THE STATE government has been exploring an eleventh hour land swap deal that would prevent a housing development from encroaching within 20 metres of a women’s sacred aboriginal site at West Wallsend.
Environment Minister Mark Speakman has floated a plan whereby the Awabakal Aboriginal Local Land Council would give land within its existing portfolio to developer Roche Group, in exchange for the 40 lots directly surrounding the Butterfly Cave.
Such a deal would increase the buffer zone between the cave and Roche Group’s Appletree Grove Estate from 20 metres to 100 metres, quelling fears that vibrations from earthworks could cause it permanent damage.
However amid uncertainty over whether the embattled land council will be placed into administration, Cessnock MP Clayton Barr called on the Minister to go a step further and buy the land back from the developer.
Mr Barr has calculated that would cost $2 million with a 25 per cent profit margin for the developer.
He believes the developer stands to make a maximum $50,000 profit on each of the 40 blocks of land that are being sold at $200,000 each.
“A 25 per cent profit margin would be a best case scenario for the developer and they don’t have to go through the trouble of developing the land. They would be popping the champagne corks. The developer is out there to make money, not beautiful houses,” he said.
The state government has previously bought back land in similar circumstances at the Drip Gorge and at Kariong on the Central Coast.
The Newcastle Herald understands Mr Speakman previously looked at trading Crown Land for the lots but none was identified as being suitable.
But Anne Andrews from the Sugarloaf and Districts Action Group was dubious. “Is it that there’s no land or they just don’t want to try?” she said, also raising concerns about the potential swap with Awabakal.
“I can’t see how you can swap Aboriginal land for Aboriginal land. It defeats the purpose,” she said.
Development applications for stages seven and nine of the project are currently before Lake Macquarie Council and would see the development of the twenty lots below and above the cave respectively.
Council is seeking expert advice on the geotechnical and vibration reports submitted by the company, that Ms Andrews alleges were riddled with mistakes.
Mayor Kay Fraser said she was “deeply concerned” about the site and was organising a site inspection for the new councillors. Council was also looking at whether the Aboriginal community was willing to offset land elsewhere.
Mr Barr feared bulldozers could be on the ground by Christmas.
“It’s like no one cares about it because it’s a women’s site. If it was a men’s initiation site they might be taking it more seriously,” he said.