The contentious Rural Lands Strategy continues to dominate public presentations at Eurobodalla Shire Council meetings.
The Tuesday, August 14 meeting was long and fractious, with community members in the gallery frequently interjecting to boo or hurl abuse at councillors.
Conspiracy theories abounded, with the conduct of the council being compared to Stalinist Russia. The meeting ran for more than four hours – despite this, the refusal of extensions to presenters who ran over their allotted time was loudly condemned from the gallery. However, most presenters raised concerns intelligently and articulately.
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Two scientists raised concerns about the potential for habitat degradation – both emphasised the Eurobodalla was unique.
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Councillors bickered over points of order throughout the meeting – perhaps conscious that some groups might use any infraction as the trigger to request an independent investigation (see SAFE story).
Anyone in the community could (have) put their hand upLindsay Usher
Many speakers said the council had not sufficiently consulted the community about the strategy.
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Planning director Lindsay Usher outlined the community engagement process since 2011.
“One of the first things the council did was establish a steering committee,” he said.
“It was an open process, and anyone in the community could put their hand up. It included representatives from all five government agencies (referenced in Deputy Mayor Anthony Mayne’s motion, below). The minutes from the steering committee are available on the council website.”
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Mr Usher said on at least two occasions drafts were made public, and that an independent consultant held workshops with the community.
No councillors who own rural land will in any way benefitLindsay Usher
He said the council had considered “thousands” of submissions in that time. He hit back at “inferences” that some councillors stood to benefit from the proposal.
“Staff have looked and found no councillors who own rural land will in any way benefit,” he said.
He said they had not found any evidence of councillors’ family members benefiting either.
Cr Lindsay Brown said such inferences were “abhorent”.
Despite support from eight public forum speakers, the council voted against Cr Mayne’s motion: “That the council not consider the planning proposal related to the RLS until councillors and staff have had an opportunity to meet with the following NSW Government representatives: The Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Lands Service, NSW Rural Fire Service, Fisheries and Agriculture.”
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Crs Mayne and McGinlay were the only votes in favour.
Other items raised at the meeting included the logging of Corunna Forest and the Gundary Oval Masterplan.
For more coverage of Tuesday’s meeting, including further coverage of the Rural Lands Strategy debate, see Friday’s Bay Post/Moruya Examiner.