Bunnings’ barney

A MOTION that the defunct Surf Beach Bunnings site be sold off with tighter environmental zoning was rejected yesterday, revealing cracks in the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association (ERA).

ERA councillor Peter Schwarz won support from colleague Neil Burnside that the industrial site be rezoned to reflect the environmental restrictions that delayed and eventually stymied the Bunnings bid. 

He had Green Gabi Harding’s support, but he failed to win over ERA’s Liz Innes and Milton Leslight, who voted the recommendation down with Rob Pollock, Fergus Thomson and Danielle Brice.

Mr Schwarz’s recommendation included a business plan allowing a private developer to oversee the land’s sale. He also wanted another site found “within easy driving distance of Batemans Bay” for “a commercially attractive bulky goods precinct”.

Resident and ERA member Paul Bradstreet, who also convenes the group who opposed the Bunnings development, Friends of our Beaches, asked councillors to support the recommendation, as did Moruya’s Fiona Whitelaw. 

Mr Bradstreet said the motion would “draw a line on the past” and called for an E2 zoning “across a substantial part of the 120ha site”. Ms Whitelaw said the council was dragging its feet by refusing to rezone “despite clear environmental constraints”. 

Defending the previous administration for Bunnings’ withdrawal, Cr Thomson said all options had been canvassed for suitable sites throughout a shire “with serious constraints on development”.

“It is not Dubbo,” he said.

Regarding the Surf Beach site, “every time we worked through an issue, another would be thrown up”. 

“To suggest we failed as a council is abhorrent.” 

Cr Burnside said the shire should wait for a healthier economic climate and “for someone who wants to come”, rather than pursuing investors.

Cr Harding said the motion “sensibly” sought to compile all previous environmental studies, including by the private sector, “so we can see it as a whole”.

However, in notes to the meeting, general manager Rob Noble said those reports were not council property, although Mr Bradstreet countered by saying he doubted Bunnings would object to their sale for a reasonable fee.

Cr Pollock said the motion was “premature”, rapped Cr Thomson over the knuckles for voting to defer the development five years ago, and rejected Cr Burnside’s “wait and see” approach.

“You don’t wait for the upturn and try to catch up,” he said.

Referring to the ERA’s highly public opposition to environmental overlays before and after the shire election, he said: “Goodness me, could we get a bit of consistency?”.

He accused Mr Bradstreet of “a high level of bias” and said some ERA councillors were “regurgitating something prepared for you”.

“You are better than that,” he said.

Cr Pollock said the council risked its reputation and future grants after securing $10 million for the nearby bypass on the strength of an industrial precinct.

Cr Schwarz countered by saying the recommendation would “put us back in the driver’s seat on major development”.

He said the council performed well in some areas, but had shown its limitations on the Bunnings development.

“This is not something we do well,” he said.

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