mrs Gash has spoken to Patrick Pang from the Shaolin Foundation but would not comment on the conversation.
Mr Pang is currently overseas, with Mrs Gash saying she will meet with him in the Shoalhaven next Monday.
Cr Andrew Guile said the decision was an indictment of the way council had handled the issue.
“This whatever-it-takes attitude to getting a development across the line is outdated and out of step with what the community expects,” he said.
Shaolin Foundation spokesman Phil Balding was unavailable for comment.
Mr Balding said recently the foundation would pull out of the development if further obstacles were placed in its way.
Long standing advocate for the development, Cr Greg Watson said he couldn't second guess how the Shaolin Foundation would react.
"The determination in my personal view is a Clayton’s approval which is an approval aimed at the project not proceeding," Cr Watson said.
"It’s put paid to the concept of NSW being open for business and I believe will provide a major embarrassment for the Premier who is in China at the moment touting for Chinese tourism."
Cr Watson defended council's conduct in promoting the project.
"I don’t think council’s ever had a conflict of interest in terms of earning money from the project. It's always driven by jobs creation. Making money out of the land hasn’t been a prime objective."