Joint Regional Planning Panel blocks rezoning of green link site at 505 Minmi Road Fletcher

VICTORY: Conservationists Brian Purdue, David Horkan and Sharon Healey at the site in October. They have reacted with relief after authorities blocked the rezoning of environmentally sensitive land at Fletcher. Picture: Marina Neil
VICTORY: Conservationists Brian Purdue, David Horkan and Sharon Healey at the site in October. They have reacted with relief after authorities blocked the rezoning of environmentally sensitive land at Fletcher. Picture: Marina Neil

PLANNING AUTHORITIES have quashed an attempt to revive a controversial rezoning plan for an environmentally sensitive parcel of land on the city’s outskirts. 

In a three-to-one verdict, the Joint Regional Planning Panel ruled the proposal, for 505 Minmi Road at Fletcher, should not progress to the next stage of the approval process. They found the rezoning would have strategic – but not site specific – merit. 

The decision has been met with relief from environmental activists, who have waged a decade-long battle to protect the site.

Green Corridor Coalition spokesperson Brian Purdue said the ruling showed environmental interests could prevail, despite the developer investing at least $20,000 in the latest incarnation of the proposal.  

“I thought the planning system was totally broken, but maybe it’s not,” he said. 

But land owner Peter Durbin, who purchased the block 15 years ago, denied the verdict represented the end of the road for the plan. 

“We just need to finesse or amend the current proposal so it’s acceptable,” he said.

“It’s just another step in a very long process, but we’ll certainly continue to pursue it.” 

Spanning 26 hectares, a subdivision on the site would yield between 100 and 110 lots. However opponents argue it is critical link to the Lower Hunter’s green corridor project, a continuous strip of native vegetation stretching from the Watagans to Stockton. 

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Last year, Newcastle councillors ruled against the rezoning proposal for a second time, refusing to allow it to proceed to the state’s gateway determination process. 

The decision was challenged by Mr Durbin, who asked for a review by the Joint Regional Planning Panel. 

Two panel members were receptive to pockets of low-density residential development on the site.

However it was agreed the potential benefits were outweighed by concerns the layout would pose a risk to indigenous heritage and high-value ecological areas. 

All panel members were of the view the developer’s environmental assessments should be updated, given the length of time since they were prepared. 

One panel member suggested the footprint of the subdivision should be reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent. 

Mr Durbin wouldn’t be drawn on whether such a reduction would make the project nonviable. 

“We’re currently working through what we need to do to amend the application so we can meet their requirements,” he said. 

“We haven’t formed a view on what it would be. It could be that the development is located in slightly different parts of the site, it could be different lot sizes, it could be a range of different things.”