WHEN is a planning decision final?
That’s the question that emerges from the latest moves involving the Fettlers residential development at Whitebridge, a controversial multi-building project that was approved for 89 units and a maximum height of three storeys in December 2015.
At the time, the chair of the Joint Regional Planning Panel that approved the project, Gary Fielding, described the decision as “one of the more difficult” in the panel’s history.
“As a result of tonight there will be some changes that may make some people happy, and others unhappy,” Mr Fielding said at the time.
While hundreds of residents had protested against the project, the developers – who included high-profile businessman Hilton Grugeon – were also unhappy with what they received, judging by their latest move: a push to have two fourth-storey apartments added to the plans.
The opposing residents are, unsurprisingly, up in arms. As far as they are concerned, the planning panel decision – even if it did not go entirely their way – was a line in the sand that should have not have been crossed.
Instead, the developers have used their intimate knowledge of the planning system at state and local government level to lodge an entirely new development application – but only for the two apartments – meaning that because the value of the work is less than $2 million, it will go to Lake Macquarie City Council rather than the planning panel that approved the rest of the project.
Common sense would dictate that if the planning panel saw fit to reject the fourth-storey apartments, the council would presumably do the same thing.
But the developers obviously believe this is not the case, otherwise they would not be spending time and money to lodge their application.
The council, in turn, has confirmed that the developers are entirely within their rights to lodge the application as they have.
This may be the case, but it does appear to highlight a flaw in the planning system if a developer, unhappy with a decision at a higher body (the planning panel), can go to a lower body (the council) to have it looked at again.
As the Whitebridge residents point out, they had no choice but to accept the 2015 decision, whether they liked it or not.
This latest development seems to show a system favouring the developer, and to an inordinate degree.