WATERY DEALINGS (Very Murky)
Stockland states that their decision to purchase the land for Stages 1-6 hung on a verbal agreement in 1999 from the Dept. of Land & Water Conservation which allowed them to develop as close as 5m to Tramway Creek. (Surveyor's pegs showed Stockland's original plan was to fill and develop into the creek!.) DLWC, Stockland's own consultant, and the Escarpment Commission of Inquiry (resulting from the disastrous storm flooding of August 1998), all recommend a 40m setback/ buffer zone on both sides of the creek as standard practice.

Why the special treatment for Stockland?

Stockland requested an on-site meeting when the designated DLWC officer was conveniently on leave. Stockland managed to obtain permission from a fill-in DLWC officer for a reduction of the creek buffer zone from the usually required 40m to just 5m. They must be congratulated on their seemingly superb sense of timing.

Later, Stockland declared in a meeting that 40m (or even 20m) creek setbacks would have "rendered the development financially unviable". Purchase records prove this statement to be highly debatable.

When the time came, DLWC chose not to defend its own laws in the Land & Environment court, on this and other issues related to flooding and water quality in case they lost, or due to embarrassment from previous promises made to the developers by their own officers. If only the less well-resourced community could obtain such watertight promises!

Stockland refers to itself as a "responsible corporate citizen", "producing a high-quality development". When the next large flood occurs, a Stockland representative admitted that it would be the responsibility of the emergency services to rescue, with their road access cut, the residents of 200 flood-affected houses. Flood insurance would not be available to these residents and it would be left to Council to sort out the ensuing mess and to face the inevitable law suits stemming from the original inappropriate zoning.

In 1992, a council-funded study found that 25-30% of Stage 1 was a landslip zone. The piecemeal Stockland-funded study in 2001 cleared the same land for development.

DERAINLING OF EUROPEAN HERITAGE
To developers, history is seen as an impediment to money-making. In 1992, BHP and Wollongong Council colluded to eliminate the Heritage listing of the historic Old Bulli mine to Sandon Point tramway. It was the first built and is the last remaining of its kind. This was discovered by the public, who were only partially successful in forcing the council to reinstate the listing.

In 1996, BHP was preparing to sell up at Sandon Point. Their "problem" of the historic tramway had to be dealt with. On the draft Local Environment Plan (LEP), the route was shown as intact. After public exhibition of this plan, council officers secretly cut the route at the highway and tore up the tracks, eliminating heritage listing on the land for sale. Unfortunately, they were not found out in time. This was an illegal action for the single purpose of gain to the developer, to the detriment of the public's right to their history.

MORE COUNCIL COCK-UPS
In Feb. 2001, NPWS wrote a detailed letter to Council containing vital information regarding the preservation of flora and fauna & Aboriginal heritage at Sandon Point. This letter was intended to be seen by councillors before they voted on Stage 1.

  • Council officers withheld this important letter, ensuring its contents did not influence the vote.

  • WCC general manager, Rod Oxley stated in The Illawarra Mercury, with supreme confidence, that the entire development was a "fait accompli" (done deal), before it had even gone on public exhibition.

  • Numerous studies- for example Flora & Fauna, European heritage, Aboriginal heritage have been ordered by council, but not implemented by the administration. When questioned over the lack of action, staff reply with words to the effect of "My manager told me not to do it."

THE LAND AND DEVELOPERS COURT
Wollongong Council would have you believe that residents' complaints were the cause for the Land & Environment Court case ('a waste of rate- payers' money'). In fact, the case went to court because Stockland did not provide requested information to DLWC, which prevented Wollongong Council giving the go-ahead. The vast majority of the community's huge volume of concerns about the site was never been tested in court- a case that cost WCC $30,000.

It is curious why during the court case, Council's legal team did not cross-examine Stockland's witnesses, and gave no chance for presentation of evidence relating to environmental, flood danger, infrastructure, Aboriginal heritage, social and traffic impacts.

Regarding European heritage, two community members were called to give evidence. However, much of their evidence was censored by Council's own legal team. They were used by council as scapegoats for a fully anticipated failure of the case. It is extremely difficult to win a court case without mounting an adequate defence.

In fact, one of Council's requirements before court was for Stockland to build their own railway bridge & access road to link up with Hobart St at the highway. This impasse was mysteriously resolved in a back room while the case was running. Council emerged to allow an existing road to be used for Stockland's residential access. This cave-in would have saved Stockland a lot of trouble & money.

Unfortunately, this was only one of 19 out of 21 issues dealt with in this manner during the case- all 'resolved' to Stockland's advantage.

THE GRAB FOR LAND
In 2001, as an apparent civic gesture, Wollongong Council bought back beachfront land from Stockland for almost $1 million. Why? It appears to be no more than a million-dollar donation to the developer. This particular portion of land cannot be developed and will always remain unchanged, no matter who owns it. Stockland had bought the entire allotment from Sydney Water for $2.1 m, knowing that only 20 % was zoned for development. Council has bought less than one-third of the original block back off Stockland.

Did You Know?
Stocklandís 2001 half-yearly profit was a record $121 million. This was a 32% increase on their previous half-year profit. The Sandon Point development would be worth around $100 million to Stockland, of which Stages 1-6 account for half its potential value.

Stockland prides itself on the "transfer of privately-owned land back into public ownership". (Wollongong Advertiser, 13/2/02). A deal to be proud of indeed!

The legitimacy of the purchase of this same allotment of land from Sydney Water has always been a serious cause for concern. It is de facto Crown Land (originally bought with public money in 1950) and has been openly sought by the community to be returned to public open space since the 1980s. Sydney Water breached its own charter by falsely stating it had consulted Wollongong Council, the local Land Council, the community, and National Parks over the sale. It was required to do this following the discovery of the ceremonial grave of the 6000 year-old Kuradji man, found during the sale process. Sydney Water sold the land containing at least one documented burial site to Stockland, with their full knowledge of the fact.

Stockland is also manoeuvring to seize a portion of Gibson Park for access to its suburb. The community is adamant that public land should remain in public hands.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
It is a desperately unfortunate situation when laws that we believe exist to protect the environment, cultural and public interests can be so successfully flouted by a developer with determination and resources.

On February 12th this year Stockland attempted to start work. It had managed to obtain from National Parks & Wildlife the consent to destroy Aboriginal relics found during construction (a "Section 90"). This consent requires a majority of the five major Aboriginal organizations involved to sign in agreement to such action. 4 out of 5 of these groups did not give their approval. This situation is now subject to a court action. All work has ceased until the court hearing in March.

During a council-funded study in 1992, an artefact was found on Stage 1 land. In the 2001 Stockland-funded study, the location of the artefact had shifted 25 metres. Needless to say, its location now lay outside the development boundary.

A wetland ecosystem on the site, namely the state-protected Sydney Coastal Estuarine Swamp Forest Complex (SCESFC) was illegally slashed in September last year. Cooksons, a factory at Sandon Point took the blame for it. It now turns out that the land is actually owned by Stockland, and on another SCESFC area, the pattern of slashing exactly matches the development layout in that area. Cooksons is soon to close and Stockland has earmarked the site for purchase.

The following (known) outright breaches of laws have occurred since September, 2001:

  • The illegal slashing of an endangered forest ecosystem on the site- will go unprosecuted

  • The illegal destruction of Aboriginal artefacts- will go unprosecuted

  • At least 20 known occurrences of illegal excavations, without Aboriginal site officers- no action taken.

  • The NPWS Act has not been adhered to as required by L & E Court- no action taken

  • Illegal earthworks have been occurring on the locked AIR site- no action taken

  • Drilling had started on so called 'Stage 7', for which a DA has not even been submitted- no legal action taken.

Space restricts the recording of dozens more dubious decisions, offences and breaches committed so far surrounding this contentious development proposal.

 
 
 
 
return to The Sandon Point contents
   
 

www.sandon-point.org.au