LATEST BRIEFING NOTES
HILLTOP RESIDENTS ACTION GROUP (HTRAG)
SARTOR BY-PASSES PLANNING LAWS
IN APPROVAL PROCESS FOR MEGA SHOOTING COMPLEX
The NSW Minister
for Planning, Frank Sartor is once again using the State’s planning laws to ride roughshod over a local council and
one of its communities, and in the process is by-passing the very limits he recently placed on his power to override local
In this case,
regulations have been gazetted specifically to help deliver a deal done by the Carr Government several years ago with Shooter’s
Party members in the Upper House. The deal involves the development of a mega- shooting range near the village of Hill Top in the Southern Highlands, to be set in 1,000 hectares excised from a State Conservation Area.
This is being
done with $5.2 million of taxpayers’ money, without proper consultation with the local community and by using already
controversial legislation to by-pass the Wingecarribee Council, whose Local Environment Plan (LEP) prohibits such a development.
gymnastics employed to push the development through have raised the question of whether similar shooting complexes could be
legally built on any similarly zoned land in NSW.
In the early part
of this decade, the Carr Government made a commitment to assist in resolving issues surrounding the location and development
of a regional shooting facility. It is believed that this stemmed from a desire by the Government to garner the support of
the Shooters Party in the NSW Upper House.
In August, 2006,
the Department of Sport and Recreation announced a proposal to build the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex 2.4
kilometres north-west of the village of Hill
A single range
was established on the site in 1986 on what was then Forestry Commission land. It was transferred to the Minister for Conservation
who leased it to the Hill Top shooting club until 2008 with no further options.
The then Premier,
Barry Unsworth, directed the then Minister for Planning and Environment to facilitate the approval of the range and the council
granted approval in September, 1986.
While the National
Parks and Wildlife Service accepted the Government’s decision, it was not happy about it as the land had been earmarked
for the Nattai National Park.
In a letter to
the Council in 1986 it expressed its concerns which included: clearing the site would cause erosion of pristine areas; rocky
outcrops on the site were important for wildlife; there was poor access; closeness to a popular bushwalking track and “extreme
concern” that the site was a high fire risk.
HTRAG has already
drawn to the Council’s attention several examples of the users of the existing range not complying with the original
consent conditions including use by clubs not authorised to do so, use of automatic weapons by non-army shooters, night shooting,
storage of ammunition and guns on the site and unauthorised use by the Army.
In August 2006,
the Department of Sport and Recreation submitted a planning proposal for a new complex with additional facilities and extended
hours of operation:
· A complex to operate seven days a week
· Another rifle range
· Another pistol range
· A shotgun range
· Clubhouse with amenities
· Army to use the complex as they wish
· New infrastructure including a gravel access road, generator, water
storages and car park for 75 cars.
By August 2007,
the size of the proposal had been significantly increased to add:
An additional rifle/pistol range
An indoor air pistol range
Enlargement of one pistol range to 90 shooting
A doubling of car parking spaces to 180.
Expected peak use by 250 shooters
6.5metre tall building
Shooting at night.
of Sport and Recreation has entered into lease arrangements with the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Club Inc, the new
incorporated body to manage the facility, which would be known as the Southern Highlands Regional Shooting Complex .
However there are no details of the commercial arrangement available.
this complex it was necessary to excise 1,000 hectares from the Bargo State Conservation Area by special legislation to amend
the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Native Title (New South Wales)
Act. Of this, 15 hectares has been set aside for the complex and the rest is to be a buffer zone.
The 1,000 hectares
was transferred to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Recreation, under s9 of the Sporting Venues Management Act in April 2006.
The land is zoned
1 (a) (Rural) under the Wingecarribee Local Environmental Plan (LEP) . One of the prohibited uses under this LEP is “recreation
facility”. A shooting complex falls within the definition of a recreation facility and is therefore a prohibited use
of the land.
A project application
was submitted on behalf of Department of Sport and Recreation to the Minister for Planning, Mr Sartor, for the new development
to consolidate seven shooting clubs in the region.
The Minister for
Planning had already paved the way for the Complex to proceed by listing the consolidation of two or more shooting ranges
into one complex as a class of development that he could deal with under the Major Projects State Environment Planning Policy
2005 (MP SEPP), pursuant to clause 15(3) of Schedule 1 of the policy. Schedule 1 of MP SEPP defines “classes of development”
deemed to be “major projects” where the Minister is the consent authority.
The Minister then
declared under the MP SEPP that the project is a Major Project under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment
Part 3A is a controversial
piece of legislation which is used by the State Government to remove planning powers of local councils to enable it to push
through projects which it deems to be of State significance. This cleared the way for the Minister to approve the project,
despite its original zoning.
However, to make
the State’s planning processes more transparent, in July this year, Minister Sartor introduced new regulations under
the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act -- the Environmental Planning and
Assessment Amendment (Miscellaneous) Regulation 2007.
Regulation 8 (O)
prohibits the Minister for Planning from granting approval for developments which are prohibited by a Local Environmental
Plan. Under the Wingecarribee LEP, a shooting complex is prohibited.
The new regulations
made no mention of transitional provisions. This is important because this project’s planning process started before
these new regulations. This was interpreted by planning lawyers as meaning that the new regulations applied and the Minister
could not approve a use for this site which is prohibited under its 1(a) (Rural) zoning.
lawyers wrote to Mr Sartor on 20 October, pointing out the July removal of the Minister’s power to over-ride such zoning.
On Friday 16 November, the Minister quietly amended the new regulations in the Government Gazette to allow any rezoning by
the Minister to go ahead if the application was submitted before July, 2007.
Such a cynical
circumvention of the recently imposed limits on the Minister’s over-riding powers is bad enough. But it is also at odds
with a decision of the Minister in 2006 when he introduced a standardised planning process or template across the State to
eliminate the confusion caused by many differences between local councils’ LEPs.
As part of this
template, the State Government harmonised across all of NSW those uses that could be permitted or prohibited in each zone.
Under the template,
councils can add to (but not remove from) the list of permissible uses in a particular zone. If they do so, they have to do
so for the whole local government area, not just for one or a select number of properties or owners. This was to eliminate
the unfairness and inconsistency of “spot rezoning”, confirming that the same rules should apply to all properties
with the same zoning.
In directing councils
to use this template, the Minister has declared that there will be uniformity and has defined what can be added or prohibited.
The Government’s template prohibited recreational use (which includes a shooting range) in any 1 (a) (Rural) zone.
Council wished to add shooting ranges as a permitted use at Hilltop which is a 1 (a) (Rural) zone it would have to permit
shooting ranges on any land zoned 1 (a) (Rural) in the council’s area.
The Minister has
declared that a shooting complex of this type is a development of State significance but it appears he is only considering
approval for the specific Hill Top site zoned 1 (a) (Rural). In other words he
is preparing to approve a “spot rezoning.”
If the Minister
adhered to his own rules, if he approves this type of development for Hill Top, and it is also a development of State significance,
then it should be suitable for every 1 (a) (Rural) zone in the State.
On that basis
the community of Hill Top is asking the Minister to identify where all these sites are to be around NSW, and to confirm that
this use can be permitted in any 1 (a) (Rural) zone in NSW.
position is absurd and the Hilltop development should not be allowed to proceed. To do so would completely undermine the planning
Other important issues
actions are not the only issues of significant concern to the residents of Hill Top.
The only communication
from the Government has consisted of two single-page information sheets dropped in letter boxes last Christmas and again in
August this year. In addition to the planning issues there are a plethora of other reasons why this development should not
HTRAG has engaged
a number of experts to assess the negative impacts of the development on local communities including:
- Noise impact of seven days a week use and undetermined nights with estimates of up to 250 people
shooting on weekends and uncontrolled use at undetermined times by the army
have bought into the area because of the peace and quiet of the surrounds and its proximity to pristine conservation areas
for bushwalking and horse riding right next door to this proposed site which adjoins Blue Mountains World Heritage area. Many
of these people are understandably worried that their properties will be devalued as a result of the development.
Noise from the
shooting range will either directly or indirectly result in a decrease in the values of homes in the surrounding area.
the Hill Top Primary School is approx. 4 kilometres from the proposed shooting complex and the shooting
noise can be heard at the school even now from the single range. Parents are extremely concerned about the distress that could
be caused by constant firing on the range.
- Lead contamination of local water courses by spent ammunition
The site is on
a plateau surrounded by steep gullies that lead to streams and rivers that feed into the eastern part of the Warragamba catchment
which provides drinking water to Sydney. Rocky Waterholes
Creek and Iron Creek flow from east to west across the site to connect with the Nattai
River which then flows into Lake
Burragorang (Warragamba Dam).
After the site
is cleared there will be faster run-off into the water catchment which creates erosion issues and the transportation of lead.
Lead is deposited
at shooting ranges as spent lead shot (pellets) and spent lead bullets at rifle/pistol shooting areas, causing lead contamination.
that spent ordinance will be collected, tonnes of lead per year will be fired by rifles and it is inevitable that a significant
proportion will end up outside the planned drop zones. Shotgun pellets in particular are difficult to control and reclaim
and bullets fragment on impact and cause soil and water pollution.
According to the
US Environmental Protection Authority topography of the kind found at this site is unsuitable for shooting complexes.
- Endangerment of local
flora and fauna
With 1,000 hectares of conservation land being taken for this development, and following the addition of more
ranges and an undisclosed amount of land to be cleared, flora and fauna on site and in the surrounding area will be affected. There
are recorded 108 protected species and 22 threatened species and breeding koalas on this site. The land was not zoned
'conservation' for nothing.
are a high risk the local residents already manage in this extreme bushfire zone. Previous fires have been started
by lightning strikes on this area and have endangered lives and homes. The specific site is supposed to be a buffer around
the village and managed to protect the villages against bushfire. Many hundreds of people and an estimated 200 vehicles on
weekends moving in and out of the area will add the risk of possible arson and accidental fires by discarded cigarette
butts in an area with single dirt road access.
- Unsuitable dirt access road
Shire Council’s traffic count in August 2007 estimates a 40% increase in the number of vehicles, particularly 4WDs,
travelling through the main street of Hill Top in peak periods like weekends and then onto the narrow, unsealed access road.
This increases the risk of accidents and impacts on local pedestrians and road users – and increases wear and tear on
the roads which are unaligned, unlit and unguttered. There is no plan to improve the bridge into the main street which is
too narrow to allow 4WDs to pass each other, nor the single lane rail crossing that enters the main street at the only other
point. There is no intention to seal the dirt access road.