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).