COUNCIL’S “over-zealous” attitude towards protecting the environment is to blame for the massive slump in building approvals, according to a Sydney lawyer.
The lawyer and planner, who has dealt with council several times, and a local builder both say an imbalance and culture within Eurobodalla Shire Council’s administration is why the shire’s building approvals have collapsed.
Recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show council approved 406 houses in the 2001-02 financial year and 445 in the following financial year.
However, last financial year, just 96 buildings were approved.
Lawyer and planner Pierre Le Bas, from Turnbull Planning International in Sydney, has represented several applicants fighting council to get applications approved.
“(Council) appear to have an approach of actively discouraging applicants from making applications,” he said.
“My experience has been that they are anti-development no matter what it is.
“I think they need to get a little bit of balance and perhaps pay some respect to applicants as they expect respect to be paid to them.”
Having dealt with other councils, including the Shoalhaven, he claimed Eurobodalla was one of the worst.
“To be really honest, I think the Eurobodalla does compare very poorly with other councils,” Mr Le Bas said.
“I think one of the problems in the Eurobodalla is an over-zealous approach to protection of the environment. I’m the first to say the environment has to be protected but, at the same time, people have to have places to live.
“People have to come before possums, particularly in land designated for urban development. There has to be some balance, and that’s just what has been lacking.”
Mr Le Bas said a lack of respect was one of the problems he faced with council last year when he represented another client.
“My client was completely shocked. Basically, the council said in so many words, ‘it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re never going to get approval for this development’.
“They were hiding behind a variety of legal reasons.
“That application is now approved but that is after I had a meeting with the full council, all the senior officers and the general manager and I just blew my lid.”
Mr Le Bas also represented a client against council in 2010 in the Land and Environment Court.
“The applicant had to drag council kicking and screaming going to court to get approval . . . with the end result being nobody wins.”
Eurobodalla builder and designer Michael Johnson has been in the business for about 30 years.
He said it should be “very simple” to build a house, but now applicants had to satisfy checklists that were three pages long, when they used to be only 10 points.
He claimed there was a culture of bullying and intimidation towards members of the building industry and that staff were afraid to do the wrong thing.
“Ten years ago, a lot of people lurking in council in the building section had been there for a while, they had a building background and understood the industry and were sympathetic to people,” Mr Johnson said.
“Now, they’re all petrified they’re going to make a mistake and lose their job.
“The council insists on continuing to revolutionise something we’ve been doing forever; the fact that they don’t understand the concept or process shouldn’t be a detriment for people who do.”
Despite the struggles, Mr Le Bas says there is hope on the horizon.
He says he has noticed a change in attitude since the new council was elected.
“The government is making it a little bit easier to do development in various council areas.
“I think the (council) planners are trying to do better and are being a bit more helpful.
“A lot of people in the Eurobodalla can’t afford to have consultants acting for them, they have no idea what they can and can’t do.
“They’re at a big disadvantage right from the get go and I think it’s incumbent upon officers to help people who just want to get on with their business and build their houses.”