Ratepayers in Tasmania’s north-west will have to pay potentially “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal fees after the local council failed to properly reject a development application and lost an appeal before the state’s planning tribunal.
- Latrobe’s Mayor says “planning is a difficult field in which to work” and “we try our best”
- Latrobe ratepayers will pay the legal bill for the failed appeal before Tasmania’s planning tribunal
- In 2019, the council intended to reject a development application but did not follow proper protocols
A decision handed down by the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal (RMPAT) said Latrobe Council intended to reject a 2019 seasonal worker accommodation development, but did not pass a motion doing so, meaning their decision was not legally valid.
Under the Tasmanian Land Use and Approvals Act, projects requiring council approval are automatically given the green light 42 days after the council receives them if they are not formally addressed earlier.
“The result of the vote on the motion to approve the application, in the negative, did not constitute a determination to refuse the application. As the Council failed to determine the application within the time required … it was deemed to have granted a permit on conditions to be determined by the Tribunal,” the decision said.
The tribunal ultimately came to the same conclusion as the council, deciding the permit to build the 106-person accommodation facility on Beer Street in Wesley Vale should not be granted, but that the council must pay the costs for all parties involved.
That includes the proponents, Devonport-based Starbox Architects, and Beer Street resident PJ Hodgkinson, who was part of the proceedings as a joined party.
Latrobe Mayor Peter Freshney said the council’s appeal against the awarding of costs failed.
“It’s difficult to stomach, to some degree, particularly when we’re having to pay ratepayers’ money out, but at the end of the day we do have to justify our decisions and, quite rightly, get the process right,” he said.
Mr Freshney said it could be months before the council knew exactly how much it owed.
“It’s a lesson learned, but obviously at quite some cost.”
Development opposed by residents
The 2019 development was recommended for approval with conditions by council officers, but councillors decided against it, something Mr Freshney said was “rare”.
According to the minutes from the meeting, it was knocked back because of a lack of access to enough quality water for the amount of people likely to be living there, and because the wastewater could adversely affect surrounding properties.
Seven members of the public made representations against the plan, expressing concerns about traffic impacts, water and stormwater infrastructure and potential damage to livestock.
Beer Street resident David Miller was one of those to object, and has called the council’s handling of the matter “disgusting”.
“The council should know how to put things through meetings,” he said.
“I could never see how it got through planning, it should have stopped there, and yet it’s dragged on for two years.”
The site of the development application made headlines last year as one of two in the municipality under investigation for being inappropriate accommodation for berry pickers, with the other site, a five-bedroom house in Shearwater, found to have up to 70 workers living there in what unions called “slum-like conditions”.
Planning a ‘difficult field in which to work’
The challenges of having local governments act as planning authorities have been much discussed in the past few years, with councillors across the state citing the difficulty of taking public opinion into account when acting under specific laws.
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It has prompted the state government to introduce controversial Major Projects Legislation, which would allow the government to declare large and complex developments as requiring special attention and have them assessed by a specially convened panel rather than a local council.
Mr Freshney said the council had rejected a different proposal in the same way in 2018, but in between the two decisions, a new legal precedent had been set by a Supreme Court ruling against the Launceston City Council — a legal move the council didn’t know about when considering the Beer Street application.
“Planning is a difficult field in which to work, always has been and always will be,” he said.
“We are everyday people after all, we aren’t perfect and without fault, and occasionally there will unfortunately be the odd error around protocols.”
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