Bunderra Estate landowners' hopes rise after long legal fight to begin development

PLANS: Alex Whitall (left) and Nicole Griffin, outside Bunderra Estate in December, are hopeful they can soon begin building on their blocks.
PLANS: Alex Whitall (left) and Nicole Griffin, outside Bunderra Estate in December, are hopeful they can soon begin building on their blocks.

On Saturday, Alex Whitall and her partner did what so many land buyers do on a weekend. They inspected their piece of dirt and thought of the future. 

However, unlike many land buyers, Ms Whitall had dared not think too much of their future home until this point.

“We had put it on the back-burner,” she said, “especially coming up to Christmas.”

For almost three years, her plans for a home have been little more than a pipe dream. Or a pipe nightmare perhaps. 

In early 2015, she and her partner Mitchell had bought a building block in Boolaroo’s Bunderra Estate, which was being developed on part of the former Pasminco smelter site.

But the couple’s plans, along with those of about 70 other land buyers, were thrown into turmoil by a long-running legal argument over drainage works under Main Road, which neighbours the development.

A year ago in the Land and Environment Court of NSW, the judge found the estate’s developer, Bunderra Holdings, was responsible for installing a pipe and culvert, and, until that happened, Lake Macquarie City Council could not issue a subdivision certificate. Which meant no one could access their home blocks. A lot of dreams were put on hold, while building costs and frustrations mounted as time passed. 

“I was starting to think the land was not going to be a reality, which was disheartening,” said Nicole Griffin, who bought a block with her husband James in September 2015, to build their first home. 

The developer, which is part of the Stevens Group, appealed the court decision. In late October, the developer won the case in the NSW Court of Appeal.

On Friday, the subdivision was registered by Lake Macquarie City Council.

Victoria Braxton-Meadows, from Kapalua Advisory, the subdivision’s selling agent, said she was “ecstatic” when she heard the news.

“We were very, very relieved on behalf of the buyers,” she said. “But the excitement has been somewhat dulled by it having been such a long road.”  

Miss Braxton-Meadows said the barriers across the development’s entrance were being removed, so surveys and evaluations of blocks could take place. 

A spokeswoman for Lake Macquarie City Council said for those in Bunderra Estate, the council was aiming to approve a standard development application within two weeks. Usually, it would take four weeks.   

“To see the development proceed as quickly as possible, council has set up a fast-track approval service for all development applications within Bunderra Estate, and we look forward to working with purchasers,” she said.

Miss Braxton-Meadows said she wouldn’t be surprised if there were settlements by the end of the week, DA approvals prior to Christmas, and “you could well see concrete on the ground by the first of February”.

Yet for many purchasers, life has moved on.  

Nicole and James Griffin are looking for a new builder. Because of the delay, their previous builder’s quote had risen by more than $23,000. 

Others are selling. One couple, who did not wish to be named, have just sold their block for $320,000, $100,000 more than they had paid for it. 

Victoria Braxton-Meadows said she was aware of a few selling their blocks, which have increased in value, so “that’s the silver lining, if you like”. 

Alex Whitall and her partner’s household has doubled since they bought their land. They now have two sons. They’re considering whether to accept the increase of at least $30,000 on the cost of their planned home, or to find another builder. 

Either way, Ms Whitall is finally allowing herself to dream of a new family home in Bunderra Estate.

“We’re hoping to spend next Christmas there,” Ms Whitall said. 

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