The Guardian July 14, 1999


Developers court the Court

by Peter Mac

In the run-up to the 2000 Olympics, Sydney developers are being 
increasingly seen as able to ride rough-shod over the interests of 
others.

Much of the current rash of development has been contested at local 
government level, but has been upheld on appeal to the NSW Land and 
Environment Court. 

The head of the NSW Local Government Association, Peter Woods, has 
seriously questioned the ability and right of the Court to make judgements 
based not on law but on the merits of the case as determined by a single 
judge or assessor.

The Land and Environment Court deals with disputes arising from 
applications for development, and frequently plays a key role in 
determining the future of multi-million dollar construction projects. In 
recent years many of its decisions have attracted strong criticism from 
resident and conservation organisations for decisions favouring 
developers*.

In the past the Local Government Association has also criticised the State 
Government for previous attempts to remove the proportional representation 
system of Local Government elections, to replace mayors with non-elected 
managers, and to peg local government rates while increasing State 
Government rates and taxes.

Mayor of North Sydney Benia McCaffery last week described the Court as "so 
pro-development it's not funny". She pointed to a case where the Court had 
given a favourable decision despite the fact that the application failed to 
meet nine separate areas of council planning regulations.

Councillor Woods also referred to a case where one Court assessor had 
criticised a Council for permitting an ugly waterfront development to 
proceed, only to be told that it had actually been rejected by the Council 
but approved on appeal by the Court.

He noted: "It's appalling that you have one character sitting up there 
thinking they know an area better than nine or 12 elected representatives 
of the people....

"They are far less qualified to be making decisions on merit than 
councillors and their communities respectively."

The NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw has been approached by the NSW Local 
Government Association to review the Court's processes, although the State 
Government has itself been criticised as having a pro-development stance. 

* * *
*See, for example, the article on the Manly Dam Catchment Area in last week's Guardian).

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