Residents have been left angered after hearing the fate of the controversial West Culburra Development could be decided in a confidential hearing on Friday.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) and developers, Sealark Pty Ltd, intend on entering into an agreement in a Land and Environment Court (the Court) hearing tomorrow, where the development may be given the green light.
First proposed in 2013, the massive development was the subject of a public hearing at Culburra in May, where the Court heard submissions from residents about the Halloran Trust's revised plans for the development.
Some submissions claimed the village would struggle to survive economically without the proposed development, while environmental groups and Aunty Delia Lowe from the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council said it would damage water quality, wildlife habitat and Aboriginal cultural sites.
Last week, those who objected to the development proposal received a letter from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to inform them the IPC was preparing to enter into an agreement with developers.
The letter outlined the IPC "intends to enter into an agreement" with Sealark Pty Ltd to "dispose of the 2018 appeal proceedings...which will result in the approval of the amended proposal by the Court."
As part of the 2018 appeal proceedings, Sealark's proposal was significantly amended to include:
- A reduction in residential lots from 650 to 289 residential, plus 12 medium density
- All development removed from the Lake Wollumboola catchment on the southern side of Culburra Road
- Reduced development footprint by removing western area (Stage 4) (-23 hectares)
- Vegetation clearing reduced by more than half (96 hectares down to 46 hectares)
- 100 m foreshore buffer retained between the development and the mean high water mark.
The amended proposal will be subject to conditions and will be approved if the Court is satisfied the development consent can be lawfully granted.
The IPC could not provide details of the conditions when asked by the South CoastRegister.
The letter from the DPIE also said all previous submissions made were already before the Court and gave recipients until Wednesday, October 27, to make any further submissions.
A listing officer at the Court confirmed Friday's hearing would be a confidential conference between the IPC and Sealark Pty Ltd and is not open for the public to attend.
Lucy Robertson, who has lived in Culburra for over 15 years and is a member of the Culburra Residents and Ratepayers Action Group, said she expected the Court would involve those who made submissions at the hearing in May to be included in the decision-making process.
"Those people who made submissions were under the impression they would be involved in any conciliation," she said.
"And the first they hear about it was when they got the letter (from the DPIE).
"Being in lockdown, we thought nothing was happening, but it feels like they've (IPC and the developers) been doing a deal behind closed doors."
Jerrinja community spokesperson Graham Connolly Jr said he never received the DPIE's letter and also expected Traditional Owners to be included in a hearing.
"This hearing hasn't been raised with us," he said.
"We feel any proceedings taking place by the developers should engage the Jerrinja Tribal Custodians, especially when significant cultural areas are involved."
Independent MP Justin Field has asked the IPC to make the proposed conditions available to the public.
"I think it is wrong, that this proposal be decided behind closed doors by agreement between the IPC and the developer," he said.
"The community were expecting a full merits review by the court. And that's not happening here. And they are right to be frustrated by that process."