Emails raising queries

THE controversial Hardie Holdings' Sanctuary Villages development that could double Millfield/Paxton's population was comprehensively rejected when first proposed to former planning minister Frank Sartor, court documents have shown.

Mr Sartor "did not support any of it" and gave Hardies "a bit of a lecture" during a meeting with the company in December 2005, according to an internal Planning Department email tendered in evidence at a breach of contract case brought by former Hunter regional director Steve Brown.

The email raises more questions about Sanctuary Villages' elevation from unfavoured development site in late 2005 to possible state significant site status in 2010 under planning minister Tony Kelly.

Hardies proposes a 700-lot development for the area.

Emails from 2005 and early 2006 show that Hardies had 20,000 hectares of land in the Hunter when it met with Mr Sartor.

The company's views about the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, then under way, were "completely different" to the department's and based on "identifying sites (for future population growth) sympathetic to their landholdings", planning director Norma Shankie-Williams said in an email to Mr Brown.

Mr Sartor was "pretty tough on them" during the meeting and was "not sold on" Hardies' proposal to commit environmentally sensitive land in transfers involving development sites, she wrote.

At a meeting with Duncan Hardie two months later, Ms Shankie-Williams said she did not "encourage" Hardies over Sanctuary Villages because it was "outside of the strategy".

By mid-March 2006 Duncan Hardie was writing to NSW Planning director-general Sam Haddad about another Hunter planning issue to complain of "an additional burden of bureaucratic malevolence" being experienced by developers in the Hunter, compared with the rest of the state.

Mr Brown launched a breach of contract case against the Planning Department after leaving his position because of the "centralising" of decision-making in Sydney and the planning minister's office from 2006.

A decision in Mr Brown's court case is pending.

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