Toxic Truth: Woman 'duped' over land sale

Suzie McInnes and Boolaroo Action Group member Jim Sullivan on Suzie's block of land. Pic: Peter Stoop
Suzie McInnes and Boolaroo Action Group member Jim Sullivan on Suzie's block of land. Pic: Peter Stoop

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A LAKE Macquarie woman said she was ‘‘duped’’ into believing her Boolaroo block was not contaminated, only to be left facing a bill of up to $60,000 to test and remediate the land before her development application is approved.

Suzie McInnes will need to sell her Charlestown home to raise enough money to carry out the works on her Boolaroo property, thanks to ‘‘ambiguous wording’’ in council’s planning documentation that she said could mislead other buyers.

‘‘I’m just so angry, [the council’s wording is] like a get out of jail free card,’’ Ms McInnes said.

Ms McInnes bought her elevated, 810-square-metre vacant block mid-last year for $250,000, with plans to build her dream home.

She received verbal confirmation from her agent and written confirmation from the previous owner that the land was not contaminated.

Her conveyancer pored over the property’s section 149 planning certificate, which Ms McInnes said did not have any ‘‘clear, formal notifications’’ relating to any contamination on the land.

It even specified the ‘‘land was not significantly contaminated land within the meaning of the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997, or subject to a management order within the meaning of the act’’.

But a Lake Macquarie City Council spokeswoman told the Newcastle Herald that neither the council nor the state government ever declared the property to be ‘‘uncontaminated’’.

The spokeswoman said management orders mentioned in the certificate were issued only when contamination was identified that was serious and required immediate remediation.

‘‘Only a limited number of properties across the state would be subject to an order of this kind at any point in time,’’ the spokeswoman said.

Ms McInnes’ architect submitted the plans for her development application and she paid about $20,000 in related costs.

But despite Ms McInnes, her agent, her conveyancer and her architect understanding the section 149 certificate had given her the ‘‘all-clear’’, she has since been alerted to an ‘‘ambiguous’’ notification in the certificate.

It says the council has ‘‘adopted a policy that may restrict development of contaminated or potentially contaminated land’’.

The council spokeswoman told the Herald this referred to the State Environmental Planning Policy 55 (SEPP 55), which relates to properties potentially contaminated due to past land use activities that occurred on it or nearby.

‘‘SEPP 55 requires council to consider likely contamination hazards and ways to manage risks arising from contamination at the time someone seeks to rezone or develop the land,’’ the spokeswoman said.

 Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan described the SEPP 55 as an ‘‘escape route’’ for the council, which has not independently tested the site.

‘‘The requirements on Ms McInnes are onerous and extreme,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

‘‘Once again this is a home owner bearing the cost of the council and EPA’s mistakes in letting the polluter get away with leaving this area contaminated.’’

The former Pasminco site at Boolaroo before it was decommisioned and dismantled.

The former Pasminco site at Boolaroo before it was decommisioned and dismantled.